It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in the child sex abuse survivors’ movement. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the news and the emotions involved (Heck, even I’m overwhelmed).
After years of little action, it seems as if survivors and advocates have been thrown into a hurricane of news, reaction and emotion—lots and lots of emotion.
First: Take a breath. You are going to be okay. Don’t panic or feel like you have to jump on the bandwagon. This is your decision and your journey.
Hopefully, this post and the posts that follow can be of some help. During the next few days, I plan on addressing some of the big issues here.
In future posts, I will talk about the recent Papal conference on child sexual abuse, the powerful roles survivors and advocates played in Rome, future SOL reform actions, and the recent “outbreak” of dioceses’ lists of accused priests (and why you may not see so many of them anymore).
So let’s dive in and talk about about the NY Child Victims’ Act.
The NY CVA
After more than a decade of battles and brave advocacy by generations of survivors, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the NY Child Victims’ Act into law on Valentine’s Day.
The law does a variety of things, but for the purposes of this blog, we are going to talk about the retroactive window, which allows victims of child sexual abuse to use the civil courts to expose their abuser and the institution that protected the abuser and facilitated the sexual assault.
When is the New York window in effect?
The window opens on August 14, 2019, and closes on August 14, 2020. Attorneys have until August 14, 2020 to file cases. My suggestion is that survivors interested in taking advantage of the law should make a decision by May 2020. No one wants to or should be rushed.
Do people have to know that I am filing a lawsuit?
No. Because you are the alleged victim of a crime, you can file the lawsuit as a John or Jane Doe. No one needs to know your identity or know that you are filing the suit. The only people who will know are you, your attorney, and the entity/ies you are suing. They cannot make your name public.
I’ve never had an attorney before. How do I find one I can trust?
Do your research. It’s not very difficult. Here are some easy steps:
- Talk to someone you trust and/or who has been through the process before.
- Look up the person who sexually abused you. Has he/she been exposed before? Has an attorney already done work for other victims of this perpetrator or researched this person? That is valuable knowledge.
- Do an internet search on the institution that covered up your abuse, if applicable. Are there attorneys who have deep knowledge of this institution?
- Do an internet search for attorneys who have already filed lawsuits or already done work for victims in New York. If your prospective attorney has never filed a sex abuse lawsuit (especially a clergy sex abuse lawsuit) or has never done any work in New York, you may want to interview other attorneys. It’s easy to do work in New York now that the law is open. But who did work for victims when it was hard? You want an attorney who will work for you when times are hard. There are a number of those out there.
- Talk to more than one attorney. Finding an attorney is like dating. Just because your friend thinks that her attorney is wonderful doesn’t mean that you and the attorney will have the same chemistry. That’s okay. The best attorney for your friend may not be the best attorney for you.
- You may be pressured by your friends to sign with their attorneys. Don’t be. This is not junior high. It’s okay to swim in your own lane.
- Be careful of social media. Just because someone has a lot of followers doesn’t mean that their attorney is the best attorney for you.
- Do not sign up via a website. Make sure you talk to someone over the phone or in person first. Phone interviews are perfectly acceptable.
- An ethical attorney will never charge you money up front.
- You are the customer. While you were a victim of child sexual abuse, you need not be a victim of the system or of unscrupulous attorneys.
- Beware of high pressure. No ethical attorney will give you an artificial time limit to sign (except in the case of the VERY REAL deadline of the window).
- Beware of class action lawsuits.
Is there a referral list?
What if I was a part of the IRCP?
You should still talk to an attorney. You may have rights. You can also act as a witness for other survivors. You provided a great deal of information to the church. Now you have the opportunity to help others and yourself with that same information.
Do ethical attorneys advertise?
You bet they do. But always do your due diligence and research.
How long will this process take?
No one knows for sure. The window for victims will close on August 14, 2020, but that is only the beginning of the journey. After that, the legal process could take months to years. Fortunately, the process, while tedious, is where we can learn about a great deal of institutional cover-up.
Should I be seeing a therapist?
Yes. Even if you are far along in your healing, the legal process may take you places you have not been in years. I saw a therapist through my litigation. Fighting the status quo is hard. You need a support system.
The journey will be rough, but it’s an amazing healing journey that will save children’s lives. Many of the best and most experienced attorneys will not take a case unless the survivor agrees to go through rehab or engage in therapy. This is for your benefit and healing. If you can’t afford it, your attorney will help you figure out how to get the help you need without incurring debt or costs.
The most important question:
The NY Child Victims’ Act is an amazing opportunity for survivors in New York. So as you embark on this journey, think about this question:
How will you change the world today?