On February 14, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered a powerful speech at the New York Daily News headquarters, moments before signing what might be the most significant piece of legislation involving survivors of child abuse to date.
The legislation has become known as the Child Victims Act.
As stated by New York’s Government Web Site, this new law:
- Provides that the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of a sexual offense committed against a child shall not begin to run until the child turns 23 years of age.
- Provides that a civil action for conduct constituting a sexual offense against a child shall be brought before the child turns 55 years of age.
- Revives previously barred actions related to sexual abuse of children.
- Grants civil trial preference to such actions.
- Eliminates the notice of claim requirements for such actions when the action is brought against a municipality, the state or a school district.
- Requires judicial training relating to child abuse and the establishment of rules relating to civil actions brought for sexual offenses committed against children.
These stipulations represent landmark changes to New York laws protecting minors, which previously placed unrealistic limits on the time given for victims to come forward and report abuse, or file a civil lawsuit seeking justice.
Experts in the field now recognize that it may take 25, 30, 35 years or even longer before a victim of childhood abuse is able to disclose the crimes committed against them.
According to veteran Psychotherapist Beverly Engel,
“Many of us are familiar with the reasons why children do not come forward to report child sexual abuse, but many don’t understand why adults continue to carry this secret, sometimes to their graves.” – from the article Why Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Don’t Disclose, Psychology Today.
Thanks to brilliant investigative reporting of the past 20 years, journalists have given a voice to survivors, while exposing the corrupt and flawed organizations which so often suppressed reports of abuse, or protected these pedophiles.
This collective voice has empowered thousands to come forward seeking justice- not just for themselves- but for the vast number of at-risk children left unprotected because of organizational secrecy and lack of respect for mandatory reporting laws.
Why Significant for Jehovah’s Witnesses?
In addition to extending the age for reporting abuse both criminally and civilly, the most potent legislative change gives all abuse survivors the opportunity to seek help and representation even if they were previously barred due to the Statute of Limitations.
The new law is commonly referred to as a “Window to Justice” – a term which refers to the time period survivors now have to file charges or civil lawsuits in the State of New York. For New York, the window is one year, and the clock begins ticking from August 14, 2019, and will run through July 2020.
While civil cases often take several years to process and resolve, as long as the initial filing takes place within the specified window, victims who file can be assured that they will see their day in court.
For the majority of survivors of abuse, the new law is a welcome legal tool, but only for citizens of New York State. However, for Jehovah’s Witness victims, the legislation is far more significant. The Witness organization is headquartered in New York, which means that any and all cases from all 50 States are eligible where the Watchtower Organization is a defendant.
The key to filing such cases revolves around Watchtower’s decades-old policy in which allegations of sexual abuse are handled internally as matters of “sin”- but are rarely if ever reported to law enforcement.
While Jehovah’s Witnesses publicly claim to abide by and follow mandatory reporting statutes, they deliberately obstruct justice by claiming that clergy-penitent privilege applies to nearly every allegation of abuse reported.
The distortion, or corruption of clergy privilege has effectively become a JW corporate policy directed at self-preservation rather than child-preservation. Such procedures hinder trained law enforcement experts from addressing these crimes.
The Child Victims Act permits victims of abuse to hold accountable the institutions which intensified their injuries through negligence and malice.
A driving factor in the exposure of these flawed policies has been the heroic and tireless efforts of investigating and reporting journalists, beginning with the Catholic Church inquiries.
True Journalism Matters
At the outset of Governor Cuomo’s February speech at the Daily News headquarters, he stated:
“Why are we at the Daily News today? Because one lesson is that true journalism still matters. It’s not enough to have facts and righteousness on your side. If one is trying to take on major institutions, and challenge the status quo, and raise an ugly reality, the first step is still exposure…”
“The first step is to tell the truth, that citizens must understand the problem, and it’s the citizens that must demand change before the political process will act. Theoretically, traditionally…that is the role of journalists: “
“To reveal the facts, to paint the picture, to tell the truth, even when ugly, even when uncomfortable, to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, to challenge the abuse of big institutions.”
Cuomo went on to explain how the Daily News started the drumbeat for justice by writing 252 articles on the Child Victims Act since 2009, including 223 articles and 29 editorials.
“That my friends is real journalism, and that’s how we make change,” said Cuomo.
Since 2012, JW Survey has reported on child abuse within the Jehovah’s Witness organization, more than any other subject matter.
If you are a victim, what can you do?
For those who have been affected by the cruel act of child abuse, it may take decades or longer to heal from the wounds inflicted during childhood. There are many pathways to recovery, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
If you are at the point in your life where you wish to come to terms with your abuse, the Child Victims Act might prove to be just what is needed.
If you choose to speak to a qualified, competent attorney, rest assured they will help guide you through the process with courtesy, kindness, and professionalism. Coming forward may seem overwhelming at first, but the resources available now are more dependable than ever.
Holding institutions accountable for failure to report abuse sends a strong message: You can’t maintain child protection policies, then fail to protect children.
The welfare of children far outweighs the reputation and interests of global corporations like Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Child Victims Act will make sure of that.