Dozens of civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse have been filed in New Jersey courts over the last few days, as a new law took effect changing the statute of limitations for such cases and reviving claims that had long been disallowed.

An exact number was difficult to pin down, as the public-facing portion of the state judiciary’s website often blocked searches because the system had reached the maximum number of concurrent users.

“We have been looking forward to the enactment date for this new law for a couple months now, but the fight to get to this point was more than a decade in the making,” said Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

“There were a lot of survivors across New Jersey that were looking forward to today, the first day that they could actually begin a new path towards justice and healing that wasn’t available to them before,” she said. “So this is a really big day.”

New Jersey’s statute of limitations for adult victims of sexual assault is now seven years, rather than two. For incidents that occurred before the victim turned 18, claims are now allowed to be filed until age 55. And any lawsuit that was previously time-barred is now allowed, through Nov. 30, 2021.

Teffenhart said it has been estimated, based on the experience in other states, that 1,000 to 2,000 additional lawsuits will be filed due to the changes in state law.

But she cautioned that pursuing any form of justice can take a while and that not very complaint may ultimately gain traction due to time and other factors.

“It’s really critically important for survivors to understand that there may not be pathways for them available based on whatever evidence may still remain, that even though the doors to the courthouse are open, there are still a lot of requirements that need to be fulfilled in order for someone’s case to be considered,” Teffenhart said.

“But even so, we know that just the ability to consider this pathway and to utter the names of the individuals and institutions that have caused harm for many survivors feels like justice in and of itself,” she said.

Teffenhart said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that the average lifetime financial impact of sexual assault victimization is $122,000 per survivor. That covers factors such as lost employment, lost tuition payments, additional medical and healthcare services.

“Pursuing civil remedies allows survivors an opportunity to hold those that caused them harm financially responsible for the impacts of their actions,” Teffenhart said.

A Statehouse news conference to mark the new law’s effective date was postponed due to Monday’s inclement weather, which prompted Gov. Phil Murphy to close state offices at noon. Many instead issued statements marking the milestone.

“I hope the news that victims can begin filing their cases under this new law spreads far and wide, and we hold the perpetrators and institutions accountable everywhere we can,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, the bill’s chief sponsor.

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