First Sexual Abuse Victims File Suit in New York State

In a New York Times opinion piece published on August 14, Jennifer Araoz describes how, at age 14, she was recruited and groomed to be a sex toy for wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. In the fall of 2001, she writes, she was approached outside her Manhattan performing arts high school by a female recruiter who told Araoz that Epstein could financially assist her struggling family and introduce her to beneficial connections for her career.

The woman persuaded Araoz to visit Epstein at his Upper East Side mansion. The visits seemed benign at first; she and Epstein would chat, and she would leave with $300. But soon he was asking for massages, then touching her inappropriately and gratifying himself, and finally forcing himself on her. The day Epstein allegedly raped her, she left his house and never came back.

A New Day, and New Recourse for Abuse Sufferers

Araoz, now 32, is among the first sexual abuse victims to file suit under New York state’s new Child Victims Act, which passed the Democratic-controlled Legislature earlier this year, was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in February, and took effect on August 14. More than 400 lawsuits were filed on the first day of the new law, which, among other things, gives adult survivors a one-year window to sue an abuser or negligent institution in civil court, no matter how long ago the abuse took place. Araoz’s suit names Epstein’s estate, as well as his longtime partner Ghislaine Maxwell and unspecified assistants, who Araoz claims recruited Epstein’s victims and abetted the abuse.

Besides Epstein, who was found dead in his jail cell on August 10, others potentially facing a bevy of lawsuits include the Archdiocese of New York and the Boy Scouts of America.

Interest in changing the statutes of limitations for lawsuits involving child sexual abuse has increased significantly in recent years due to major sex scandals involving Catholic clergy, especially those uncovered in the Boston area and in the state of Pennsylvania. The federal and state investigations that followed these scandals led to an unprecedented wave of dioceses around the country (including several in New York state) releasing lists of priests who had been credibly accused of child abuse—although critics have said the lists are incomplete, and little more than a desperate attempt at damage control.

More Time for Victims to Come Forward

For a variety of reasons—including guilt, shame, fear of retaliation, and fear of being blamed—survivors of sexual assault, especially children, often don’t report it for years, if ever.

In addition to the one-year look-back window for expired civil claims, the statute of limitations for all civil claims has been extended until the victim turns 55. For a criminal felony indictment, prosecutors now have until the abuse victim turns 28, up from the previous 23.

LaMarche Safranko Law is headquartered in Albany, New York, and represents clients in sexual abuse cases in state and federal courts throughout New York state. Call us at (518) 982-0770 or contact us for a no-obligation consultation