Sexual abuse victims rally for law change in NY

Bridie Farrell, once an aspiring Olympic speed skate, is now an advocate for childhood sexual abuse victims. Farrell said she was abused when she was 15 by a much older, prominent Olympic skater. Farrell, now 36, is one of many survivors who cannot seek legal justice in New York because the alleged abuse happened too long ago.

Farrell joined other childhood sexual abuse victims, advocates and lawmakers outside the Lower Manhattan office of Zurich Insurance Thursday. The group was angry that Zurich and other insurance companies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby New York State Senate lawmakers to vote no on the Child Victims Act.

The legislation would allow New Yorkers like Bridie Farrell a longer window to come forward.

"No one has ever said I'm lying. I mean, he was known for these things," Farrell said. "He would pick me up from school, and you know skip school, and go skate and then he would bring me to his house."

A February 2018 poll from Quinnipiac University showed 90 percent of New Yorkers support changing the law so victims have more time to seek justice.

"We urge all the bill's opponents, including the insurance companies, to stop the opposition and get behind this bill once and for all," Safe Horizon's Michael Polenberg said.

Insurance companies have tried to block this legislation to avoid increased civil payouts to victims, State Senator Brad Hoylman said.

"It was the almighty dollar and that's what you see in Zurich," Hoylman said. "That's what you see in the insurance industry in cahoots with Republicans."

Current law gives victims until they're 23 to file lawsuits against their abusers. The Child Victims Act, which passed the Assembly, would change the statute of limitations so people up to age 28 can file for criminal cases. Victims would have up to 50 years after the alleged abuse to sue in civil cases. There would also be a one year window where older survivors could come forward to sue their alleged abusers.

According to Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, "I think the insurance companies, the Church, some Jewish religious organizations and everyone who does not believe in justice said, 'Wait a minute, it's going too fast!'"

The American Insurance Association responded by saying, “Sexual assault in all circumstances needs to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. From an insurance standpoint, we have concerns about any provision that retroactively removes the statute of limitations (SOL) for civil cases. Going forward, we could support an appropriate, prospective expansion of the SOL in such cases where the state has not previously extended it.”

Zurich North American stated in part, "Our position on the bill was not about hindering victims of child abuse or their rights to come forward but about retroactive changes to current law."

Victim advocates hope there is enough momentum that the legislation could pass before summer recess.