Sexual Abuse Survivors and Advocates Ask NJ Governor for More Time to Sue Perpetrators

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Supporters of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) outside the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore on Nov. 12, 2018. (CNS photo / Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review) 

Eleven national organizations that deal with sexual abuse are asking New Jersey’s governor to extend a Nov. 30 deadline after which considerably fewer victims of sexual trauma will be able to sue those who hurt them.

In 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed a measure that allows anyone who was sexually assaulted in New Jersey at any time by anyone to file a civil lawsuit against them and any institution that ignored or concealed the abuse until November 30, 2021. In recent years, 19 other states have adopted similar laws, often called ‘windows.’

But the 11 groups maintain that the COVID-pandemic, the Delta variant, Hurricane Ida and other factors have “slowed” and “complicated” legal processes, and made it difficult for many victims to learn about and take advantage of the law.

In a letter sent to Murphy on Oct. 11, they seek an extension of the law “for at least another year,” to help ensure that more victims can benefit from “this sorely-needed step toward prevention, justice, and healing.”

“If this can’t be achieved through executive action, we ask you to call upon and work with the legislature to take this sorely-needed step toward prevention, justice and healing,” they write.

In 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Senate Bill S2440—the Child Victims Act (CVA)—which provided a similar ‘window.’ Because of the pandemic, he later signed an executive order moving the deadline back until August of this year. Some 10,800 victims filed suits in New York, many against alleged predators that had never yet been publicly identified.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are also considering an abuse window.

“Adding time to this crucial ‘window’ would expose child molesters and make more vulnerable kids safer,” said Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “It would also enable more still-suffering victims to find the strength and courage to take action against those who hurt them.”

The 11 groups are: the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP); Child USA; Zero Abuse Project; Male Survivor; Into Account; Voice of the Faithful; BishopAccountability.org; Taking Back Ourselves; Stop Baptist Predators; the Leadership Council on Child Abuse; and Interpersonal Violence and Prevent Abuse LLC.

A copy of the letter is below:

Dear Governor Murphy:

We are deeply grateful to you and to New Jersey lawmakers who temporarily lifted the civil statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. Thanks to your wise and compassionate action, some victims have been able to expose those who committed and concealed heinous acts against them as children. The New Jersey Child Victims Act has already helped make the state safer and helped suffering survivors feel validated.

Tragically, however, due in large part to the pandemic, this easing of the statute may not be sufficient. The ‘window” for victims closes soon, on November 30. We respectfully ask you to do as your colleague in New York did and extend the ‘window’ for at least another year. If this can’t be achieved through executive action, we ask you to call upon and work with the legislature to take this sorely-needed step toward prevention, justice and healing.

Four factors lead us to make this request.

First, of course, is the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to slow legal processes.

Second is the spread of the new Delta variant, which has complicated matters considerably.

Both of these also make crucial meetings between attorneys, therapists, witnesses, whistleblowers, victims, and their loved ones even more difficult and thus unlikely to happen.

Third, and more recently, of course, is the devastating impact of Hurricane Ida and the long, painful process of rebuilding New Jersey’s damaged infrastructure and gradually resuming normalcy in civic affairs and governmental functions.

Fourth is the domination of the news by Covid-19, the Delta variant and Hurricane Ida, which has been and continues to be extensive. Normally when a civil abuse ‘window’ opens, victims hear about it through the news media. But because other crises have dominated the news coverage, those most in need of this opportunity remain largely unaware of it.

It’s worth remembering that the civil window is a compromise measure. Many argue that there should be no statute of limitations on child sex crimes, period.

It is always difficult for survivors to come forward, even under the best of circumstances. The data shows that most victims of child sexual abuse don’t come forward until their fifties. Many never tell anyone.

An additional one-year extension of the ‘window’ will give an opportunity to those still coming to grips with the profound harm and betrayal they suffered as children to find the resources necessary to seek redress and accountability.

And it will expose those who commit and conceal horrific child sex crimes, enabling parents, police, and prosecutors to protect children from more harm now and in the future.

We know you care about kids. We know you want those who violate and assault the vulnerable to be exposed. And we know you support the Child Victims Act because you signed it into law.

So please take one added step now: extend the civil abuse window by one year. You’ll be ensuring that the law helps those who need it most: vulnerable children and deeply wounded adults.

Thank you for your consideration.

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About

For 33 years, David Clohessy was the co-director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He has been a community organizer and political consultant and lives in St. Louis Missouri. He can be reached at davidgclohessy@gmail.com.