It took the better part of 20 years for lawmakers to see the bill through. It sets a new statute of limitations, giving adult survivors of sexual abuse more time to bring a civil lawsuit against their perpetrators.
“I just didn’t give up, it’s as simple as that. I represent the victims, literally hundreds have come to me over the years with their stories and its awful and they deserve justice,” said Sen. Joe Vitale.
Vitale championed the bill through the decades on behalf of survivors like Fred Marigliano who watched the vote anxiously with his wife from the balcony of the state Senate chambers.
“I was raped and my two brothers were raped, and it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been fighting for justice for over 15 years,” Marigliano said.
Marigliano is one of dozens who offered hours of gut-wrenching testimony to lawmakers, requesting their support for the bill. The legislation allows all victims of sexual abuse to file a civil suit against an institution or an individual. Adults assaulted as children will have up until age 55, or seven years after they discover and connect the trauma of their abuse. The current law sets a two-year limit.
“It took me over 50 years because when I was a child I was terrified that someone might find out that I was abused when I was a child. And when I became a man I was afraid because I didn’t want people to look at me and think of me as less of a man,” Marigliano said.
“Listening to five hours of testimony, of grown men still weeping over something that happened 40 years ago, the profound effect of that is something that is everlasting,”said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.
Those victims who previously couldn’t file lawsuits due to the time restrictions will have a two-year window to pursue a case. Several nonprofits and Catholic organizations have disagreed with allowing for retroactive cases, specifically as it relates to the church’s victims compensation program.
“By going after the assets of nonprofit organizations as this bill does, it takes the pressure off the true offenders,” Sen. Gerry Cardinale said.
Marigliano’s abuse came from a longtime clergy member. He says the bill will help so many heal.
“So many people suffered. So many people suffered, and some of the good priests and nuns that were outspoken, they were condemned by the bishops,” said Marigliano.
The issue was called a worldwide epidemic as the rate of child sex abuse victims continues to climb. The bill now goes for a full Assembly vote that’s scheduled for March 25.