NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law Thursday long-sought legislation that gives the victims of childhood sexual abuse more time to seek criminal charges or file lawsuits against their abusers.
The law known as the Child Victims Act loosens one of the nation’s tightest statutes of limitations on molestation cases. It also creates a one-year litigation window for victims to file lawsuits.
The legislation was blocked for the past decade by Republicans who controlled the state Senate. Democrats took control of the chamber in the November elections, and the Senate and Democrat-controlled Assembly approved the legislation Jan. 28.
Cuomo, a Democrat, signed the Child Victims Act in the Manhattan newsroom of the Daily News. The paper published more than 200 stories on the issue along with numerous editorials in favor of the legislation’s passage.
Cuomo praised the newspaper and the state lawmakers who pushed for the legislation. He especially hailed the victims who went public with their stories of being sexually abused and trekked to Albany year after year to advocate for the measure’s passage.
“They sacrificed their personal privacy so others wouldn’t have to endure the same pain,” Cuomo said.
Sarah Klein, a former Olympic gymnast who was one of the first known sexual abuse victims of former national team doctor Larry Nassar, was among the audience for the bill signing ceremony.
“It’s an incredible day for all survivors to gain access to justice,” she said afterward.
The new law erases what was one of the nation’s most restrictive statutes of limitations when it comes to molestation. Victims now have until age 55 to file civil lawsuits and seek criminal charges until age 28, as opposed to 23 under the old statute.
Several other states have recently enacted similar laws to expand time frames for victims’ lawsuits. Massachusetts, another heavily Catholic state, gives victims up to 35 years to sue. Ohio and Pennsylvania both now give victims until age 30.
The proposal before lawmakers would eliminate the statute of limitations on abuse cases going forward and create a one-year window to allow for lawsuits no matter when the abuse occurred. Supporters say it often takes victims of child sex abuse years or even decades to report their abusers or pursue criminal or civil cases.
A similar law in California, passed in 2002, resulted in Catholic dioceses there paying $1.2 billion in legal settlements.
The one-year litigation window for past claims that was barred by the statute of limitations had been the sticking point to getting the legislation approved. Major institutions such as the Catholic Church argued against it, warning that it could cause catastrophic financial harm to any organization that cares for children.
The church dropped its opposition to the legislation last month, however, when the act was revised to treat public and private schools and entities the same.