The implementation of “look-back windows” — a set period where a victim of abuse is permitted to file a claim no matter when the abuse occurred — in legislation aimed at holding violent offenders accountable is providing survivors sexual abuse avenues to seek justice.
When New York state opened a one-year, one-time-only limited period during which victims of childhood sexual abuse may file civil claims against the alleged abusers and enabling institutions that failed to protect children from predators in the New York’s Child Victims Act — cases skyrocketed.
The law changed the statute of limitations for such crimes, raising the age — from 23 to 55 — by which a person must file a civil claim for sexual abuse they experienced younger than 18. It also created a temporary period during which people older than 55 could also sue for childhood abuse.
In the two years leading up to Aug. 14, 2021, when the look back officially closed, survivors of child sexual abuse filed more than 8,263 civil suits in New York against their alleged abusers and the institutions that employed them. Seven days later, that total jumped by nearly 1,000 to 9,241, according to data from the state’s Office of Court Administration.
A similar rise in cases could happen after the New York City Council successfully passed a bill on Dec. 9 to create a 2-year look back window to the Gender–Motivated Violence Act, that advocates say will give survivors of a gender-based violence more time to process their trauma and pursue civil action, if they choose.
Intro 2372-B, which was sponsored by councilwomen Carlina Rivera, a Manhattan Democrat, and Selvena Brooks-Powers, a Queens Democrat, say the new change will allow survivors of gender-based violence to seek legal recourse even after the statute of limitations has run out.
The bill is now awaiting approval from either outgoing Progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio or his successor, moderate Democrat Eric Adams.
The state defines gender-based violence to include intimate partner violence, family violence, elder abuse, sexual violence (which can include sexual harassment), stalking and human trafficking.
According to the impact survey launched by the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence in Sept. 2021, COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an increase in unreported instances of gender-based violence and responses to the survey indicate that through the pandemic, survivors’ experiences of abuse grew worse, as did their financial, work and housing situations.
New York’s Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Act allows victims to bring civil lawsuits under a seven-year statute of limitations.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.