Zero Abuse Project discusses child victims law

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NEWBURGH — State Senator James Skoufis (D, Woodbury) joined representatives from nonprofit organization Zero Abuse Project to discuss the New York Child Victims Act, which was passed into law earlier this year.

The law will extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse reporting from 23 years old to 55-years-old. The law opened a one-year window starting on August 14 for past victims to file a civil claim, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

“Before we passed the Child Victims Act, New York State had literally the worst statute of limitations in the country of any state,” Skoufis said. “I was delighted to be part of the new Senate that finally was able to get this bill across the finish line.”

Jeff Dion, CEO of the Zero Abuse Project, said the law matters to all victims of child sex abuse.

“It doesn’t matter if it happened in the home by your uncle, or if it was a clergy member or a youth leader or a teacher,” he said. “Anyone who is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse that occurred in New York State can file under this bill.”

Dion also believes the current political climate moved the legislation along.

“In the Me Too Movement, we had a lot of survivors coming forward talking about their experience and why they felt powerless to say anything, and those were all adults. I think it just drove home the point that even if adults who experience this have all of these barriers to coming forward, imagine what it’s like for a child, which just makes it just that much more important that for those who were victimized as children, that they have this opportunity to come forward when they are ready and they are strong enough,” he said.

One of the organization’s founding board members, Joelle Castiex, shared her experience of being abused by a high school teacher, which led her to be a part of a major moment in sex crimes law history.

In 2003, the statute of limitations was lifted for one year in California amidst an onslaught of sexual abuse claims against clergy leaders. Castiex was one of many victims who spoke about her experience in a Catholic school one the statute of limitations was lifted.

“Church officials knew the abuse was going on at the time, and did nothing to stop it,” he said. “What [coming forward] did was it allowed me to peel away the layers of the onion of the cover up.”

The ongoing issue of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was thought to be the reason why the law took years to pass in New York State.

The State Senate was led by Republicans for years before Democrats took the majority after the 2018 election. When Republicans were in control of the upper house, the measure was blocked.