Coronavirus Extends Deadlines in Child Sexual Abuse Cases

Coronavirus Child Sexual Abuse

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo already made headlines by approving a sweeping child sexual abuse law which could provide relief to thousands of victims.

Cuomo made headlines again by further extending deadlines “to ensure that COVID-19 does not stand in the way of justice.”

Specifically, the order extended the lookback period to January 14, 2021. Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) applauded Cuomo’s act.

She noted that “many people have yet to come forward.”

These victims need more time because “they are just starting to deal with it emotionally, and finding an attorney, and finding paperwork and just coming to terms,” she added.

Cuomo’s order helps ensure that the March 2020 New York on PAUSE Act will not adversely affect victims.

Sex Abuse and COVID-19

Rosenthal, Cuomo, and others are concerned that the coronavirus pandemic might increase the number of child sexual assaults.

Since children are not in school, many abusers believe they are less likely to get caught.

Indeed, these reports dropped by about 40 percent in Suffolk and Nassau Counties in March and April 2020.

The economic and emotional strain of stay-at-home orders might cause some people to lash out.

Traditionally, abuse worsens during economic downturns. “It’s the perfect storm for child abuse because we have this high-stress environment but we don’t have as many services being provided to children,” opined Safe Center of Long Island Director Keith Scott.

Why We Pursue Sex Trafficking/Sex Abuse Claims

The Constitution bans human trafficking and slavery, but pandemic or not, these problems are much more widespread now than they were in the Civil War.

Sex trafficking is clearly against the law in New York, and these laws include some very harsh penalties. Furthermore, many New Yorkers are anxious to enforce these laws.

However, prosecutors cannot move forward without a complaining witness.

Frequently, these individuals are reluctant to come forward.

Perhaps they had a bad experience with law enforcement somewhere along the line, or perhaps they have legal issues of their own, such as outstanding warrants or immigration problems.

Additionally, these investigations often rely on confidential informants.

It’s not easy for these people to risk life and limb so they can involve police investigators whom they may not necessarily trust.

Sex abuse claims have similar issues.

A number of laws, such as the Violence Against Women Act, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, are on the books.

But these laws often provide limited victim assistance. Additionally, overwhelmed federal law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities cannot possibly handle all these cases.

So, New York personal injury lawyers play a critical role in this process.

Attorneys use a variety of approaches to uphold victims’ rights and, more importantly, obtain the compensation they need to put their lives back together.

Lawyers also lobby for stronger and more comprehensive laws that give law enforcement more tools and keep the conversation going.

Breaking Down Child Sexual Abuse Claims in New York

The aforementioned Child Victims Act was a major leap forward for all sex abuse victims in general, and organizational sexual abuse victims in general. Some key provisions of this law include:

  • Extending the statute of limitations in criminal cases from age 18 to age 23, and extending the civil statute of limitations from age 23 to age 55,
  • Creating a one-year lookback period for victims to bring claims, if the statute of limitations has expired,
  • Lengthening the statute of limitations in related claims, such as negligent supervision and intentional torts liek assault, giving child sex abuse survivors additional legal options, and
  • Doing away with the notice of claim hurdle in child sex abuse claims against governmental organizations.

Many defendants challenge the constitutionality of this law, but the great weight of authority indicates it is a valid law.

COVID-19 and the Statute of Limitations

Coronavirus affects every aspect of our lives, and not just sex abuse claims.

So, the statute of limitations extensions have affected other areas of the law.

Normally, the statute of limitations in an accident, injury, or other tort claim is two years. If the victim does not file a legal claim before then, the victim might lose any right to recovery.

Two years sounds like a large window in a personal injury claim, but the time passes very quickly.

New York personal injury attorneys must diligently investigate the facts and research the law to build a claim. Furthermore, insurance companies are very adept at dragging their feet.

In March 2020, while the coronavirus crisis was still developing, Governor Cuomo signed an order extending the statute of limitations one month in civil cases.

So, if the two-year deadline fell during that time period, victims received an additional four weeks to file legal claims.

The doctrine of equitable tolling is also available. A judge can unilaterally extend the statute of limitations if:

  • The victim diligently pursued his/her rights, and
  • An extraordinary event prevented timely filing.

Courts only extend the statute of limitations if both these elements are present.

Attorneys protect your legal and financial rights in a variety of situations.

For a free consultation with an experienced New York personal injury attorney, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.