Victims of child sex abuse in New York who had been waiting decades to bring their cases to court finally had their chance on Wednesday.
The state’s long-awaited Child Victims Act went into effect at midnight Wednesday, prompting an immediate flood of electronically filed New York State Supreme Court lawsuits — the majority of which targeted Catholic dioceses across the state.
Just minutes after midnight, more than 100 Child Victims Act lawsuits were filed in 11 of the state’s 62 counties, including dozens of suits in the city.
The majority of the defendants in the suits are listed as local Catholic dioceses. At least three cases are also being brought against the Boy Scouts of America.
One of the suits targeting the Archdiocese of New York and other Catholic services in the city details widespread sexual abuse of children at a Staten Island homeless shelter for decades beginning in the 1960s.
A plaintiff in the suit claims a group of nuns surrounded her at the Mount Loretto shelter, forced her to strip, then made her lie down naked while a naked older boy got on top of her and sexually abused her.
“The four or five nuns stood around her and laughed,” the plaintiff alleges in the suit.
Several other plaintiffs in the suit describe similar acts of torture and sexual abuse carried out by priests, nuns and other staff members at the shelter, according to the suit.
Dozens of suits were also filed in Erie County soon after midnight, most of them targeting the Diocese of Buffalo.
Other suits detailed sexual abuse by public school workers and even family members, including a suit by a woman who claimed her brother raped her every night for about six years in the 1960s and 70s.
The landmark legislation opened up a new one-year “look-back window” for victims of child sex abuse to file civil lawsuits against their abusers, regardless of when the alleged abuse occured.
Once the one-year window closes, victims have until they turn 55 to file civil suits against their abusers and the institutions that enabled the abuse to go on.
The old statute of limitations for civil actions was three years beginning when the victim turned 18 years old.
The new law also nixes the normal requirement to file a notice of claim before a lawsuit, which will speed up the process.
Under the legislation, victims looking to file criminal charges can do so until they turn 28 for felony charges, and age 25 for misdemeanors. The new thresholds are a five year increase over past statute of limitations.