The New York State legislature has passed a controversial law that will enable survivors of sexual assault more time to seek justice. The “Look-Back Legislation” has been championed by victims of child molestation and opposed by the Catholic Church, which believes the law will be used to target priests.
The measure “builds upon numerous efforts by the Assembly Majority to protect victims of sexual assault, also passed the Senate and has the support of the governor,” Assemblyman Fred Thiele said.
“There is no single time frame for healing from trauma, and setting the timer to come forward to only five years in many of these cases is a major disservice to survivors,” said Thiele. “Coming to terms with the aftermath of a sexual assault, let alone choosing to press charges, is a years-long process. We took a critical step to give victims more time to recover before making that courageous and daunting decision.”
Nearly one in six women and one in 33 men have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime — which only includes the number of cases actually reported.
Many victims of sexual abuse struggle with long-term effects because of their trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and other emotional distress. As for why many victims delay pressing charges, a recent study found that the number one reason was fear of retaliation.
The legislation extends the criminal statute of limitations to 20 years for rape and criminal sexual act in the second degree, or 10 years from when the crime is reported to law enforcement — whichever occurs earlier — and 10 years for rape and criminal sexual act in the third degree.
Further, the bill would increase the time period in which the victim could bring a civil suit for these offenses to 20 years, up from the current five years, and as short as three years in some cases under existing law. While New York has already removed the statute of limitations for rape and criminal sexual act in the first degree, under current law, a victim must press charges for rape or a criminal sexual act in the second or third degree within five years of the assault.
The Assembly Majority has continually taken steps to ensure survivors of trauma are supported and given the time they need to heal and hold their abusers accountable. Earlier this year, the Assembly led the way in making the Child Victims Act law, which extends the statute of limitations for criminal cases of childhood sexual abuse, allowing them to be commenced until the victim turns age 28 for felonies and age 25 for misdemeanors.
The law also institutes a one-year “look-back window” for adult survivors to commence civil cases that, under current law, are barred because the statute of limitations has expired.
Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated he would sign off on the bill.