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What is the Child Victims Act?

The Child Victims Act is legislation that has been enacted in some U.S. states to modify the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse. The specifics of the Act can vary by state, but a common feature is extending the time during which a person who was sexually abused as a child can bring a lawsuit against their abuser or an institution that enabled the abuse. The Act also typically includes a “look-back” period during which survivors can file claims for abuse that took place many years or even decades ago.

For example, in New York, the Child Victims Act was signed into law on February 14, 2019. This legislation extends New York’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. Survivors have until age 55 to file civil lawsuits (the previous limit was until age 23). The law also includes a one-year “look-back window” that allows survivors of any age to start lawsuits related to their abuse, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. This “look-back window” was later extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Child Victims Act has been seen as a critical development in giving survivors of childhood sexual abuse more opportunity for legal recourse and acknowledgement of the long-term psychological impacts of such trauma, which might prevent survivors from coming forward until later in life.

The legal options available to child victims can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, the location (country, state, or region), and the laws applicable in that jurisdiction. However, some general options include:

  1. Criminal Prosecution: Law enforcement can pursue charges against the perpetrator. This can lead to jail time, fines, or other penalties for the abuser if they are found guilty.
  2. Civil Lawsuit: The victim or their guardian can sue the perpetrator or an institution that enabled the abuse for damages. If you are seeking damages, you’ll need a child victim personal injury attorney. These damages can include costs related to medical and psychological treatment, loss of earnings, and for pain and suffering.
  3. Child Protective Services (CPS): In cases where the abuse is happening within the home, CPS can step in to remove the child from the dangerous environment and place them in a safer one, which could be with other family members, in foster care, or other arrangements.
  4. Restraining or Protective Orders: Courts can issue orders that keep the perpetrator away from the victim, offering some level of protection.
  5. Victim’s Compensation Funds: Some jurisdictions have funds set up to compensate victims of crime, which can help to cover costs associated with the abuse, such as therapy and medical expenses.
  6. Support and Advocacy Services: While not strictly a legal option, a range of organizations offer support to child victims and their families, including counseling, advice on navigating the legal system, and advocacy in court.

If you or someone you know is in this situation, it’s very important to contact local law enforcement or a legal professional who can provide guidance based on the specifics of the situation and the applicable laws.