In February 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Child Victims Act into law. It extends the statute of limitations for victims of child abuse. Child sex abuse victims are now allowed to file criminal charges against their abuser before they turn 28. Victims are allowed to file civil charges against their abuser before they turn 55. Previously, victims had to file both civil and criminal charges before they turned 23. The law also allows a one-year period for individuals to file cases that happened longer than what the statute of limitations would have allowed. It also requires judges to have some training on how to handle child sex abuse cases.
What are statutes of limitations, and why do we have them?
Statutes of limitations (SOL) are a predetermined period that the state is allowed to charge someone with a crime. Different crimes have different extended periods of time when one can file charges against someone. However, the same crime may have a different SOL depending on the state. There are SOL laws because of concerns that witness testimony might be unreliable. A victim may not necessarily remember enough about their abuse that the jury may not find them credible. Physical evidence may also deteriorate over time, which further questions credibility.
Why extend the statute of limitations if someone might not remember what happened to them?
DNA, audio or video recordings, emails, and texts do not disintegrate over time, making them more credible forms of evidence over a longer period. Society has also improved their understanding of the trauma that victims of child sexual abuse experience. People now understand that it can take many years or even decades before someone finally comes forward. While laws on statutes of limitations are put in place to ensure credibility, there are exceptional cases such as child sexual abuse which necessitates lengthened the statute of limitations.