Yes, in New York, there are time limitations on both when you can prosecute AND sue for sexual abuse.  However, It is important to remember that the criminal statute of limitations that applies is the one that was in place at the time of the crime itself.  So while it may have been lengthened in the time since, if the limitation ran out, it can NOT be reactivated.  (Whether this is also the case for civil suits is currently being debated in many states). 

Example:  A man commits an act of molestation in 1965, when there was a 3 year statute of limitation on the crime.  In 1970, the legislature removes the statute of limitations from child molestation.  The man can still not be prosecuted, because the statute of limitations had expired before the law was changed.  If the law had been changed in 1968, however, he could be prosecuted.

If you are the victim of abuse, the first thing you must decide is whether you are pursuing something criminally or civilly, as the statute of limitation is usually different between the two of them.  

Civil Lawsuits

Unlike most states, New York does not have a specific statute of limitations (SOL) for sexual abuse, instead relying on the type of claim filed to determine what the SOL would be.  

  • If the abuse is treated as an intentional act of the abuser,  the SOL is only a single year. 
  • If it is an action against an institution (like a church or school) for hiring or supervising the abuser, then the SOL extends to three years. 
  • Any suit based on negligence is also three years. 

However, New York is like most other jurisdictions in that it doesn’t begin enforcing statutes of limitation until after you become an adult (over 18 years old).  This means that if one wanted to directly sue the abuser for abuse suffered as a child, you would have one year from your 18th birthday to do it.  If you wanted to sue a church for hiring a abusive clergyman, you would have three years from your 18th birthday.

Concurrently, should an abuser or institution be convicted of criminal offenses, the victim (of those crimes) has 7 – 10 years (depending on the crime) to sue them (starting from the date of the crime), regardless of whether the other SOL has already passed.  This is a bit confusing, but it basically provides another way to sue an abuser if the normal SOL has already run out.

The unwieldiness of this system is perhaps why there are currently many efforts in the state legislature to change the rules, and even calls from the Governor for the SOL to be removed from child-sex crimes all together.  This law is likely to shift drastically in the future, so your best bet is to contact an attorney familiar with any recent changes in the law in your jurisdiction. 

NOTE:  Although currently popular in 28 other states, New York courts have so far refused to subscribe to the "delayed discovery" rule, which says that the SOL for abuse doesn’t begin until the victim becomes aware of the (possibly repressed) memories of abuse.  They are also very hostile to claims of repressed memory altogether.

Criminal Cases

In New York, the statute of limitations for any kind of sexual assault (1st or 2nd degree) or molestation is 5 years.  However, for sexual crimes involving children, incest, or child pornography, New York uses the same "tolling" system for criminal cases as it does for civil suits, meaning that the 5 year SOL does not begin to run until the victim reaches the age of 18. 

As mentioned before, this is a highly contentious issue of legislation, and could very easily be subject to change in the near future (especially in an election year).   Therefore you should talk to a New York attorney to get the most current information about what state law protections and requirements you have.  

Do I Need an Attorney?

Sexual abuse is one of the crimes that benefits the most from statutes of limitations, as often victims are too ashamed or frightened to testify before it is too late.  If you are the victim of sexual abuse, a lawyer can help you by filing a lawsuit against your abuser, or by discussing with you the complicated issue of statutes of limitations within New York.  But time is of the essence, so talk to one and learn about your rights today.

A qualified New York attorney can provide you more information if there is a legal basis for your case. For more local legal information, please see these pages: