How long should children have to report sexual assault once they reach adulthood? Three years? How about 10? The New York State Child Victims Act, passed this year, extends the time for state prosecutions and civil lawsuits in these kinds of cases, giving Epstein’s sexual assault victims and others a chance to come forward on their own time.
In this blog post, I will discuss the indictment against Jeffrey Epstein for child sex assault and related civil litigation for sexual assault of minors. I will discuss how the Child Victims Act extends the deadline for Epstein’s sexual assault victims to file their claims, and explain how survivors of long-ago sex abuse and sex trafficking have one year to file their claims without worrying about how long it took to come forward.
Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein is a very influential person. He has rubbed elbows with at least two presidents (Clinton and Trump) and owns homes in several states, Paris, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He also has a reputation for engaging in prostitution with young girls. In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges in Florida. This conviction caused him to serve 13 months in prison, pay restitution to his victims, and register as a sex offender. It was the result of a settlement called the “deal of a lifetime” following a federal investigation by the FBI, headed up by then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, who is now President Donald Trump’s labor secretary. The settlement agreement was between Epstein and the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Florida state prosecutors.
However, that deal has never felt like justice to the Epstein’s sexual assault victims. Even though the investigation involved 36 child victims of sexual assault, those victims and their families were not consulted before the deal was struck. In February, 2019, Federal District Court Judge Kenneth Mara said that by removing Epstein’s sexual assault victims from the bargaining table, the Department of Justice had violated federal law.
Perhaps in response to that decision, the federal prosecutors in New York recently unsealed a criminal indictment showing that Epstein had operated a sex trafficking ring in the state, abusing dozens of girls as young as 14, and paying them hundreds of dollars cash. The indictment indicates the girls were directed to give Epstein massages, often nude or partially nude, while he engaged in sex acts including touching their genitals or masturbating.
Epstein’s attorneys are arguing that the U.S. Attorney’s Office cannot file new charges because of the 2008 settlement. However, New York prosecutors say that they weren’t part of that agreement and can proceed on their own with criminal felony charges.
This new indictment comes on the heels of the New York legislature approving the Child Victims Act. This statute, passed into law on January 24, 2019, extends the periods for criminal prosecution of sexual offenses against a minor, and related civil lawsuits. Under the new statute of limitations, the clock does not even begin to run until either:
This means state prosecutors are now allowed to bring cases for child sexual assault victims as old as 28 years old. The extended deadline, along with the federal court’s ruling in February gives New York prosecutors and their federal counterparts the flexibility to bring the new indictment and fight for justice for Epstein’s sexual assault victims.
The law goes even further for civil lawsuits filed by the child victims of sexual assault and their families. Lawsuits to recover for physical, psychological, or other injuries from child sex abuse cases can be filed until the victim turns 55 years old. This applies to intent-based and negligence claims of:
This gives child victims decades to come forward, honoring the need to process such traumatic incidents before bringing the matter to court.
The Child Victims Act also creates a one-year retroactive window, between July 24, 2019 and July 24, 2020, for the victims of long-ago child sex assault to revive their claims. Anyone whose lawsuits were previously dismissed because they waited too long (violating the statute of limitations) or failed to file the right notices of claim may refile their lawsuits within that 1-year window and get their day in court. Retroactive laws of this kind are rare, so the victims affected are encouraged to talk to a sexual assault attorney right away to preserve their claims.
But they must act quickly. After July 24, 2020, Epstein’s sexual assault victims and survivors of child sex abuse will once again face claims that they have waited too long to file suit. That’s why it is essential to speak to an experienced attorney today to develop your case and get it filed within the one-year window.
At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our experienced sexual abuse attorneys know how to put the New York Child Victims Act to work for you to fight back against child sexual abuse. We can meet with you and your family at our headquarters in the heart of New York City, or conference with you remotely, to help you find protection and compensation under federal, state, and local laws. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to a sexual abuse attorney.