Senate GOP proposes fund for victims of child sex abuse (updated)

Senate Republicans have proposed creating a $300 million state fund to pay victims of childhood sex abuse rather then letting them sue abusers and institutions as a potential compromise on long-stalled legislation.

The bill introduced on May 10 by Sen. Cathy Young would allow abuse victims barred from suing because of New York’s statute of limitations to apply for cash payments from the new fund, which would be overseen by the state comptroller and an administrator. The $300 million would come from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s asset forfeiture account.

The bill – the Senate Republicans’ answer to the Child Victims Act – also would eliminate the statute of limitation for prosecution of child sex crimes, but leave intact the time limit for bringing civil cases. Young argued in a press release that paying victims from a state fund would be “more efficient and expedited” than lawsuits for providing restitution for physical and psychological harm.

“While the wounds will never fully heal, victims deserve access to all avenues of justice, both criminal and monetary,” Young said. “This legislation serves as the bridge to that justice.”

Two groups that have put public pressure on Senate Republicans to drop their opposition to the Child Victims Act took conflicting positions on the Republicans’ counter-offer. Gary Greenberg, founder of ProtectNYKids, praised it in Young’s press release, calling it “a sincere effort by Senator Young to help past and future victims” and urging collaboration to improve the legislation.

“The bill is a work in progress, and I urge all parties to work together to bring long-sought healing and justice to victims of child sexual abuse,” Greenberg said.

But other advocates hammered the proposal for its notable omission: a provision giving any past victims of childhood sexual abuse one year to sue their abusers and culpable institutions. That one-year window has been the main point of contention, with supporters saying it was crucial to unmask child predators and let victims bring otherwise time-barred court claims, and opponents saying it would expose institutions like the Catholic Church to decades-old abuse allegations.

Critics of the GOP compromise called it “a direct handout” to insurers who would otherwise pay claims for “institutions that have put children in harm’s way: the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jewish yeshivas, the Boy Scouts, elite boarding schools, and numerous sports organizations like USA Volleyball.” They also contend that avoiding court cases means no discovery process that could reveal other abuse victims.

“Senator Young’s misguided child sex abuse statute of limitations bill should be called the Institutional Subsidy Act – it shields institutions by using state funds to pay victims,” Marci Hamilton, CEO of CHILD USA and co-founder of New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators, said in a press release. “The only way to do the right thing by the victims from the past is to pass a window that revives their expired SOLs (statutes of limitations) and lets them go to court. That is the tried and true method of identifying hidden child predators.”

(Update: Young, in an interview Wednesday on the cable news show “Capital Tonight,” offered this counter-argument: that the proposed compensation fund would benefit more victims than lawsuits would, because those who were abused at home or in other non-institutional places would likely collect little in court damages from their abusers. “I feel very strongly that we need to help every victim,” Young said.)

New York currently bars people who were sexually abused as children from seeking charges against their abusers or suing after they turn 23, an cutoff that victims and their advocates say is far too restrictive. A version of the Child Victims Act passed by the Assembly in a 130-10 vote this month would give victims until age 25 for misdemeanors and 28 for felonies in criminal cases, and allow them to bring lawsuits until age 50. The bill includes a one-year window for lawsuits by past abuse victims.

The Senate GOP proposal has not been taken up yet and has no Assembly sponsor. This year’s legislative session ends on June 20.


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