New York State’s Sexual Abuse Lookback Statutes Explained by Lesley Brovner & Mark Peters
By Lesley Brovner & Mark Peters
September 14, 2021
1. What is the New York Child Victims Act?
In February 2019, New York State passed a “lookback window,” the Child Victims Act (CVA), extending the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases in New York.
Previously, in criminal cases, the statute of limitations for felony offenses ended when the survivor turned 23; now, the CVA increases the statute of limitations until the survivor turns 28. For misdemeanor offenses, the statute of limitations had ended when the survivor turned 20 but has now been increased to 25 years of age.
In civil cases, prior to the CVA, the victims of child sexual abuse had only a short window of years, after turning 18, to bring a civil lawsuit against their abuser. The CVA created a “lookback window” allowing any victim of sexual abuse whose claim was previously time barred to bring an action up until August 14, 2020. That window was later extended to August 14, 2021. For claims that have not yet expired, the survivor now has until they turn 55 to file a claim.
2. Who can survivors of child sexual abuse file a claim against?
Under the CVA, survivors can file claims against both private and public institutions including claims for negligence by the institution that allowed the abuse to occur. In terms of claims against public (governmental) institutions, the CVA also removed the requirement that a “notice of claim” be filed before proceeding with a lawsuit – something that streamlines the process.
3. What were the effects of the New York Child Victims Act?
The CVA allowed survivors of sexual abuse to hold powerful institutions liable for abuse that they tolerated for years. It helped more than eight-thousand survivors seek justice for the wrongs committed against them.
4. What is the New York Adult Survivors Act and what is its status?
In June 2021, the New York State Senate passed the Adult Survivors Act (ASA). This legislation would create a one-year lookback window for survivors of sexual abuse who are over eighteen years of age and whose claims are presently time barred. This bill has not yet been passed by the State Assembly and so is not yet in effect in New York.
5. What is the current statute of limitations in New York for adult survivors of sexual assault?
For criminal cases, the statute of limitation is generally five years for felonies, and two years for misdemeanors – some of which can be quite serious.
However, in September 2019, the Legislature extended the limitations period for rape and sexual assault in the third degree to 10 years and rape and sexual assault in the second degree to 20 years. The statute of limitations was eliminated for incest in the first degree.
For civil cases, presently, adult survivors of sexual abuse generally have three years to file a claim. However, under the 2019 law, for certain crimes – second degree rape and sexual abuse – the statute of limitations is now twenty years.
6. Why is the Adult Sexual Assault Law Still Needed?
Although the 2019 Law extended the statute of limitations in some criminal and civil sexual assault cases, it did not do so in all cases. Moreover, it did not create a lookback window. Therefore, sexual assault claims that were time barred in 2019 remain time barred. Only the ASA will fix this problem.