ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday introduced his own bill to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to accuse, prosecute and sue their abusers in a move that advocates of the effort called a “breakthrough moment.”
“This is about justice and I urge this measure to be passed before the end of session and allow these victims the ability to hold their abusers accountable — something they’ve wrongly been denied for far too long,” Cuomo said.
Despite a decade of opposition by the Senate’s Republican majority, advocates of the bill introduced in the final days of session said Cuomo’s action adds to momentum in what would be a major result in a so-far lackluster end of session.
“We have the momentum, we have every piece,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who has pushed the bill for years. This year, victims of childhood sexual abuse streamed into the Capitol for months telling their stories and carrying school pictures of themselves. “And we have the governor now,” Hoylman said. “This a breakthrough moment.”
Several bills are now in play that would extend the time that victims of childhood sexual abuse could bring criminal and civil cases, which under current law is capped when the victim reaches 23 years old. Advocates say many victims can’t address their abuse, let alone hire lawyers, until they are much older.
Several bills address that issue with varying provisions, but the Senate Republican majority has so far not budged on its opposition to a “look back.” That provision would allow victims to sue their abusers from incidents years or even decades before. Opponents of the bill say evidence that could be used to exonerate the innocent could be lost over a long period of time and that a flood of lawsuits could bankrupt religious and youth groups.
“There is an extreme amount of momentum,” said Bridie Farrell, a former competitive speed skater who said she didn’t realize until she was 26 years old that the sexual abuse she suffered as child was a crime.
The Senate’s Republican majority, the Catholic Church and other organizations allied with the GOP conference, however, have blocked aggressive Democratic measure for more than a decade. Without approval and at least some support by the GOP majority, the bill can’t move to a floor vote under Albany’s rules.
On Thursday, the Senate Republican majority didn’t shut the door.
“Time and time again the Republican-led Senate has authored and approved common sense measures to protect children from sexual predators, and we will continue to do so,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif. “There are a number of similar proposals on this issue and they all remain under review.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the comments of activist Bridie Farrell.