Andrew Cuomo signing the Child Victims Act
Image: AP

In January, New York State passed the Child Victims Act, legislation which dramatically expanded the ability of victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue. The law took effect just yesterday—and hundreds of people have already filed.

As Sharon Otterman at the New York Times explained, until now in New York, childhood sexual abuse victims only had until their 23rd birthday to file civil suits; “Under the new law, they now have until age 55, and for one year, starting on Wednesday, they can be even older than that.” That means that victims who’ve long been blocked by an expired statute of limitations have a window of renewed legal recourse, and many, many people were ready to go when it opened.

The numbers are extremely grim, but they represent new chance to seek justice. Lawyer Michelle Simpson Tuegel, who is working with plaintiffs filing against the Catholic church, said it’s about much more than money: “It’s healing to know that you’re not alone, that they did make mistakes, that you were a child and adults failed to protect you, and that they’re going to have to pay for that.”

The window is particularly important for those trying to bring institutions to account and hoping to expose cover-ups, and a number of organizations are already named in suits:

They involve defendants that include the Catholic Church to Rockefeller University in Manhattan to the Boy Scouts, as well as public and private schools and foster care organizations. Each suit will attempt to show that individuals and institutions are liable because they failed to protect children from sexual abuse.

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The piece opens with a story from one of the plaintiffs, James Grein, who alleges that he was abused for years by Theodore E. McCarrick and was even taken by the man to meet Pope John Paul II:

After Mr. McCarrick, then the archbishop of Newark, left the room, Mr. Grein said he knelt before the pope and revealed, in the presence of several Vatican officials, that Mr. McCarrick had been sexually abusing him since childhood.

“I told him I had been abused as a child by this man, and I need you to stop it,” said an emotional Mr. Grein, who is now 61. “He put both hands on my head, and told me he would pray for me.”

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You’d think a bunch of religious people would be more scared of hell.