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Image courtesy of Connie Altamirano
Image courtesy of Connie Altamirano
Connie Altamirano (second from right) and a group of protesters at the Capitol building in Albany.

One day before the state budget was sealed for the fiscal year 2019, Ridgewood native Connie Altamirano could be found doing what she does best: advocating for the Child Victims Act (CVA) at a town hall meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio in Jackson Heights.

Altamirano, 44, raised her hand and patiently waited to be called on, then delivered a statement about the importance of the CVA passing in New York. She was met with a round of applause and the mayor’s commendation, and after the meeting ended she waited for a chance to shake the mayor’s hand and ask him if he supports the bill, Altamirano said.

She has spent the past three years traveling to other districts in the city and as far north as the Capitol building in Albany to advocate for the CVA, but when the state budget was approved in the early morning hours of March 31, Altamirano was crushed.

The CVA was not included in the budget.

“I’ve been literally depressed, and it was the same weekend as my daughter’s birthday,” Altamirano said when she met with QNS on April 5. “I kept crying all day and my daughter asked what’s wrong, I said, ‘Allergies, these freaking allergies.'”

Altamirano is a survivor of sexual abuse, and for decades she held that secret close. Her grandmother’s second husband repeatedly abused and sexually assaulted Altamirano at their home on Himrod Street from the time she was a toddler until age 9, and the man would threaten to hurt her mother if she spoke up, she claims.

Altamirano previously shared her story with QNS anonymously, but has since gone public with her mission to raise awareness about the CVA and hold politicians accountable for not passing it.

The CVA was first proposed in 2006 by former Assemblywoman Margaret Markey and has been carried on by Senator Brad Hoylman. The most recent version of the bill calls for the elimination of the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sexual abuse crimes and filing civil lawsuits against individuals or institutions related to that sexual abuse.

The act also creates a one-year revival period of abuse that was previously barred by the statute of limitations, which would allow people like Altamirano to seek justice for the abusers from their childhood. The current statute of limitations for child sexual abuse is five years after the the victim turns 18.

“I never thought about me because I’m fighting for the CVA to protect children in general, and because I feel that no one protected me,” Altamirano said. “I see my fellow survivors crying just like me. Why wouldn’t I fight for them?”

On the evening of April 5, Altamirano attended a Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association meeting where Senator Michael Gianaris spoke about the state budget. As a supporter of the CVA, Gianaris has met Altamirano many times in the past and he greeted her with a hug before the meeting started.

Gianaris explained that when it comes to difficult decisions like the CVA, the leaders of the state Senate often choose not to address them at all. In fact, the CVA was never brought to the floor for a vote during the budget negotiations, he said.

“[CVA] has overwhelming public support, but people don’t even want to consider it,” Gianaris said. “What ends up happening is communities don’t know how their representative voted because we don’t get to vote on it.”

The CVA could still get passed in the current state legislative session, but Gianaris added that the best chance for most big issues to pass is when they’re tied to the budget.

Yet, Altamirano plans to keep fighting. April is observed as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Altamirano has at least three upcoming events that she plans to attend in the next two weeks.

She still struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by her abuse and is emotionally triggered by crowded places, germs and the slightest unwelcome touch from a stranger. When she was 41, she suffered a stroke and has been on disability ever since.

It never gets easier, she said, but her own two children are what keep her going, and all she wants is to make them and her community proud.

“I’ve given too much of my life and I’ve always done right by children,” Altamirano said. “If not, I wouldn’t have something to stand on. To me, that’s what’s making me be here on this earth and this is how I give back to society.”

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