Joelle Casteix was in high school when the abuse started. For over two years she was abused by her high school teacher in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.
“While the abuse itself was horrific,” said Casteix. “What was more devastating was the fact that school, and church officials knew the abuse was going on at the time, and did nothing to stop it. Instead, they protected the man who sexually abused me; allowed him to abuse other girls and then move onto other jobs.”
Casteix had the courage to file a lawsuit against the school and diocese in 2003 under the civil window in California. “It allowed me to peel away the layers of the onion of the coverup,” said Casteix. “When that case settled in 2005, it allowed me to expose the man who sexually abused me publicly.”
Casteix is now a published author, advocate, and Zero Abuse Project founding board member. Zero Abuse Project is a national organization that focuses on combating child sexual abuse through education, research, advocacy, and advanced technology. Its vision is “a world where every child is free from abuse.”
Last Wednesday, Casteix was one of the two guest speakers at Sen. James Skoufis’ Seminar on the Child Victims Act. The other speaker was Jeffrey Dion, CEO of Zero Abuse Project. The event was sponsored by Skoufis and Zero Abuse Project. Skoufis, Casteix, and Dion spoke on the benefits and changes that the law has created for New York State.
The Child Victims Act was enacted into law earlier this year. Skoufis was a champion of the act in this year’s legislative session in the Senate. Before the legislation was passed, New York State had one of the strictest statutes of limitations laws in the nation.
Passing the bill was not a simple process. The bill ran into opposition from various groups. According to Skoufis, one of the biggest opponents to the legislation was the Catholic Archdiocese. In addition, there were internal issues in the state government.
“For years the barrier to enacting this law had been the State Senate,” said Skoufis. “The bill passed the assembly in previous years. The Governor had supported the bill for a number of years. Now, I’m delighted to be part of the new Senate this year that helped get this bill across the finish line.”
Survivors now have up until age 28 to file a felony charge. Survivors have until 25 to file a misdemeanor charge, and 55 to file a civil lawsuit. The legislation includes a one-year lookback window, currently in effect, that allows adult survivors to file civil claims even if the statute of limitations has passed. This one-year lookback window expires on August 14, 2020.
“Child sexual abuse is a crime of power that uses sex as a weapon,” said Casteix. “Predators know that child victims are likely not to report. Predators rely on institutions for access and cover-up. Now, with New York’s civil window, survivors can expose abusers who are still working with children today, as well as the institutions that cover it up. Senator Skoufis and the state of New York are sending a loud and clear message – predators and those who protect them are no longer safe.”
Anyone who would like information on The Child Victims Act is encouraged to call Skoufis’ office at 845-567-1270, or email his office at firstname.lastname@example.org.