Numerous survivors of sexual abuse have begun taking advantage of a law allowing them to seek the justice that has eluded them for so long.
The state Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo enacted the Child Victims Act earlier this year. The act extends the statute of limitations for both civil and criminal cases to be filed against offenders.
It also provides a one-year window for all victims to file lawsuits against offenders and organizations, no matter how long ago the sexual abuse occurred. This provision went into effect Aug. 14.
The New York State Unified Court System designated 45 judges across the state in anticipation of these civil actions.
“The revived Child Victims Act cases are critically important cases, raising numerous challenging legal issues that must be adjudicated as consistently and expeditiously as possible across the state,” Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks said in an Aug. 13 news release. “We are fully committed to providing appropriate and sufficient resources to achieve that goal.”
More than 400 lawsuits were filed last week. Representatives from two law firms — LaFave, Wein & Frament and Jeff Anderson & Associates — held a news conference Aug. 15 in Watertown to discuss their cases against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg.
Cases filed so far against north country priests appear to be higher than other regions of the state when comparing their number of parishioners. With 1,428,296 Catholics, the Diocese of Rockville Centre had 19 lawsuits filed against it. And the Syracuse Diocese, with 227,431 Catholics, had six lawsuits filed against it.
With 90,470 Catholics, the Ogdensburg Diocese had 14 lawsuits filed against it last week. Attorneys for these plaintiffs indicated that this higher rate of legal action is a cause for concern.
“We’ve been watching things up here. They’ve been on our radar,” Jeff Anderson, principal of Jeff Anderson & Associates, said of the north country prior to the news conference, according to a story published Aug. 15 by the Watertown Daily Times. “We’re looking into whether this is a place priests were moved if they were accused.”
A lawsuit also was filed last week in Onondaga County against the Longhouse Council of the Boy Scouts of America on behalf of Craig Bleau of Watertown and a man now living in Virginia identified as R.E.M., according to the court document. Instances of sexual abuse in both cases occurred at Camp Vigor in St. Lawrence County, the lawsuit claims.
The lawyers in Watertown last week acknowledged that the Ogdensburg Diocese has taken some measures to address the atrocities committed by its priests. For two years, the diocese operated an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program through which victims could receive a settlement if they waived their right to any future action.
But the attorneys are seeking additional information for their clients that they said the Ogdensburg Diocese has concealed. For one, they want to know if any of the priests accused of sexual abuse remain active.
State officials are to be commended for implementing the Child Victims Act and allowing individuals to pursue this remedy for the abuse they suffered. We urge people to use this provision of the law responsibly during the time it allows. Authorities with the Ogdensburg Diocese should cooperate to the fullest extent they can to ensure survivors receive the vital resources they need as they work to recover from their harrowing ordeal.