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Child Victims Act lawsuit window ends Aug. 13

WXXI's Karen DeWitt reports that there are just two weeks left for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file a claim against their abuser.

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The window of opportunity for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file a civil lawsuit against their alleged abuser ends Aug. 13.

Survivors say it’s not too late to file a claim, but some would like another legal window sometime in the near future to accommodate those who are not yet ready to come forward.

The window opened in August 2019, and was aimed at adult victims who say they were sexually abused as children, but could not take legal action against their alleged abusers because the statute of limitations had run out. Survivors say it can sometimes take several decades before someone is ready to confront their abuser publicly and in court.

The window, which was supposed to be one year in length, was extended for a second year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bridie Farrell, a former competitive speed skater who advocated for the Child Victims Act, said she was abused by an older teammate and mentor, Olympian Andy Gabel, when she was 15.

“And like so many survivors, I did not tell my story for years and years,” said Farrell, who added that she only came forward with her account when she was 31 and resumed speed skating.

“I told my story because I wanted to make speed skating safer,” Farrell said.

Farrell went public with her allegations in 2013, over 15 years after the abuse occurred. Gabel at the time apologized for having an inappropriate relationship, but he denied he had sex with her.

Farrell, under the Child Victims Act, was able to file a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court in July 2020 against Gabel as well as the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the U.S. Speedskating team, charging that they knew about Gabel’s actions and did nothing to stop him. Her complaint, which has since been moved to federal court, also mentions five other underage victims who say Gabel abused them.

Farrell, who now runs the nonprofit advocacy group America Loves Kids, recently announced a run for Congress in New York’s 21st District in northern New York, a seat currently held by Elise Stefanik.

Farrell said that with 10 business days left before the window ends, it’s not too late for someone who is thinking about filing a claim to talk to an attorney.

“I encourage everyone to pick up the phone and make that call,” Farrell said. “When you speak to a lawyer about them possibly taking your case, that is completely confidential. They cannot share that information.”

It also does not cost any money to explore a claim. The lawyers work on a contingency system, earning money only if they win the case.

Tom Andriola, an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse by an older adopted brother, agrees that survivors seeking justice should consider acting now. But he said he understands that not everyone is ready to face what comes along with an accusation. He said he bottled up his abusive experiences and “did not tell a soul” for decades.

“Everybody’s at their own point in the process,” Andriola said. “They need to do what they feel is best for them in their heart.”

Andriola said his situation was more complicated because the abuse occurred from a family member, and some of his relatives were not ready to cope with the allegations.

Andriola has not filed a lawsuit during the Child Victims Act window, but he did contribute to a court case when his older brother was accused of sexual abuse by a 16-year-old boy. He was convicted and went to jail. Andriola’s testimony was limited to a victim impact statement because the statute of limitations on the crimes against him had run out. He was not allowed to testify in court.

Andriola believes the Child Victims Act has been a success, with more than 7,000 cases filed during the two-year legal window. But he said he believes there should be a second window created sometime in the future for survivors who are not ready to act now.

“There’s going to be a push to do another window at some point in time,” he said. “There will be another slew of survivors coming forward who don’t feel they have the opportunity to seek justice.”

He also said the new statute of limitations of age 28 to file a criminal case against an abuser is still not enough time.

Farrell and Andriola are also fighting for passage of the Adult Survivors Act. Modeled after the Child Victims Act, it would open a one-year window for survivors of adult sexual assault and harassment to sue their abusers.

The measure passed in the state Senate, but failed to advance in the state Assembly.

Copyright 2021 WXXI News