At the age of 18, Anne M was a victim of the notorious 'East Side' rapist who terrorized a New York City neighborhood—and raped 12 women—during the 1990s.
As her case wound through the criminal justice system, she felt victimized all over again. But it wasn't until she learned she could pursue justice for herself through the civil courts that her nightmare finally ended.
Seven years after the assault, she was awarded a monthly annuity that has since allowed her to buy a home and start a business—and find personal relief.
Anne's lack of knowledge about the potential for finding justice through the civil courts is sadly common for many victims, a conference at the Cardozo School of Law in New York was told yesterday.
For many crime victims the best route to justice may be through our civil courts, experts told the conference, sponsored by The National Center for Victims of Crime.
Speakers, including independent attorneys as well as victims' advocates discussed different techniques that a crime victim can employ to get restitution– if they feel the criminal courts aren't bringing them relief.
Options in some cases included suing the location or company where the incident happened, especially ones that have been negligent in providing a safe environment for customers.
One case cited involved a victim who was attacked and raped at a hospital. The victim successfully sued the parent corporation for not providing reasonable security to protect patients, and received payment for counseling and stress-related work loss.
“How do you punish a corporation? ” asked Jeff Dion, director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association. “We can't throw a corporation in jail but we can go after their bottom line.”
Madeline Bryer, who became an attorney after being attacked in her apartment, spoke about cases involving victims of crime in schools. .
She pointed out that there were differences in responsibilities for reporting sexual abuse in public and private schools. Not all private schools fall under federal sexual reporting guidelines unless they accept federal funds.
“Laws for schools are specific to the type of school,” said Bryer, cautioning advocates to take a close look at stories emanating from schools that may not be subject to federal laws.
Marci Hamilton, who holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, spoke about the importance of statutes of limitations for criminal victims to file civil cases.
The clock starts ticking from the moment the abuse occurs, she said; but most child abuse victims don't step forward until they are in their 40s. The statute of limitations for first-time claims in New York State is currently five years.
“We have to allow for these old cases to come forward,” said Hamilton. “Their courage will allow other victims to come forward, and it's our best chance at achieving justice.”
Cara Tabachnick is Managing Editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers.