Following a series of recent allegations about children being sexually assaulted by Catholic clergy and Boy Scouts of America troop leaders, Gov. Phil Murphy has signed legislation that extends the statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits against alleged abusers and the institutions where they worked.

Up until now victims had to file civil suits by age 20, or within 2 years of realizing they had been abused, but the new law allows survivors to sue up until age 55, or within seven years after they clearly remember the abuse they endured.

Additionally, the legislation provides a two0year window to victims who had previously been prevented from filing civil suits because of the statute of limitations.

“A new day has dawned. Justice has been restored. Sexual predators hiding among us will now be exposed,” Mark Crawford, New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said. “Institutional silence and secrecy will not thrive much longer, as accountability and consequences are now the order of the day.”

He said the expanded statute of limitations means all organizations that deal with children “must now raise the bar, protecting the public interest and serving the greater good.”

Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, agreed. She said the new law expands pathways to justice and healing for survivors of sexual assault.

Teffenhart said there’s a false belief the criminal justice system holds perpetrators accountable — but that only a small fraction of sexual assaults are ever reported to police, and a tiny fraction of those lead to convictions.

She said when children are sexually assaulted, memories may be repressed for decades, because the experience is traumatic, with perpetrators who are authority figures frequently grooming their victims for long periods of time.

“There’s a willful intentionality, in order to manipulate the victim survivors into silence," Teffenhart said.

She said it is also not uncommon for survivors who do come forward to be discredited, told by loved ones to be quiet because the people they’re identifying would never do such things.

“And so there’s an entire system that has benefited from not just the victimization of young people but also the continuing to keep them silent," Teffenhart said.

And she said many survivors do completely repress memories of what happened to them “and only until many years later, perhaps in a counseling session" are they able to identify what's happened.

In a statement released to the media Murphy said sexual abuse survivors "deserve opportunities to seek redress against their abusers."

This legislation allows survivors who have faced tremendous trauma the ability to pursue justice through the court system," Murphy said.

Church groups and the Boy Scouts both opposed efforts to extend the statute of limitations, arguing they were fully cooperating with and supported victims, and regretted the abuse victims had suffered.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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