Lawmakers say they will explore reopening a lookback window for survivors of childhood sexual assault to file civil suits when they return to Albany next session.
Friday's funeral services for Albany Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard, who admitted to covering up sex abuse allegations within the diocese and faced multiple allegations himself, spurred strong emotions from survivors and conversation about future legislative action.
Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal sponsored both the Child Victims and Adult Survivors acts that waived the statute of limitations to allow survivors of sexual assault to file lawsuits against their abusers. Survivors can continue to file under the Adult Survivors Act until Nov. 23, but the senator said Friday the Legislature's work isn't finished.
"My heart goes out to all survivors, adults, who were abused as children and those who are covered by the Adult Survivors Act," Hoylman-Sigal said. "In both instances, the state Legislature saw the wisdom of opening up a retroactive window for a limited amount of time, two years in the case of the Child Victims Act, one year in the case of Adult Survivors Act. And I hope that the Legislature revisits these windows."
Hubbard's funeral, held Friday in Albany County, honored his decades serving the Albany Catholic Diocese — where he served as bishop for 37 years. Hubbard died from a stroke last week at the age of 84 and is named in seven pending lawsuits for sexual misconduct. He denied all allegations against him.
"The most difficult thing has been reading and watching all the positive things being said about the bishop," said Colleen Garbarini, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse from Schenectady. "It's been all about the legacy he left behind."
Garbarini, 52, survived childhood sexual abuse at ages 7 and 8 by a clergyman who worked at Notre Dame Bishop Gibbons — a nearby private Catholic school — during Hubbard's tenure.
The focus on the late bishop emeritus' ministry work is upsetting survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Several floated protesting Friday's funeral services.
"There's been small portions mentioned of the scandal of the cover-up, but the majority of it is the positive legacy he left behind, and it just doesn't speak to the full picture of decades of cover-up for pedophiles," Garbarini said Friday. "So, it's just been really, really hard."
Garbarini filed one of roughly 10,800 civil cases in the state under the Child Victims Act from 2019 through 2021, or law that allows survivors of sexual abuse to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser, regardless of the statute of limitations. Hundreds of cases filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany forced the diocese to file for bankruptcy earlier this year.
Survivors of sexual assault that happened after age 18 have a few more months to file a similar suit under the Adult Survivors Act, which opened last fall. Adult survivors of sexual abuse that happened in New York have until Nov. 23, or Thanksgiving Day, to file before the window closes.
"I just want survivors to know that they're not alone... they don't need to feel they want [Hubbard] to rest in peace or any of that," Garbarini said. "The shame is not yours no matter what it feels like in your body. You're not alone. You do have a voice. You can use it, but you also don't have to. Do whatever you need to do to heal for yourself. Don't do anything that will add to your suffering. ...Everyone has a different path."
As of Friday, 256 cases have been filed under the Adult Survivors Act in the state, according to the Office of Court Administration.
The cases, most filed in New York City, largely accuse doctors, dentists and medical professionals of sexual misconduct. Other survivors that could file under the act include formerly incarcerated people, athletes, models and similar industries known for higher rates of abuse.
Organizations like Safe Horizon help survivors find attorneys, who often prioritize cases with a large payout.
"Each case can involve multiple plaintiffs, so it's many times that number of people who are seeking relief in court who otherwise were shut out of the process," said Michael Polenberg, Safe Horizon's vice president of government affairs. "We're really happy that folks have been able to take advantage, but we certainly hope that if somebody is still considering whether or not to file a civil lawsuit, that they'll meet with an attorney to understand what the process will involve and make a decision from there."
It takes weeks to prepare a filing, pushing lawmakers and advocates to encourage survivors to retain an attorney as soon as possible.
Hoylman-Sigal said he plans to have conversations with fellow lawmakers when session resumes in January about legislation to reopen the lookback window under the Child Victims Act that closed in 2021.
"I would advocate for more time for survivors, because if not, the only people who benefit are the perpetrators and the institutions who engaged in the cover-up to protect those abusers," Hoylman-Sigal said. "And that's unacceptable."
The senator also sponsors the Child Abuse Reporting Expansion, or CARES Act, to make clergymembers required reporters of child abuse or mistreatment. It died in committee this session.