- Adults who were sexually abused as children and did not take legal action within the statute of limitations now have a one-year window to sue their abusers thanks to a new law that went into effect in New York.
- The law, called the Child Victims Act, also expands the statute of limitations so that victims can sue until they are 55 years old, as opposed to the previous limitation which was set at 23 years old.
- Institutions like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts are preparing to take massive financial hits.
Child Victims Act Goes Into Effect
Adult victims who were sexually abused as children but did not take legal action in the required time period will now be given a year to sue their abusers under a new law in New York that went into effect Wednesday.
The one-year period, known as a look-back window, will let victims bring forward cases that may have expired decades ago under the previous statute of limitations. The victims will also be able to sue any institutions or organizations that allowed the abuse or were complicit.
Until now, New York had one of the most restrictive statutes of limitations for child sex abuse victims in the country. Under the previous statute, people who had been sexually abused as minors had to file charges by the time they were just 23 years old.
However, the new law, called the Child Victims Act, extends that time limit so that accusers can sue until they are 55.
The Child Victims Act is a big move for New York, but it has also been a long time coming. Lawmakers in New York’s legislature have been trying to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims for more than a decade.
Every time they tried, they were stopped by opposition from the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, Orthodox Jewish organizations, as well as the insurance industry. The biggest sticking point for those groups was the look-back window, which they claimed would create a huge financial burden for them.
Before the law passed, the New York Catholic Conference claimed the look-back window would “force institutions to defend alleged conduct decades ago about which they have no knowledge and in which they had no role.”
New York’s State Assembly had passed the law several times, but the State Senate kept preventing a vote. Then Democrats took over the state’s Senate in November, and the bill passed the Senate unanimously right after they took office in January.
Organizations Brace for Financial Hit
According to reports, hundreds and maybe thousands of lawsuits are expected to be filed just on the first day the window takes effect.
Now, many of the major institutions like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts that had opposed the law because of the financial questions are bracing for the impact.
The Catholic Archdiocese of New York is already suing their insurance providers to make sure they provide coverage for the lawsuits they are about to face.
The Rockefeller University Hospital, which is being sued by hundreds of people who allege they were abused by a doctor, is also doing the same.
The financial hit these institutions could take just over the next year is huge, and there are examples from other states to prove it.
In 2003, California implemented a similar year-long look-back window. In that time, hundreds of millions of dollars were paid out and thousands of lawsuits were filed, most of which were against the Catholic Church, eventually forcing the Diocese of San Diego to file bankruptcy protection.
Similarly, after Minnesota closed its look-back window in 2016, numerous Catholic dioceses filed for bankruptcy protection as well.
According to reports, officials in the church said they are studying look-back windows in other states to try to estimate what could happen.
“While we do not know what will transpire when the C.V.A. window opens, at this point in time we have no expectation of needing to file for bankruptcy protection,” a church spokesman told The New York Times.
Studying look-back windows in other states might not be the best metric.
Some experts have noted the look-back window in New York could possibly create even more lawsuits than have been filed in other states because the national discussion about sexual misconduct scandals, especially regarding minors, has grown significantly over the last few years.
Mobilizations like the #MeToo movement have put accusations against religious organizations, private schools, sports programs, and celebrities in the spotlight. This has both increased awareness and prompted other victims to come forward.
Some notable examples include the numerous allegations against R. Kelly, as well as the dozens of women who have accused Jeffrey Epstein of sexually assaulting them.
The new law is also expected to allow Epstein’s victims to sue his estate for damages.
This cultural shift of victims having more attention and power to take action is not limited to New York.
In fact, New York is just one of 18 states and D.C. that passed similar laws extending their statutes of limitations for children who faced sexual abuse. Though only a few, including New Jersey, passed look-back window provisions.
Regardless, New York’s implementation of the Child Victims Act is significant, especially for the victims.
“The significance of it is a switch in the balance of power,” Marci Hamilton, the chief executive of the child protection think tank Child U.S.A., told the Times.
“There was a severe imbalance of power that led to their abuse in the first place. The culture shut them out of the legal system until now. For them, this is validation,” she continued.
Until these laws were passed, victims often had very few avenues to seek financial compensation. Catholic dioceses had previously made Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Programs, where victims could apply for settlements if they agreed not to file lawsuits.
According to reports, the Archdiocese of New York alone made agreements with more than 300 people and paid out $65 million to abuse victims.
However, at the same time, some have noted that the look-back window creates both an opportunity and a problem. For victims of child abuse, seeking justice can be powerful, but it can also bring up a lot of pain and trauma.
That conflict is made more complicated by the fact that the new statute of limitations for filing charges against abusers does not apply retroactivity, meaning that it only applies to new cases moving forward, basically requiring any abuse victims over the age of 23 have to bring claims through the look-back window.
“The Child Victims Act opens the door to the courthouse,” Michael Polenberg, the vice president for government affairs at the advocacy group Safe Horizon, told the Times.
“The Child Victims Act doesn’t change the way that our justice system works.”
See what others are saying: (TIME) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.