- 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)
Fire Officials Warn of Viral TikTok “Outlet Challenge”
- Massachusetts firefighters are warning of an electrical “outlet challenge” seen on Tiktok that can cause fires or electrocution.
- The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet and trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
- In two local schools, teens started a fire or torched outlets and are now facing charges of arson, attempted arson, and malicious damage to property.
“Outlet Challenge” Warning
Massachusetts fire officials are warning of a dangerous electrical “outlet challenge” spreading across TikTok after at least three reported incidents raised concerns.
The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet, then trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
Massachusetts Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey issued a letter to all of the state’s fire chiefs on Monday warning of the viral social media challenge that has lead to copycat behavior. In the memo, Ostroskey said that his office had already received reports of two instances where teens tried to recreate the stunt.
“The result is sparks, electrical system damage, and in some cases fire,” Ostroskey wrote.
He advised fire officials to reach out to local news outlets, school officials, and parent organizations to make them aware of this trend, writing, “Alert them to this challenge, advise them to, not only look for signs of fire play like scorched outlets, but to have conversations about fire and electrical safety with tweens and teenagers.”
Charges Against Teens Involved
One of the incidents Ostroskey cited resulted in damage to an outlet inside a home. The other sparked a fire inside Westford Academy. The spark at Westford Academy created smoke that set off the school’s fire alarm, local authorities reported.
The student responsible for that incident is now facing charges, including arson and malicious damage to property, Westford Police Captain Victor Neal told CNN.
Meanwhile, NBC Boston reported that two students at Plymouth North High School were caught attempting the challenge twice in a matter of minutes inside a classroom on Tuesday.
Firefighters found two scorched outlets and a phone charger with a penny fused to the prongs, according to Plymouth Fire Chief Edward Bradley. There were no injuries, but the school’s superintendent Gary Maestas said the students involved could face serious consequences.
“We are working with the Plymouth Police and Fire Departments to fully understand the scope of this issue and pursue charges to the fullest extent of the law,” Maestas wrote in a statement.
Plymouth police said the two 15-year-old male students face charges of attempted arson and malicious damage to property under $1,200.
Dangers of the Stunt
“I don’t think students comprehend the reality that they can be electrocuted and killed, or start a fire,” said Chief Bradley.
Aside from starting fires or facing potential electrocution, Bradley said the challenge could also cause damage to electrical wiring behind walls, which could allow fires to burn within the walls undetected and endanger everyone in the building.
“Social media elevates it,” Bradley added. “They see it online, they see someone do it, they start laughing, they run away and no one gets hurt and they assume the same will happen when they do it, so they think it’s funny to do it in a classroom.”
“Parents need to talk to their children and tell them if you see this stuff, don’t try to imitate it.”
Virginia Senate Votes in Favor of ‘Red Flag’ Gun Bill
- Virginia’s Senate passed a “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to temporarily take firearms away from an individual who is deemed a threat to themselves or others.
- The vote was close and fully along party lines, with 21 Democrats voting in favor and 19 Republicans voting against it.
- Democrats believe the law will prevent gun violence in the state, but Republicans see it as a threat to the Second Amendment.
- The vote happened just a few days after a large, and mainly peaceful, pro-gun rally was held in Virginia’s capital, Richmond.
- The bill still has to go to the state’s House of Delegates, which has a slight Democratic majority.
Red Flag Law Passes Senate
Virginia’s State Senate narrowly passed a bill Wednesday allowing law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from someone deemed a threat, commonly referred to as a ‘red flag’ law.
The tight vote was strictly along party lines, with all 21 Democrats in the Senate voting yes, and 19 Republicans voting no. The bill, SB 240 specifically states that a law-enforcement officer or attorney can apply for an emergency substantial risk order. This order would “prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.”
If that order is issued, a judge or magistrate can issue a search warrant allowing for firearms to be temporarily removed from that person. Democrats in Virginia have long been fighting for gun-control measures to be passed. They stand behind SB 240 because they believe it will lead to fewer mass shootings and other forms of gun violence in general.
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) tweeted that she believes this bill will prevent crime.
Sen. George Barker (D-39) first introduced the bill. According to the Washington Post, he said it moved the state in “a positive direction” and the law could “protect lives and reduce violence in Virginia.”
State Democrats are not alone in supporting this measure. Nationally, red flag laws generally have a lot of support from the public. According to an August 2019 study from APM Research Lab, Americans are generally in favor of these kinds of legislation.
The study found that 77% support family initiated orders and 70% support police initiated orders. Even when it comes to political parties, both a majority of Republicans and Democrats support it. Gun owners also support it, though by a lesser margin, with 67% of the demographic supporting family initiated orders and 60% supporting police initiated ones.
Still, Virginia’s Senate Republicans were strongly opposed to the measure. They believed it was a heavy infringement on peoples’ right to bear arms.
“Each legislator that votes in favor of this bill in my opinion is a traitor to Virginia, a traitor to the Second Amendment and a traitor to our constitutional freedoms,” said Republican Sen. Amanda Chase (D-11).
The NRA called SB 240 an “unnecessary attack on Second Amendment rights.”
Pro-Gun Rally and What Happens Next
SB 240 is one of many gun control laws Virginia is working on passing. This Senate vote came just a few days after a major pro-gun rights rally happened in Richmond, Virginia’s capital city.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s event, and guns were not allowed at the rally, largely over fears that there could be a repeat of what happened in Charlottesville in 2017.
According to reports, about 22,000 people attended the rally, which remained largely peaceful. No violence was reported, though some extremist groups were present.
At the rally, several of the gun-rights activists spoke out against the gun control legislation floating through Virginia. One clip from the rally, shared by BuzzFeed News reporter Andrew Kimmel went viral. In it, Richard Vaughan, Sheriff of Grayson County in Virginia, said he and his county would not enforce enacted gun control legislation.
This is Sheriff Richard Vaughan of Grayson County, VA. “If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced. They are unconstitutional.” This is not true, according to the Exec. Dir. of the VA Assoc. of Chiefs of Police… #Richmond2ARally pic.twitter.com/mjpQupE6of— Andrew Kimmel (@andrewkimmel) January 20, 2020
“If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced,” he said. “They are unconstitutional. We support and uphold the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Virginia. And that’s what we’ll do.”
SB 240 is not set in stone yet, though. The bill still has to go to Virginia’s House of Delegates, which has a Democratic majority but only by a slim margin.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (WRIC ABC 8)
Michelle Carter, Who Encouraged Her Boyfriend’s Suicide, Released From Prison Early
- Michelle Carter was released early from prison for good behavior after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
- Carter was charged in 2017 after encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself through text messages and phone calls as he contemplated suicide.
- Her release comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to overturn her conviction.
Who is Michelle Carter?
Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman who encouraged her boyfriend’s suicide when she was 17-year-old, was released from prison Thursday, months ahead of schedule.
The now 23-year-old was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after making a series of texts and calls to 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, convincing him to carry out plans to take his own life. Roy died by suicide in 2014 when he poised himself with carbon monoxide inside of his pickup truck.
According to investigators, Carter suggested multiple ways for Roy to end his life and at one point even pushed him to return to his car when he was having second thoughts.
Carter was released from the women’s center at the Bristol County House of Corrections after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence. She had previously been denied parole in September but according to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, she has now earned enough credit for good behavior and attending jail programs to qualify for an early exit.
“Ms. Carter has been a model inmate in Bristol County,” a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “She has attended programs, had a job inside the jail, has been polite to our staff and volunteers, has gotten along with other inmates, and we’ve had no discipline issues with her whatsoever.”
Carter’s released comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to vacate her conviction.
During her 2017 sentencing, the judge ruled that her “virtual presence” made her responsible for Roy’s death. Her legal team fought against the verdict, but Carter ultimately began serving her prison sentence last February after Massachusetts’ highest court refused to overturn her conviction.
Carter’s lawyers then filed a petition to the Supreme Court last July, arguing that it was against her First Amendment rights to free speech to convict her “based on words alone.” Her lawyers also questioned whether the conviction was constitutional in regard to the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to see Carter’s case left her conviction intact and while she has now completed her time behind bars, Carter still has five years of probation to serve.
In response to the news of her release, Roy’s family said, “news of the Supreme Court denying to hear her case far out shadowed the news of her early release. Her time in jail, no matter how long or short, will not change the outcome of a guilty verdict which is thankfully being upheld.”
“July 12, 2014, our lives were forever changed, and the world lost a beautiful soul. Michelle Carter is the reason for that,” the statement continued. “She was the only person who could have saved him. She didn’t, in fact she was on the line with him as he was dying, moaning in pain, gasping for last breaths. Who could do that?”
“She did, and we’ll never really know why.”