Child sex abuse survivors fear Cuomo walking back promise to push Child Victims Act

By Kenneth Lovett (NY Daily News)
April 24, 2017

ALBANY - Some child sex abuse survivors fear Gov. Cuomo is going back on his promise to prioritize passage this year of a bill meant to help victims seek justice as adults.

The governor in January said he would introduce his own version of the Child Victims Act, but he has yet to do so.

"Gov. Cuomo needs to embrace the Child Victims Act and carry it across the finish line or the bill is not passing," said sex abuse survivor Gary Greenberg, who created a political action committee to push for the issue. "It's in the governor's hands."

Eyebrows were raised when Cuomo recently told reporters that with the state budget passed, he has no real major priorities for the rest of the legislative session that runs through June.

"I'll respond to the initiatives that the Legislature comes up with," he said. "Frankly, everything big we wanted to get done we got done in the budget."

Nikki DuBose, an abuse victim and former model, said she is "quite annoyed" that Cuomo doesn't seem to be pushing harder for passage of a bill.

"The governor is failing his constituents - those who are abused, abandoned and who cannot advocate for themselves," DuBose said in an email.

Andrew Willis, who heads the Stop Abuse Campaign, said he fears the issue will languish in the Legislature another year unless Cuomo acts aggressively.

"If he doesn't fight for this, it's not going to happen," Willis said. "He promised me over and over again he would. The questions is, is this really a priority for him?"

Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said the Legislature remains the hurdle.

"We are working with the advocates to build the political support to get it passed, which does not exist at this time," Azzopardi said.

Cuomo in January unveiled what he'd like to see done to address the situation in a book outlining his 2017 agenda.

Cuomo's version of the Child Victims Act would do away entirely with the statute of limitations on prosecutions of those who abused children.

It would also allow victims to bring civil lawsuits for 50 years from when their attacks took place and would open up a one-year look-back window for survivors - who under current law can no longer bring cases - to do so.

In addition, the plan would treat public and private institutions the same by doing away with a current requirement that gives those abused in a school or another public entity only 90 days from the attack to notify of their intent to sue. They otherwise would have until their 23rd birthday.

But the governor has not followed up with a bill. The Senate Democrats have proposed a bill that goes further, but it has not moved in the chamber, while the Assembly Democrats introduced a weaker bill this year.

Not all advocates expressed concern that the governor is backing off the issue.

Sex-abuse expert Marci Hamilton, a lawyer and a distinguished scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, said she has no doubt Cuomo "is 100% behind the survivors."

"He has raised it himself and those in his office have raised their interest in it a number of times to me and others who have been meeting with them," Hamilton said. "I'm taking them at their word that they're behind this and this is one of his priorities."

Kathryn Robb, a child sex abuse victim and advocate, agreed.

"I have complete confidence in his commitment to justice and his thoughtful understanding of this issue," Robb said in an email. "He gets it!"

She put the blame on the Senate Republicans and their leader, John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) for blocking passage of a bill for more than a decade.

"Victims of child sexual abuse are waiting on Senator Flanagan to be a real leader for justice," she said.

The Daily News reported Friday that a Child Victims Act bill was quietly discharged from the Judiciary Committee to the Rules Committee controlled by Flanagan in a way that did not require Republicans to take a public action.

Flanagan spokesman Scott Reif said the move "will allow us to consider what is the most appropriate response to this issue, taking into account the positions of victims, advocates, the court system and our constituents over the remaining months of session."