#WindowToJustice Now Open in New Jersey, But What Does This Mean for Survivors?
In mid-2019, the decades long hard work of advocates and legislators finally came to an end with the passage of civil statute of limitations reform for survivors of sexual violence in New Jersey. This law, one of the best in the nation, has led to new protections for children and new rights for all victims.
But what exactly does this mean for survivors?
As of December 1, 2019, there is now a two-year period that allows survivors previously barred from bringing a a lawsuit for damages by the statute of limitations to file actions against the person who harmed them and the institutions that enabled or covered-up the crimes. Often called a “window to justice,” this two-year period will last from December 1, 2019 through November 30, 2021.
During this time, victims of any age, whether they were abused as minors or as adults, can file a lawsuit in civil court. This is a huge step forward for survivors in New Jersey!
What else does the law do?
In addition to opening new pathways to justice for victims, the law also helps ensure that those pathways will be there for survivors in the future.
First, the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse has been extended from age 20 to age 55, or seven years after the discovery of the damages, whichever is later.
This is a crucial change that puts the NJ statute of limitations in line with the realities of sexual violence. The average age of a survivor coming forward in the U.S. is 52. This extension will help ensure that in the future most victims will have the opportunity to seek justice without being barred by an arbitrary time limit.
The law also extends the statute of limitations for cases of adult sexual assault, where the victim was 18 years of age or older, from two years to seven years from the offense, or seven years from discovery, whichever is later.
A note about “discovery”
“Discovery” is a legal term that specifically refers to the date when a survivor makes the connection between the abuse they suffered and the damage it caused them. The courts will make the final determination as to whether or not the facts of the particular case fall within this special provision. Discovery is not triggered simply by knowing about one’s abuse, but only when a victim recognizes that their abuse caused damage. It is best to consult with an experienced sex abuse attorney before attempting to move forward under this provision.
Now that this #WindowToJustice is open in New Jersey, we are sure there will be many more survivors coming forward in need of help and healing. If you are interested in learning more about peer to peer support in New Jersey, please contact Mark Crawford, veteran SNAP leader and one of the main advocates responsible for this important new law.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)