Advocates on Monday gathered outside the offices of two state senators to press them to help get a long-stalled bill passed in Albany that would temporarily lift the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases.
The dozen protesters, including victims, university professors and supporters, said the “#MeToo” movement exposing sexual harassment against women is giving renewed life to their campaign, which started more than a decade ago.
“I think I am more hopeful than I have ever been,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading advocate on the child sex abuse issue. “This is the best chance we’ve ever had with the Senate because of the #MeToo movement.”
The protesters gathered at the offices of state Sens. Elaine Phillips in Mineola and Carl Marcellino in Oyster Bay, both Republicans who narrowly won in the 2016 election. The advocates, who have formed a group called New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators, said they want the senators to pressure Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) to release the Child Victims Act out of committee so it can be voted on.
The bill passed the state Assembly this year, but was not taken up by the Senate, where it has languished for years.
New York has one of the country’s most restrictive child sex abuse laws, requiring a person who alleges sexual abuse as a minor to file suit within five years of reaching 18 — in other words, by age 23 — to be permitted to sue and seek financial compensation.
The Child Victims Act would temporarily lift the statute of limitations for one year and allow sex-abuse victims to sue their perpetrators. The act would also increase the age for criminal cases to 28 years, and to 50 for civil cases.
Phillips and Marcellino both said Monday they want the issue revisited in the coming year.
“My heart breaks for the victims of childhood sexual assault, and I believe it is time the legislature works to find solutions to support those who have been abused,” Phillips said in a statement. “Recognizing that most children do not disclose the abuse until they are much older, we need to lengthen the statute of limitations to protect any future victims.
“I have been in discussions with my colleagues regarding this issue and hope to take action during the upcoming legislative session,” she said.
Marcellino, in a statement, said different versions of legislation were discussed in Albany this year, though none passed. “I am committed to protecting all victims of abuse and revisiting this most serious subject when the 2018 Session begins in January,” he said.
Flanagan did not respond to a request for comment.
The Catholic Church has opposed the Child Victims Act in the past, saying it could bankrupt the church. But that may become less of an issue, advocates said, because of reconciliation and compensation programs being run by the Diocese of Rockville Centre and other dioceses in which many victims are accepting a payment while agreeing not to sue the church.
Hamilton said abuse by clergy accounts for only 4 percent of the total child sex abuse cases in society. “The other 96 deserve justice, and they’re not getting it right now,” she said.
The other major categories include children abused in sports leagues, camps and even the Olympics, along with abuse by family members, teachers and scout leaders, Hamilton and others said.
“It is high time that . . . all of the senators in New York take a stand and stop with the passivity, stop with the silence, and take a stand for victims,” said Manhasset native Kathryn Robb, who said she was sexually abused by a relative when she was a girl.