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New York expects flood of child sex abuse lawsuits

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Hundreds, if not thousands, of civil lawsuits are expected to be filed in New York by victims of sexual abuse against institutions including the Roman Catholic Church under a temporary state law that went into effect on Wednesday.

Hundreds of people filed lawsuits on the first day of a one-year window allowing molestation lawsuits that had been blocked by New York's statute of limitations, which were one of the most restrictive in the nation.

Read more: Child sex abuse: How long do the statutes of limitations run in the EU?

The Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, schools, youth groups and hospitals are among the many institutions expected to be hit by lawsuits that could reach hundreds of millions of dollars and put them under financial strain.

At least one woman who alleges she was sexually abused by Jeffery Epstein and associates filed a lawsuit against the financier's estate. More were expected to follow. Epstein died from an apparent suicide at a New York City prison on Saturday while awaiting trial.

Child Victims Act

State lawmakers last year passed the Child Victims Act lifting the statute of limitations that had prevented litigation against decades-old crimes of child sexual abuse.

The law means that beginning Wednesday victims of any age in New York have one year to file civil lawsuits against an alleged offender. The law also extended the statute of limitations for new victims to file civil lawsuits until the age of 55 and until the age of 28 to seek criminal charges. Previously, victims of child sexual abuse had until the age of 23 to file criminal charges or seek damages in civil lawsuits.

Read more: Sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church

Catholic Church bracing for financial blow

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York said in a statement that it anticipated a stream of lawsuits and invited "people to consider" a compensation program for those sexually abused by clergy.

Since the program was instituted in 2016, the archdiocese has paid more than $66 million (€59 million) in compensation to 335 victims.

"While we carefully review the claims made in these suits, we ask that people pray for peace and healing for all those who have suffered from the sin and crime of the sexual abuse of minors, wherever it occurred," the archdiocese's statement said.

A similar law passed in California in 2002 led the Catholic dioceses there to pay $1.2 billion in legal settlements.

Advocates, mental health experts and victims say it can take years for those abused to open up about sexual crimes committed against them by powerful figures such as priests, teachers or other adults. Shame, embarrassment, fear and a feeling that no one would believe them also play a role in failing to come forward.

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