It is Time to Permanently Eliminate Time Limit Restrictions for Child Sex Abuse Victims Seeking Legal Justice

In 2019, New York passed the Child Victims Act, a law that changed the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse, extending the civil limit age from 23 to 55. For victims who had already aged out of these timeframes, the law permitted a one-year lookback window, temporarily eliminating the statute of limitations to give child victims another chance at civil justice, becoming active in August of 2019 and initially supposed to end in August of 2020.

The reason the lookback window was created was because the detrimental effects of childhood sexual abuse made reporting the crime difficult. If it ever even happened, the reporting was unlikely to occur so soon after turning 18. But the small time frame also favored certain types of child victims. With only a year, law firms preferred class-action cases, and victims had to make rash, untested decisions. If your case deviated at all from the norm, oftentimes, you were forced to seek other methods for justice. Otherwise you would be left permanently without justice. I was one such victim.

After I turned 23, I went to the police in an attempt to get justice for getting trafficked when I was a teenager growing up in New York. I had been contacted on Myspace when I was 14 by a violent 18-year-old who would drug and rape me. He would also find older men on Craigslist to do the same to me, and they would pay him in cash or drugs. This lasted until I was 17 when I started to look too old and would fight back. I was afraid of that man, unable to understand what had happened to me, and tried to kill myself when I was 17. Then, I moved to San Diego when I turned 18, oscillating between days of sunny beaches and night terrors, once slashing my wrists after a period of nightmares. Finally, I had a major breakdown when I was 22 in 2014, and I couldn’t keep secret what happened to me any longer.

Following the breakdown, I called the police in my childhood home and reported what had happened to me nearly a decade before. The information was relayed to a detective, and I drove to the police station in my Honda Element, trembling as I told the detective what I remembered. It had been six years since the last time I had been trafficked, and still I could really only tell the detective about a few isolated details without needing to stop. The problem was that the details I gave outlined crimes for which I was no longer eligible for justice. I was too old. I had been a child victim. The detective joked to me that he wished he put a wire on me so that they could have gotten more info that might have led to an arrest. I said goodbye and moved on with my life.

In 2018, I was in treatment for Complex PTSD at the Crime Victims Treatment Center. The diagnosis clarified the mysterious cyclical years I had experienced after my violent teenage years. Part of my problem had been that I had not told people what had happened to me, so no professionals were seeing how I acted in light of the facts. People referred to dissociation as rising above your body, but I experienced this phenomenon as a sudden intoxication, like taking ambien or benadryl. Although flashbacks contained unwanted imagery, what really happened to me was suddenly feeling as if I were back in the rooms where I was getting raped. I stayed the same; the room changed. All of this jumbles time, and to heal from this, you learn techniques to separate the timelines, ways to keep the past the past and yourself in the present. You learn how to keep yourself safe and remind yourself of that fact.

When I learned that New York was going to pass the Child Victims Act, I prepared by figuring out what I wanted to do, which meant informing some of my family and friends what had happened to me as a teenager, or compartmentalizing and keeping secrets from those I cared about. This meant that I thought non-stop about the abuse, which worsened my days with more flashbacks, enacting daily cycles of high stress followed by catatonic fatigue and then searching for mind-numbing ways to escape. Considering I had only one year to attempt this sort of justice, everything moved at hyper-speed. I had no time to waste.

I had little experience with the legal system, and the process of attaining counsel as someone without money in New York meant that I first needed to go through the National Crime Victims Bar Association, an organization that refers victims to attorneys, who would take the meeting at a reduced, set rate. I told my story to the intake person on the phone, and then they connected me through email to three law offices, who I then had to contact myself. I emailed these law offices, who then had a junior lawyer call me to ask me details about my case, and I summarized for strangers the most shocking, violent moments of my life. Then, later that day or the next, they would ask for more information or apologize to me to tell me that they couldn’t take my case. They told me that the lawsuits they were interested in were class action against institutions like the church or boy scouts—or cases involving the famous or extremely wealthy, for insurance purposes. I was raped by a wealthy person, but not wealthy enough, and even then, the rapes didn’t take place somewhere that insurance would cover the ideal price. I was targeted and unlucky for what happened to me as a teenager, and then unluckier many years later for the way in which it happened. The lawyers, who were apologetic, told me to keep searching.

I didn’t want this period to have come to nothing. Remembering that the detective had joked about me wearing I wire, I figured that maybe something would happen if I were able to get one of the rapists to confess. I downloaded a gay hook-up app and changed my location to search for one of the men whose houses I had been to, and I found his face in the grid. I gave him my number and then screen-recorded our conversation as I trembled. He admitted to paying to rape and torture me when I was younger.

When the conversation ended, I emailed the detective from my case with the recording, and then we met at the FBI headquarters, where I gave my new evidence and tried again to move on with my life. The lookback window would be over soon, and I hoped to enter into a quieter era. But then New York extended the lookback window by a single year. They cited COVID-19. While this was good for the world, it seemed to go against their logic that this lookback window had to be short and quick in order for the preservation of cases, and it made the law feel as though it were serving people other than the victims.

If all the victims going forward from 2019 would have decades of time to report their crimes, why was I only getting an additional year? The Child Victims Act was partially great because of what it had done for future victims, but I also started to feel as though it were punishing me. The logic didn’t add up, and the cycles felt as though they had no thought on how ending and beginning, extending and creating hierarchies would impact the victims. Now the law was also functioning as a random forceful trigger.

In August of 2023, I read an in the local news that lawmakers were considering renewing the lookback window in 2024. This again would prove that the logic of these single-year laws was false. You cannot have multiple expiration dates, and then keep telling me that it’s going to be good for another year. Child victims of the past must retain the same rights as victims in the future. Otherwise, there will be different classes of victims, where victims whose assaults involve corporations and insurance would have easier access to justice and a more likely result of a settlement, and then the people like me, whose cases are trickier without famous rapists or major insurance coverage, wouldn’t get the same kind of result.

By eliminating the statutes entirely, law firms would have the time to figure out how to properly litigate our cases and have more of an incentive to help. If we keep getting forced into these brief cycles, then we will not have only been victimized by our rapists, but also by the people who are trying to help us.