On March 25, the New Jersey General Assembly passed NJ S477 (18R), a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for victims of clerical abuse in the state, following its approval in the Senate on March 14. Now it awaits Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature. He has said he would support the measure.
The bill allows victims up to 37 years after they turn 18 to file. After the age of 55, they would have seven years to file suit. Currently, they only have two years, according to Politico. The bill also extends a 2006 law “that lowered the bar for proving negligence against charitable organizations.” This bill comes in light of the New York State Senate passing the Child Victims Act in January, which gives child sexual abuse survivors the ability to sue their abusers or institutions until the age of 55, up from the age of 23.
Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), the bill’s sponsor, did not respond to The Setonian’s repeated requests for comment.
Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, directed The Setonian to an article in the Trenton Monitor that was written about the bill for quotes.
Brannigan said that the NJ Catholic Conference agrees that bringing justice to victims is a top priority.
“It must be recognized that there are often legitimate reasons to have a statute of limitations in place,” he said. “The more time that exists between the alleged conduct and the filing of a civil suit, the more challenging the cases can be to process. The reality is that records can get lost, people die, memories fade. However, this has never been about denying justice for the victims. That is why $40 million of the $50 million paid in settlements by the five dioceses over the last 10 years has gone to victims whose cases fell beyond the statute of limitations.”
Emma Tobin, a peer educator for KNOW MORE, Seton Hall’s initiative that aims to provide students with education surrounding sexual violence prevention among other topics, commented on the bill.
“The passage of this bill allows victims to have a voice and seek justice against perpetrators long after they were assaulted,” she said. “This grants victims the time and ability to charge their abusers when they are older and have time to completely understand what happened to them.”
Tobin believes that the bill was passed in response to current events regarding sex abuse across the United States.
“Whether it was the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church or even the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasely-Ford, this bill gives victims the freedom to decide if they would like to press charges,” she said. “On college campuses it may not have as much effect as most college students who are victims of sexual assault are legal adults. However, students who were abused as children do have the opportunity to seek legal justice from their childhood attackers.”
Isabel Soisson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter @IsabelSoisson.