ALBANY -- The case of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein is being cited by advocates for molestation survivors in a new awareness campaign for the coming opportunity for abuse survivors to bring civil claims against those who victimized them.
Epstein, 66, a wealthy money manager from New York City, is accused of paying dozens of girls -- some as young as 14 years old -- to have sex with him at his homes in New York and Florida.
The Child Victims Act, signed into law last February, allows the victims of sexual assault more time to use both the criminal and the civil courts to seek monetary damages against those who abused them when they were minors.
The statute erected a one-year window for survivors to bring civil suits, beginning August 14.
"We fought to pass the Child Victim's Act with the look-back window so that every survivor -- including those Mr. Epstein allegedly abused -- could have a pathway to justice under the law, if that's what's right for them," said Ariel Zwang, chief executive officer of Safe Horizon, an advocacy group that provides support services to sex abuse victims.
The new law is expected to spawn hundreds of lawsuits across the state once the window period kicks in. It will allow such claims to be filed even if they had been barred under previous statutes of limitations.
"Epstein is a very good example of an alleged abuser who will face justice -- both criminally and in the civil courts -- and survivors will have their day in court because of this law," said state Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, a sponsor of the legislation.
Prosecutors say they have uncovered a "vast trove" of lewd photographs of young women in Epstein's New York home. At a bail hearing Monday, federal Judge Richard Berman signaled he will decide Thursday whether to set bail in the case. A lawyer for Epstein indicated his client is willing to post $100 million to effect his release from custody. Epstein, a former hedge fund manager, is being held at a federal detention center.
Prosecutors told the judge that more women have emerged to say they were abused by Epstein since the indictment was unsealed. It was also revealed numerous diamonds and piles of cash were found in Epstein's Manhattan mansion.
What makes the Child Victims Act unusual is that it is retroactive, allowing claims to go forward even though the time clock had run out on such claims under the law before the measure was enacted.
The expected floor of cases expected to go forward because of the new law will likely extend to a wide range of employers beyond the religious organizations that dominated headlines during the debate over the legislation.
Laura Ahearn, a Long Island lawyer who represents victims of childhood sex abuse, said her law firm's clients include people who were molested by medical professionals, public school teachers and youth organization leaders.
"The Child Victims Act opens the door to all victims to seek redress against those who sexually abused them," Ahearn said.
Epstein, in 2008, pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges in Florida after securing non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors there in connection with a sex trafficking investigation in that state. He spent 13 months in a county jail. The earlier deal helped trigger last week's resignation of U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who had approved the light sentence for Epstein while serving as the U.S. attorney for Miami.
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, said the new law will help make abusers accountable for their misdeeds.
"Serial abusers like Jeffrey Epstein who once thought they could beat the clock, should think again," said Rosenthal, another Child Victims Act sponsor.
For criminal cases, the new law extends the statute of limitations for victims to file abuse charges from ages 23 to 28.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com