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Child Victims Act Supporters Want Measure In NY Senate Budget

Karen DeWitt
Actor Corey Feldman

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse delivered an emotional appeal to New York state senators today, after they learned that the Senate did not put the Child Victims Act into their budget plan. The measure would offer more opportunities for survivors to gain justice in the court system.

Child actor star Corey Feldman was one of dozens of victims who came to the Capitol in Albany Wednesday to express their concern over the Senate’s actions. The 47-year-old Feldman, who was in the 1980s and 1990s films Stand By Me, Friday the 13th and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, says he’s been seeking justice for decades.

“30 years, I first told the police about what happened to me as a child,” Feldman said. "30 years ago when I first told the police that my best friend was raped as a child and had never gotten his life back. And because of that, his life was tarnished and traumatized to the point where he ended up taking his own life at the early age of 38."

The case has never been heard in court.  

The Child Victims Act would raise the age for victims to bring lawsuits from 23 to 50. It would also provide a one-year window of opportunity for people who survived abuse long in the past to have their day in court.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo put the measure into his state budget proposal, and the Assembly included the legislation in its one house spending plan. But advocates, including Senate bill sponsor Brad Hoylman, a Democrat, say they were dismayed when they looked at the Senate’s spending plan, and found, in the space where the language for the Child Victims Act would have been, the words “intentionally omitted” instead.

“The Republican Senate thinks they can intentionally omit the concerns of survivors, families and parents across the state of New York,” Hoylman said. “We’re not going to let them get away with it.”

A spokesman for Republicans, who lead the state Senate, says that doesn’t mean that senators will not consider a different version of a measure to give childhood victims of sexual abuse longer to file both criminal and civil lawsuits. But the Senate so far has not backed the one-year window of opportunity for past victims to bring cases in court.

Senator Hoylman, on the Senate floor, asked Senate Finance Committee Chair Cathy Young, if the Senate Republicans are ruling out backing the one-year look-back.

Young was non-committal, and said the issue will be discussed in private among legislative leaders and Governor Cuomo at the “leaders table." 

“It is mentioned in our proposal because there will be discussions at the leaders’ table about that issue,” Young said.

Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan says he’s not ruling out the one-year look-back, but needs to talk to organizations that would be effected by the potential lawsuits first.  

“We need to be talking to hospitals, nursing homes, school districts, local governments,” Flanagan said. “The ramifications are of such a magnitude that I think we need to be judicious and take our time and get it down properly.”

Advocates, including Richard Tollner, who says he was abused by a priest when he was a teenager in the 1970s, say that one-year window is key, and nonnegotiable, because in addition to providing justice for older victims, it also helps identify hidden predators.

“All of the molesters and perpetrators of the crimes against us are still out there,” Tollner said.  "The state of New York allow them to continue their craft. These are not people on the sex-offender list. These are people who've been allowed by the New York state Senate to continue harming kids." 

Survivor Beth McCabe says she hopes the awareness created by the #MeToo movement and sexual harassment of women will help spur senators on the fence to realize that childhood sexual abuse victims need justice, too.

“Time is up,” McCabe said.

The final budget is due in just over two weeks, and the advocates say they will be back.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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