Law firms locally and across the country have been preparing to file lawsuits on behalf of childhood sexual abuse victims. As part of the Child Victims Act, a one-year period opens Wednesday for the victims to sue individuals, organizations or institutions like churches and schools.

  • A one-year period for past victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits opens Wednesday
  • The statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions increased by five years
  • Changes to criminal laws have already been in effect since February

Attorney Steve Cohen of the HoganWillig firm expects a flood of cases across the state.

"It's certainly going to be in the thousands," Cohen said. 

While those cases will play out in civil court, changes to the criminal law have already been in effect since February.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act into law earlier this year, adding five years to the statute of limitations for prosecutors to seek felony criminal charges until the alleged victim is 28 years old. Survivors can press misdemeanor charges until they are 25.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said because many abuse cases, especially those involving Catholic priests, happened decades ago, he has not seen an uptick in people revealing crimes his office can prosecute.

"I've had many people call me up, but unfortunately I haven't had any actually new cases or cases where someone was previously precluded," Flynn said in a phone interview. 

Flynn is himself a practicing Catholic who's angered by accusations of abuse within the Buffalo Diocese.

"It quite frankly sickens me that this has occurred and that some of the people who are in my church have actually allegedly done these acts to these innocent young men and women," Flynn said. 

He worked to amend a Memorandum of Understanding between the Buffalo Diocese and local district attorneys about how the Diocese reports allegations of abuse.  

"If there's a crime within the statute of limitations, then the Diocese is supposed to let us know about it," Flynn said.

With the 12-month look-back window for civil cases set to open this week, Flynn says it could lead to more people revealing abuse that could lead to criminal prosecutions.

"The more awareness you have, the more people understand and know about the law and the differences in the law and the better informed people are, then it's just natural for people to come forward. So I'm hopeful," Flynn said.