NEW YORK (AFP) - Hundreds of alleged child sex abuse victims filed civil cases in New York State Wednesday (Aug 14) under a new law that allows them to seek damages for crimes going back decades.
The Child Victims Act extends the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. It was approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo in February but opposed by the Catholic Church.
The law allows alleged victims until the age of 55 to file civil cases and 28 for criminal suits, compared to a limit of 23 under the old rule.
It also establishes a one-year litigation window for any victim, regardless of age, to take civil action.
It is not known how many lawsuits were filed across the multiple courts in New York State, which is home to 30 million people including seven million Catholics.
But lawyer Jeff Anderson said his firm was filing cases for more than 200 victims of abuse by clergy plus other cases against scout leaders, doctors and teachers.
"This is a momentous time for courageous survivors who have waited so long for justice in New York," Anderson told a press conference.
"They now have an opportunity to take back power stolen from them when they were kids and start to heal," he added.
Jeanne Marron, one of Anderson's clients who says she was sexually abused at a Catholic school for five years, said she did not believe the cases would ever come to fruition.
"I never thought I'd be here today," she said.
New York state courts designated 45 judges, including 12 in New York city, to prepare for an expected influx of lawsuits.
"(They) are critically important cases, raising numerous challenging legal issues, that must be adjudicated as consistently and expeditiously as possible across the state," Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks said in a statement Tuesday.
Although many of the accused will be dead, the law allows victims to sue institutions.
A woman who says disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein raped her when she was 15 filed a case against his estate, as well as his former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell and three other unidentified accomplices.
Since last August's publication of a grand jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, many states have opened investigations to uncover abuses in the Catholic Church.