Dozens of people in New York state who were victims of sexual abuse as children sued the Roman Catholic Church in New York on Wednesday, the first day a new law temporarily enabled them to file lawsuits over decades-old crimes.
More than 70 people have filed lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church in New York as of early Wednesday, according to the New York County Supreme Court records, most of them accusing priests of sexually abusing them as children and church leaders of covering up the priests’ crimes.
The state’s landmark Child Victims Act, which is effective from Wednesday and will scrap, for one year, a statute of limitations that had barred older complaints and which critics said was too restrictive. The law is expected to lead to hundreds of lawsuits against churches, schools and youth groups.
The change in the law means people of any age in New York state have a year to file a retroactive sexual abuse lawsuit against an alleged offender.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure into law in February.
“This is society’s way of saying we are sorry,” Cuomo said at the bill signing event. “We are sorry for what happened to you. We are sorry that it took us so long to acknowledge what happened to you. We are sorry that justice took so long. We are sorry to the other victims who, in the interim, were also violated because society was slow in acting.”
After the one-year period expires, victims will have until the age of 55 to sue alleged abusers. That is up from a previous age limit of just 23 years old.
At least one woman who said she was sexually abused by the late Jeffrey Epstein sued the disgraced financier’s estate early on Wednesday, and more were expected to follow.
Jennifer Araoz, 32, said in her complaint that she was starting out in high school when an Epstein associate brought her to the financier’s massive mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, beginning a grooming process that led to months of sexual abuse, including what she called a “brutal rape.”
Araoz’s lawsuit also targets former Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, saying she facilitated Epstein’s abuse of several girls by overseeing their recruitment and “ensuring that approximately three girls a day were made available to him for his sexual pleasure.”
Epstein, who once counted Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former president Bill Clinton as friends, died at age 66 on Saturday.
He had been found unresponsive in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, where he had been detained after charges were filed against him earlier this summer. He apparently hanged himself, according to federal prison authorities.
Boy Scouts also bracing for lawsuits
A lawsuit was also filed against Boy Scouts of America, accusing the national organization of knowingly employing thousands of leaders who were suspected of molesting children.
Cases are expected to be filed in the coming weeks against churches, schools, hospitals and other institutions across New York City, with defendants ranging from the plaintiffs’ relatives and neighbours to members of the clergy.
One law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, said it would file 400 lawsuits under the Child Victims Act just in New York City, with plaintiffs ranging from teenagers to people in their 90s. Statewide, the firm said it was representing more than 1,200 people who were victims of sexual abuse as children.
A separate group of law firms, including Seeger Weiss, said it would be representing at least 170 plaintiffs across the state, many with complaints against the Roman Catholic Church.