Fifty-nine victims of childhood sexual abuse filed lawsuits in Brooklyn Supreme Court in the first week after a new law took effect providing victims an opportunity to seek justice.
The Childhood Victims Act, which took effect on Aug. 14, gives victims of sexual abuse who were previously barred by statue of limitations restrictions a 365-day “look back” period to seek justice in court.
Among the 59 civil suits filed in Brooklyn this week were two lawsuits against the Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses — alleging the religious organization covered up rampant sexual abuse.
“This organization has allowed the sexual abuse of children to fester within it’s ranks for decades,” said the plantiffs’ attorney Irwin Zalkin. “Thankfully, due to the legislature and our Governor passing the Child Victims Act, our two clients have this opportunity.”
One of the plaintiffs — 48-year-old John Michael Ewing — alleges that he was forced to preform sexual acts on a high ranking Jehovah’s Witness member when he was just 14 years old. When Ewing reported the abuse to the organization, they excommunicated both him and his abuser for practicing homosexuality and took no legal action, the lawsuit alleges.
The other accuser — 48-year-old Heather Steele — claims she was molested when she was just a toddler by another Jehovah’s Witness member. Her abuser eventually spent three-and-a-half years in prison, but was reinstated in the Jehovah’s Witness organization upon his release, according to court documents. Steele is now suing the organization’s leadership for failing to stop the abuse.
“They converged on her family and told her not to go to the police,” said Zalkin. “They didn’t care about Heather. They didn’t do anything.”
Both Ewing and Steele were previously unable to sue the organization prior to the Child Victims Act taking effect due to statute of limitations.
In addition to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, various other organizations have been sued both in Brooklyn and in 500 suits throughout the state under the new law — including Brooklyn Diocese, the Boy Scouts of America, the Archdiocese of New York, and the New York City Department of Education — which accusers claim harboured child abusers.