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A positive step

New York rolls back statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, opening the door for accountability

A positive step

New York Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan (center) speaks in favor of passing legislation authorizing the Child Victims Act. (Hans Pennink/AP)

A New York moment:

After New York last week passed a law legalizing late-term abortions and removing protections for pregnant women facing violence, the state pivoted to take a positive step on a different issue involving children this week. 

Until now, New York had some of the strictest statutes of limitations for child sex abuse in the country. Victims had to lodge criminal or civil complaints before they turned 23. Child advocacy groups say most victims don’t report abuse until much later in adulthood, if at all. 

This week, the nearly unanimous Legislature passed the Child Victims Act, one of the most victim-friendly laws in the country. The act increases the criminal statute of limitations to when the victim is 28 years old and increases the civil statute of limitations to 55. The law also gives a one-year look-back window for victims to file civil complaints over previous abuse that were once blocked by the state statute of limitations.

The Legislature had been trying to pass this for 15 years, but it faced opposition from the Roman Catholic Church (which had at one point argued the look-back window could bankrupt its programs), the Boy Scouts, and insurance companies. This year, after Democrats agreed to amend the bill to hold liable both public and private institutions, the New York State Catholic Conference announced its support for the bill. Previous versions of the bill had shielded public institutions from the one-year look-back window. 

New York’s Catholic bishops acknowledged the church’s shortcomings as they celebrated the passage of the bill: “Sadly, we in the church know all too well the devastating toll of abuse on survivors, their families, and the extended community. ... We have long called for strengthening the Child Victims Act and will continue to advocate for the elimination of the criminal statute of limitations, compensations programs for those who prefer it to litigation, and mandatory safe environment training for anyone who works with children, as we have implemented in the eight dioceses throughout New York state.” 

Last year New York set up a tragic new hotline for people to report clergy sexual abuse of children. The New York State Catholic Conference has said it would comply with a state subpoena issued last fall for all documents related to the church’s handling of sex abuse allegations. 

Worth your time:

Here’s an uplifting story. In 2017, 51,302 people left Social Security disability rolls because they found “gainful employment,” the most on record. The Wall Street Journal interviews several people with disabilities about what finding work has meant to them. It sounds like companies are also doing better at finding specific jobs for people with specific skills, like the autistic man featured in the Journal story.

This week I learned:

Ancient Romans, it appears, wore socks with their sandals. 

A court case you might not know about: 

About 40 years ago, a group of African-American converts to Islam started their own community in upstate New York to escape “corrosive influences” from New York City. But internet conspiracies have made the small community, which by local reports has a good relationship with law enforcement, a target for people who thought it was a jihadi training camp. 

Last week police arrested four young men who were allegedly stockpiling guns and bombs for an attack on the community. In 2017, a Tennessee man was sentenced to 20 years for another similar plot. 

“I think it’s straight up religious and racial fear,” said William Rosenau, who wrote a study about the group for West Point, finding no evidence of any “covert training” in the community.

Culture I am consuming: 

Harmony Hall,” Vampire Weekend’s first new music in six years. Lead singer Ezra Koenig’s lyrics are always something to chew on, if enigmatic. His last album had a song about Yahweh. Here he sings about “wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified … I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die.” 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org