New York state law could help Jeffrey Epstein's accusers

Those who suffered abuse have unique chance

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

NEW YORK - A new state law in New York could give Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims more opportunities to seek justice.

In January, the state legislature passed the Child Victims Act, which expanded the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases to give survivors more time to seek criminal charges or sue their abusers -- or both.

Under the new law, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed in February, survivors of child sexual assault can pursue criminal felony charges until they turn 28, and file a civil lawsuit before age 55.

Epstein's federal indictment prompted lawyers and advocacy groups to spread the word about another aspect of the law for those who fall outside the new limits.

Starting August 14, adult survivors of child sexual abuse will have one year to sue their abuser or a negligent institution for offenses in New York, no matter how long ago the abuse took place.

Laws are not typically retroactive, which is what makes the one year-window so special, lawyer Carrie Goldberg said.

"It's a way for victims to take matters into their own hands," said Goldberg, who tweeted about the act and offered her firm's services to prospective clients with credible claims. "It gives them a path to justice."

The window isn't just for Epstein's accusers, she said. It's for anyone who suffered abuse long ago.

Epstein, a politically connected multimillionaire, faces federal charges for his alleged role in a sex trafficking ring believed to have included dozens of underage girls. He is accused of paying hundreds of dollars in cash to girls as young as 14 to have sex with him between 2002 and 2005 in his Manhattan home and Palm Beach estate.

Epstein pleaded not guilty to the charges in Manhattan federal court on Monday afternoon.

The hedge fund manager previously evaded similar charges when he secured a non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors in Miami more than a decade ago. Instead of facing federal charges, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges in 2008 and served just 13 months in prison. He also registered as a sex offender and paid restitution to the victims identified by the FBI.

On Monday, Epstein's attorneys said in court that the non-prosecution agreement would constitute the centerpiece of their defense, calling the New York indictment a "do-over." Reid Weingarten, one of Epstein's attorneys, told the judge that there had been "no complaints" about his client's conduct in the years since the Florida case and repeatedly called the conduct in question "ancient."

Goldberg said the deal with federal prosecutors in Miami "completely failed victims" and demonstrated the need for civil remedies.

The one-year window gives anyone a chance to have their day in court, including potential Epstein accusers we don't yet know about, said Michael Polenberg with Safe Horizon, a victim assistance nonprofit that worked on the act for more than a decade.

Before the new law, New York had one of the country's most restrictive statutes of limitations, Polenberg said.

Cases of child sex abuse could not be prosecuted more than five years after they occurred, and civil lawsuits had to be brought within three years after the victim's 18th birthday.

Such laws were "inconsistent" with the experiences of most survivors, Polenberg said, many of whom are not able to disclose what happened to them until well into adulthood.

"It's a way for them to reclaim their dignity," Polenberg said.

"For survivors who understand what has happened to them and know in their hearts what happened to them, they get to name that person in court."

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