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TRENTON, N.J. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Following the New Jersey Senate, the state's General Assembly has voted to expand the time victims have to file a civil suit against their abusers.
On Monday, the New Jersey General Assembly voted nearly unanimously in support of AB 3648 that would expand the state's current civil statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault. Victims of child sexual assault would have until they are 55 years old or seven years from the time they became aware of the assault, whichever is later. Adult victims will have seven years to pursue civil litigation.
If the governor signs it into law, a two-year "lookback" window would be opened for older victims of abuse to pursue litigation. Victims of any age would have until Nov. 30, 2021 to file a civil lawsuit.
James Grein, one of Theodore McCarrick's victims, said this was the result of "countless hours writing letters, emails and calling members since August."
"Reliving my childhood has not been easy or fun," Grein said. "But the prospect of a two-year window for everyone has made my pain seem easier. Countless survivors will find relief now."
Under New Jersey's current law, victims of either sexual assault or sexual contact have only two years to pursue civil litigation. If they are a victim of child sexual abuse, they have only until they are 20 years old. While the FBI recognizes rape as the second-most violent crime — only after murder — victims have a shorter statute of limitations than for victims of property damage, trespassing, fraud and contract violations. Victims of those crimes have six years to file civil litigation.
NJ Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a victims' advocacy group working to expand the state's laws, said, "This is simply out of step with nations trends ... and inconsistent with the best information we have on how trauma from an assault impacts delays in reporting."
"Between delays in reporting due to trauma, wait times for services, and other considerations, a two-year statute of limitations can expire before a survivor feels ready to pursue that option," NJ Coalition explains.
They cite one study using information from a sexual call-in hotline that found that the average age of the callers reporting abuse was 52 years old. Another study found that men waited longer than women to report childhood abuse.
Based on this type of information, New Jersey legislators removed the criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault in 1996. Criminal sexual contact, a lesser crime, has a statute of limitations in New Jersey of five years for an adult or until a victim is 23 or two years after the victim discovers the offense.
The New Jersey Senate's corresponding bill, S477, was approved in a 32-1 vote on March 14, after the New Jersey Judiciary Committee voted 7-0 to support the bill. Over a dozen abuse survivors testified before the New Jersey Judiciary Committee, including Grein.
In Grein's address to the committee, he explained that nearly 130 U.S. bishops have been accused of failing to respond to claims of sexual misconduct. They would not tell authorities, and if the police were contacted, Grein noted, "The bishop would drag this case out, sit on information for as long as possible."
The complaint that the bishops are slow to respond to clerical sex abuse has been made by countless survivors as well as echoed by Cdl. Sean O'Malley, who is the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
During an interview with The Boston Globe in November, he said it was "inexplicable" that more than 50 of his fellow bishops were accused of covering up child sexual abuse after the reforms were set in place at the Dallas commission in 2002.
"I mean anybody at this point in history who would not understand the consequences of not embracing zero tolerance and transparency — I cannot understand that," Cdl. O'Malley said.
"Every time I think we're rounding [the corner], there's another explosion that happens. It's very disappointing," he added.
Cardinal O'Malley was "shocked" to learn that Bp. Richard Malone of Buffalo was accused of covering up abuse. "They need to explain what happened there," he said, adding, "Leaving people in ministry after an accusation, moving people, just so many violations of the Charter [for the Protection of Children and Young People]."
A month later, Cdl. O'Malley reported Cdl. Timothy Dolan's cover-up of the homosexual predation by Fr. Donald Timone, who Cdl. Dolan allowed to remain in active ministry for years after he knew of credible allegations of sex abuse.
Grein's last encounter with McCarrick showed his arrogant attitude and gave a glimpse of the homosexual network. He was abused for the last time at his mother's funeral.
After threatening to expose his abuse, McCarrick said to him, "Go ahead and try; no one will ever believe you. I am the most powerful man in the U.S.A., if not the world. I will crush you in the media, and if that isn't enough, I have friends who can help me."
"[McCarrick] still denies everything," Grein noted. "Still covering for the institution."
Grein said the expanded statute of limitations gives him a greater chance to bring a strong suit against McCarrick and the Church as a whole. He was groomed and first abused in New Jersey when he was between 9 and 11 years old and cannot pursue civil litigation under the current law.
"No two survivors of sexual violence want the exact same thing when it comes to pursuing justice and healing," notes NJ Coalition, adding:
For many, pursuing the criminal justice system — where the defendant is held accountable to the state and can be found guilty of a criminal act — will result in a feeling of justice. For others, pursuing the civil system — where the defendant is held accountable to the victim for harm caused — will bring a sense of justice and healing. From our vantage point at the coalition, the most important thing we can advocate for is expanded pathways to justice for survivors — so victims can have options and choice in choosing how to proceed.
Grein didn't know why five legislators abstained from voting for the bill, saying, "They have their own reasons — God only knows what they are."
Since The Boston Globe Spotlight team discovered institution-based sexual abuse in 2002, 38 states and Washington, D.C. have expanded their child sexual abuse statutes of limitations.
The governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, has pledged his support for the law, but his office wouldn't comment on legislation currently on his desk.