New York state has one of the worst laws in the nation when it comes to allowing child molestation victims to sue their abusers, according to a new report issued Thursday that comes amid continuing legislative debate over relaxing the rules.
Most states have taken some action to change their criminal or civil statutes of limitations for molestation since the clergy sex abuse scandal erupted in 2002 following an investigation by The Boston Globe, the report found.
New York, however, continues to have one of the shortest statutes of limitations for civil molestation suits in the country even though it has eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for some felony molestation crimes, said University of Pennsylvania professor Marci Hamilton, who conducted the analysis.
While 39 states and the District of Columbia have changed their rules, those like New York have more work to do, said Hamilton, who also is the CEO of CHILD USA, a group that researches child abuse and neglect policy.
"It is one of the worst states for access to justice for child sex abuse victims in the country," according to the report.
Current law gives victims until they're 23 to file lawsuits against their abusers. A proposal known as the Child Victims Act pending before lawmakers would extend the deadline for both criminal and civil cases — giving victims up to 50 years after the alleged molestation to sue. It also would create a one-year window for lawsuits already barred by the existing statute of limitations. The one-year window is opposed by the Catholic Church, and so far the measure has been blocked from a vote by the Senate's Republican leaders.
Supporters say the look-back window is essential for the many victims who weren't able to report abuse for years or even decades after it occurred.
The Catholic Church and other large institutions, however, say that allowing lawsuits for alleged acts long after the current statute of limitations has expired could be financially devastating. A similar law in California, passed in 2002, resulted in Catholic dioceses there paying $1.2 billion in legal settlements
The report cited Minnesota and Delaware as the two best states when it comes to the civil statute of limitations. Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, and New York were listed as the worst.