This is Part 2 of our conversation with two New York state legislators, Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who helped pass the Child Victims Act in New York. The state law, which went into effect last week, extends the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse and includes a “lookback period,” giving survivors of any age a year to take legal action even if their cases had expired under the old statute of limitations. Over 500 lawsuits have already been filed. Both Biaggi and Niou are sexual abuse survivors, and they have spoken about the importance of the Child Victims Act in personal terms.
Watch Part 1 by clicking here.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Part 2 of our conversation with two New York state legislators, state Senator Alessandra Biaggi and New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who helped pass the Child Victims Act in New York. The state law, which went into effect exactly one week ago, last Wednesday, extends the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse and includes a “lookback period,” giving survivors of any age a year to take legal action even if their cases had expired under the old statute of limitations. Well over 500 lawsuits have already been filed in this first week. Both legislators, Biaggi and Niou, are sexual abuse survivors themselves and have spoken about the importance of the Child Victims Act in personal terms.
I began by asking New York state Senator Alessandra Biaggi how it feels to be able to pass legislation that will help so many people.
SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: It makes me — it is — it makes me feel lots of different emotions. First of all, it is very surreal. And every time I speak about it, as Assemblywoman Niou has mentioned, it brings back and reopens part of the trauma and the memory that I wish I could forget but that stays with me forever. But at the same time, the more that I speak about it, and the more that I’m able to use what has happened to me to help others and to speak about what people can do, the less pain that I feel. It is a remarkable thing, it is a privilege, to be able to transform trauma into real action that will help — we know — will help hundreds, if not thousands, of people across the state of New York.
And, you know, I would be remiss if I didn’t say how grateful I am to Senator Brad Hoylman, the Senate sponsor, as well as Assemblywoman Rosenthal, because the two of them fought very powerful currents of institutions and triumphed.
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: And we also have to, of course, mention Marge Markey, who was one of the first sponsors in the Assembly.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, you shared your experience, as you mentioned in Part 1 of our interview, of being a survivor of child sexual abuse, when you voted in favor of the Child Victims Act in January.
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: I was 13 years old. And it was a teacher. And I can still smell him. I can still smell what he smells like. And I told people in my conference last year, when we were about to speak on the bill, about my experience. But I think, you know, it’s not something that I like to bring up, because it’s something that’s so shameful and so horrible and so traumatic of an experience, to me, to many of the other victims, that it’s really, really hard to bring up. It’s really hard to talk about it, for many, many reasons. … I literally can’t stop shaking. And so, I just wanted to let you guys know that your vote is so important to me and so important to those victims. Thank you so much.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Assemblywoman, that’s you speaking about this bill and your support for it, this act. What kind of response did you receive to your testimony?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: So, one of the hardest things, I think, is that so many folks — I mean, I talked about it with Senator Biaggi, but so many folks are now reaching out and telling us about their stories, and we’ve been hearing so many people have been silenced for so long. And I think that that’s one of the things that is so significant, that just in one day we saw hundreds of people. Just, they were ready to talk. And our laws should have been ready to listen, and they weren’t. And I think that that’s really significant, that we made these changes in a time when, of course, they were long overdue, but before, you know, folks passed away, before, folks couldn’t have a chance to speak up anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain again what people can do right now, now that the Child Victims Act has passed. What is the timeline, no matter when the abuse happened? This is only if you live in New York state?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: Or if your perpetrator is in New York state?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: If the act happened in New York state. The perpetrator doesn’t have to live here anymore, but they, you know, can still be held accountable in New York courts.
AMY GOODMAN: And you don’t have to live here.
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: And you don’t have to live here anymore. But if this has happened in New York state, then this is something that you can bring to the courts. New York state courts have jurisdiction over what happened to you. And I think that, you know, this —
AMY GOODMAN: And for the next year.
ASSEMBLYMEMBER YUH-LINE NIOU: Yep, for the one-year lookback period, starting yesterday. As of yesterday, we have one year, until August 14th of next year, to actually be able to hold people accountable. It doesn’t matter what age you are.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to state Senator Alessandra Biaggi, her testimony, how she prefaced her vote in favor of the Child Victims Act in January, speaking about her own trauma.
SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: I am a sexual abuse survivor. And this bill is incredibly important to me. The shame that abuse creates turns oftentimes into silence. And without a system that encourages and protects victims who share their experiences, the trauma manifests into many different forms. For me, that silence lasted for 25 years. And it is almost unthinkable that I could stand here as a New York state senator to speak about something that I thought I would probably take to my grave. … To the survivors and to the advocates, but mainly to the survivors of these heinous acts, the acts of terror that you have endured does not make you less human. You are worthy of a world that respects your body and your being, and at the very least includes legal redress for what you have endured. As a member of this body of the New York state Senate, I am proud to vote aye, Madam President. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s New York state Senator Alessandra Biaggi, prefacing her vote for this really revolutionary law that has been passed in the Legislature, signed off on, has gone into effect as of yesterday. So, tell us about what it felt like to describe your own experience — both of you did — and what happened in this Legislature, in the both Senate, where you are, and in the House.
SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: It felt —
AMY GOODMAN: Did you coordinate this?
SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: So, we did not coordinate it, and it felt very liberating, but also very sad. I think that every time that I speak about it, it makes me angry, although less angry each time, because I think that there is an underestimation of how much child sexual abuse affects someone’s life. I know that for the rest of my life that I am on this Earth, this will be something that affects the way that I interact with others, as Assemblywoman Niou has mentioned, my relationships, the way I think and feel about myself. There are issues of self-worth and confidence. And I think if you’re looking at me and where I am right now, or looking at the video, you’re thinking, “How could she possibly be, you know, worried about confidence?” It’s real. It’s a very real thing, and you live with it every single day.
Now, when I spoke about what had happened to me as a child, I had no idea that at the same exact moment, in the Assembly, just down the hall, in a different chamber, that there were three women also speaking about their abuse. The significance of that is not to be, I think, really made small, because I think before I was speaking, if someone said, “Do you feel lonely in this feeling?” I would have said, “No, I don’t. I feel like I have spoken about it. I have my family surrounding me. I have my, at the time fiancé, now husband, supporting me in doing this and also with me on my journey to heal.” But when I learned that they had spoken about it, as well, I felt —
AMY GOODMAN: Assemblywoman Niou.
SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: Assemblywoman Niou, Assemblywoman Cruz, Assemblywoman Bichotte — I felt less alone. There is really less darkness in my life now, because of these other three women who have spoken about it. And the fact that we were all able to come together, thanks to Safe Horizon and Alexis Grenell and all of their work that they’ve done for this PSA, and have really — again, it’s transforming this pain into something that is actionable, makes it less of a burden, although it’s still a burden, but less of a burden, and also allows us to focus on the action-oriented part of it, which is to spread awareness so everybody in the state of New York who is affected by this knows.
AMY GOODMAN: What was the institutional response? Who fought you on this? I mean, as you said, you grew up a Catholic. Clearly, the Catholic Church has to be quaking right now in New York.
SEN. ALESSANDRA BIAGGI: Yes. I mean, the institutional response, I think, previously — and there was a fight, I think, even up to bringing this bill to the floor. And I had mentioned this a little bit in the earlier segment, which is that the Catholic Church in New York had spent $2.1 million lobbying against the Child Victims Act — $2.1 million at a time when New Yorkers have a housing need, are food-insecure. Are you kidding me? That is so outrageous.
I will say that when I spoke up, my colleagues in the Senate, on both sides of the aisle, were incredibly supportive. Some members shared with me that they also had been abused as children. That was a very unexpected thing that had happened. And I think just me speaking gave them the opportunity, or at least, again, the space, to be able to say, “Oh, that happened to me, too.”
And also, this is what child sexual abuse looks like. It doesn’t have one face. It looks like myself and Assemblywoman Niou and Assemblywoman Cruz and Assemblywoman Bichotte. But it also looks like other individuals. There is not one face of child sexual abuse. And it was important, I think, to make sure that that was very clear, because we want everyone to know what it looks like and what they can do.
AMY GOODMAN: New York state Senator Alessandra Biaggi and New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who helped pass the Child Victims Act. The New York state law extends the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. It is believed that nearly 1,000 lawsuits have been filed since last Wednesday, when the law went into effect.
Also, we plan to have an update on the crisis in Kashmir later in the week.
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Also, tomorrow on Democracy Now!, we’ll bring you more on the first-ever Native American Presidential Forum that took place in Sioux City, Iowa. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.