Governor Cuomo came under fire on Monday from sexual abuse victims and child advocates, who called on him to support legislation extending New York’s current statute of limitations for criminal charges and civil suits against accused abusers. The statute in question limits legal action to the age of 23, making it one of the most restrictive in the nation. New York State needs to support the victims of some of the most heinous crimes imaginable by reforming the statute of limitation and providing greater resources for the abused.
Despite being called “regressive” and “absurd,” the statute has avoided resistance in the legislature. Four attempts at extending the statute of limitations that passed the State Assembly have been halted by the Senate, even as other states have extended their statues. Some states, like Florida, even eliminated their statutes of limitations. Even within New York State laws, rape is one of the few charges in the penal code with no statute of limitations. By definition assault of a person who cannot give consent, like a minor, is rape. The fact that child victims are given less time to pursue justice than adult victims is beyond logic. It is unfair to expect children of abuse at the age of 17 to be able to overcome such a horrific trauma within five years. Minors who have the courage and strength to overcome trauma to pursue justice should have a day in court, regardless of their age, so a grand jury — not legislators — can judge a case on its merits.
In addition to extending the statute of limitations, other measures can be taken on a community level in order to protect children from sexual abuse. Increased outreach in schools, daycares, community centers and religious institutions could play a role both in preventing and detecting child abuse. This outreach includes broader education about abuse for parents and caregivers, more widely accessible counseling options for children and their families, as well as age-appropriate programs to teach children how to recognize and report abuse. While these measures and others like them are not always foolproof, coupling them with a longer statute of limitations can make these policies go a long way in providing justice for victims and families.
As it stands, recovery requires victims to be an adult to properly process their trauma. Expecting a child to be ready to report abuse and testify against his or her abuser in such a limited time frame is foolhardy and damaging. Children can internalize and repress the emotions and memories surrounding their abuse, particularly when their abusers are in positions of authority over them. The current statute of limitations sets up cases to fail and allows abusers to escape charge. New York needs to extend far more care and support for these victims and give them more time to seek justice.
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