Advocates press Senate GOP on Child Victims Act

Actress Julianne Moore tweeted the names “Larkin” and “Bonacic” and the senators’ office phone numbers in Orange County this week, as advocates stepped up pressure on Senate Republicans to stop blocking legislation that would help people who were sexually abused as children seek justice later in life.

“Call these NY Senators & Tell them pass Child Victims Act,” Moore urged her 876,000 Twitter followers on Wednesday, listing Twitter handles and phone numbers for eight senators. Her targets included longtime senators John Bonacic and Bill Larkin, who together represent all of Orange and Sullivan counties and part of Ulster, as well as George Amedore of Rotterdam, whose district includes part of Ulster and who has a Kingston office.

Abuse survivors and their supporters have been trying for more than a dozen years to get New York to extend its statutes of limitations for victims to seek criminal charges or bring lawsuits against their abusers. Under current law, they are out of luck once they turn 23 – far too young, advocates say, for traumatized victims to come forward. A bill that the state Assembly passed in a 139-7 vote last year would extend those deadlines to age 28 for criminal cases and 50 for civil cases.

The obstacle to passage of the Child Victims Act has been the Senate’s ruling Republican conference, which objects to a provision giving victims who were abused at any time one year after the law is enacted to sue the perpetrators and any culpable institutions. Republicans have taken the view of the Catholic Church – echoed this week by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan during a visit to Albany – that a “one-year window” would invite a deluge of lawsuits over allegations that date back decades.

Supporters of the Child Victims Act intensified their campaign this year, hoping the national reckoning over sexual abuse and harassment had given their cause momentum. They have rallied outside senators’ offices, including Bonacic’s in Middletown in January. Gov. Andrew Cuomo put the Child Victims Act in his budget proposal that month, making it possible the issue will come to a head in final budget wrangling next week.

Bonacic explained his opposition to the one-year window in a statement after the rally outside his office.

“We believe that would create an evidentiary nightmare for the integrity of the judicial system, allowing someone to seek restitution 30, 40, 50 years later,” he wrote then. “As people age, their memories slip, their senses slip, and that is why we have statutes of limitations.”

The response infuriated Kathryn Robb, an attorney and victim advocate who participated in the Middletown rally. “As a survivor of child sexual abuse, trust me, my memory has not faded,”  Robb said in an email to the Times Herald-Record. She then raised a counter-argument that advocates repeated in a press release this week: that Senate Republicans have supported three other bills that enable plaintiffs to bring previously time-barred court claims, including one for medical malpractice suits.

“The hypocrisy on the one-year window provision tells you everything you need to know about the moral character of the State Senate leadership and its members,” Stephen Jimenez, an abuse survivor and co-founder of the group New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators, charged in the press release.

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