Melanie Blow was 24 years old when she identified to police the man she said raped her as a teenager, a man who was now suspected of abusing another child.
"I just figured that a conviction was a sure thing and I was going to get my day in court and this was all going to end," said Blow, a Rochester resident who is now COO of Stop Abuse Campaign. "I had absolutely no voice in the matter. I was 24 and the statute of limitations had run out on me."
Victims of child sexual abuse may spend a lifetime suffering from the trauma they experienced, but New York State law requires them to take legal action against their abusers no later than their 23rd birthdays.
For 12 years, advocates have tried to change that limit with the Child Victims Act, and for 12 years, the act has failed before reaching a vote on the state Senate floor. Supporters are more hopeful in this, an election year, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo included it in his January fiscal plan. It is expected to be part of the new state budget that is due March 31.
"We're probably at the 10-yard line," said State Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Democrat from South Buffalo who is a co-sponsor of the legislation. He was speaking at a Child Victim Act forum on the University at Buffalo's South Campus Saturday afternoon.
The proposal would give victims until their 50th birthdays to bring civil cases and to their 28th birthdays to bring felony criminal cases. It also would end the requirement that legal actions commence against public employers within 90 days of an alleged incident.
In years past, the proposal has failed to gain enough Republican support to go to vote. The major sticking point has been the provision for a one-year "look-back" period. That would allow all victims who were thwarted by the old limits to file lawsuits against their alleged perpetrators or the institutions where they worked or volunteered for incidents of sexual abuse dating back potentially decades.
Though the lengthy "look-back" could "out" alleged abusers still actively working with children, it also could open employers long removed from the offenders to costly legal proceedings, critics have said.
Elma Republican state Sen. Patrick Gallivan opposes the look-back period and Buffalo Republican state Sen. Chris Jacobs has expressed support for the statute extension, but has not addressed the look-back period.