The landmark Child Victims Act went into effect at midnight Wednesday morning and around the state hundreds of child sexual abuse survivors filed lawsuits against those who attacked them, regardless of when the abuse occurred.
Survivors whose claims have been time-barred by the statute of limitation laws are now given a one-year window to have their day in court.
“Child sexual abuse is a real epidemic. It’s been in the corners and in the shadows, but it is much more widespread than people want to admit,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “The Child Victims Act says if you were sexually abused as a child, you have a right to justice and to make your case. Children have legal rights, and if you abuse a child, you’re going to have your day in court and you’re going to be called to answer for it.”
In Ridgewood, Connie Altamirano, a 45-year-old single mother of two who suffers from PTSD and other complications following her own sexual abuse as a child, reflected on her years of fighting for the CVA to become law.
“It means a lot. It means today we are taking another step towards giving survivors a voice and protecting children. It’s a step towards justice,” Altamirano said. “It is a historic moment for survivors who have always felt like second-class citizens. The CVA means we do matter. We do have a voice. We do belong in society and today we are not worthless.”
Altamirano is recovering from a recent surgery but was monitoring the news Wednesday morning.
“There have been 500 cases filed so far and 90 percent is against clergy,” she said, her thoughts turning to longtime Assemblywoman Margaret Markey who fought for the CVA for more than a decade despite constant pressure from the Catholic Church, which lobbied against the legislation for years.
“Marge is the true hero in all of this,” Altamirano said. “She’s the one that started all of this. She’s the one that bravely stood up not just as an Assemblywoman but as a mother.”
Year after year, Markey pushed the CVA but it was never brought to the floor in the Republican-led Senate due to the intense lobbying effort by the Catholic Church, the Boys Scouts of America and the insurance industry. When Cuomo signed the CVA into law in February, Markey was by his side and while she did not speak, the governor said she would go down in history “as a profile in courage” for staying the course despite intense pushback from the Catholic Church.
“It’s tough to take on your church,” Cuomo said.
In a New York Times Magazine profile weeks later, it became clear why Markey didn’t speak at the signing ceremony. Since losing to challenger Brian Barnwell as she sought a 10th term, Markey has retired to her Maspeth home after being diagnosed with a form of dementia. The article confirmed what had been whispered about for years, that Markey had fought so hard for the CVA because her son Charles had been abused as a child by a priest at the family’s church.
He reported the allegations to the Queens district attorney’s office, but prosecutors told him the statute of limitations prevented them from pursuing his case.
“Because of what she had been through she knew how to speak to survivors,” Altamirano recalled. “She knew how to speak to me, to get met to leave my house and stand up and join the fight in Albany. Marge is everyone’s hero, not just mine. I’m proud she represented my district and I thank her from the bottom of my heart.”