New Jersey Child Victims Act Implementation Challenged by Watch Groups
Child sexual abuse is a devastating crime that poses serious threats to the well-being and future of our children. Laws on child sexual abuse not only aim to punish the perpetrators but also encourage survivors to come forward.
Historically, New Jersey’s sexual abuse statutes of limitations restricted the survivor’s right to seek justice. But, the 2019 enactment of the NJ Child Victims Act (S477) created a new opportunity for victims to seek justice.
However, a report from New Jersey’s state comptroller published in February 2023, raises serious concerns about the state’s child welfare system’s management of sex abuse cases.
What Is the New Jersey Child Victims Act
The New Jersey Child Victims Act, signed into law in May 2019, significantly extends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to seek justice. It allows survivors of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits until they are 55 years old, or within seven years of their realization that the abuse caused them harm. Previously, the law required such claims to be filed by the time the victim was 20 or within two years of recognizing the abuse.
One unique feature of the law is a two-year window for any victims previously barred by the statute of limitations to file lawsuits against their abusers or the institutions that allegedly enabled the abuse. This “window” commenced on December 1, 2019 and ended in November 30, 2021.
The law ensures that survivors of child sexual abuse have more time to recognize the impact of the trauma inflicted upon them and take legal action.
New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller Investigation
According to the comptroller’s report, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) failed to properly implement the Child Victims Act, which was designed to enhance the state’s ability to respond to reports of child sexual abuse.
The watchdog group discovered significant shortcomings in the handling of child sexual abuse allegations, with inconsistencies in response timing, derailment in follow-up actions, and lack of relevant training for handling such sensitive issues.
The comptroller’s report highlighted several cases in which the New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) took days or even weeks to respond to allegations. This breached the requirement outlined in the Child Victims Act, which mandates a response within 24 hours of a child abuse notification. Additionally, some families had not received the correct services following an allegation, hindering the fight against child abuse. This situation has led to children languishing without appropriate support and action.
In response to the OSC investigation, DCF stated it has developed safeguards to address issues that the investigation discovered, but the OSC office said it has not reviewed the safeguards “to determine if they are adequate.”
Child Sex Abuse Support Services in New Jersey
If you or someone you know has been a victim of child sex abuse. There are several organizations in New Jersey support child sex abuse victims. These groups include:
- Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey (1-800-CHILDREN)
- NJ Coalition Against Sexual Assault (1-800-601-7200)
- Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (1-800-654-SPAN)
These organization provide confidential support, counseling, resources, and advocacy for victims and their families.
Reporting Child Sexual Abuse in New Jersey
New Jersey, as a mandatory reporting state, directs certain professionals, such as healthcare providers and educators, to report suspected instances of child abuse or neglect, including sexual abuse. Anyone can report to Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P) by calling 1-877 NJ ABUSE. Alternatively, they can contact local law enforcement anonymously.
Holding Parties Liable for Child Sexual Abuse in New Jersey
Victims of child sexual abuse in New Jersey have a legal right to seek compensation for their suffering through legal action. Even though two year window for victims prior to the passing of the actin 2019 has closed. For cases in which the abuse occurred when the victim was an adult (over age 18), or within 7 years from the last act of sexual abuse can still file a lawsuit.