New York law helps abuse survivors seek justice

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New York — Joanne Schoonmaker said a janitor began raping her when she was just 11 at her public middle school in upstate New York. She said eventually, she told the school principal. 

“He said to just stay away from him,” Schoonmaker said. “I never heard from any law enforcement or anyone. No one was there to protect me.”
 
But she is finding justice with a new statute of limitations law taking effect at midnight in New York. The state’s groundbreaking Child Victims Act gives Schoonmaker and other victims sexually abused as a child, a one year “lookback window” to file a civil lawsuit, regardless of their age now. It will likely lead to a tidal wave of litigation against institutions like the Catholic Church, public and private schools and the Boy Scouts.

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., also have revised statute laws taking effect this year.  

“The average age, according to the best science, of a victim coming forward about child sex abuse is age 52,” said Marci Hamilton, founder of the child abuse advocacy group Child USA.

Schoonmaker is now 51, and said for the first time in 40 years, she has a voice.

“I trusted them to take care of me,” she said.

Schoonmaker said her alleged abuser was later convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl. She plans to file a civil lawsuit against the principal and Wellsville School District Wednesday morning. The school had no comment.

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