Todd Kostrub of Surf City started coming to the Statehouse in Trenton seven years ago to publicly share the dark secret that took him years to admit: His parish priest started raping him when he was a 7-year-old altar boy.
Kostrub said he revisited the shame and terrors of his memories to convince state lawmakers that survivors like him “deserve a taste a justice,” by expanding the window of time they get to sue their abusers in New Jersey. The law allowed childhood victims just two years past their 18th birthday to file a claim.
On Monday, Kostrub joined nearly 100 of fellow advocates at the Statehouse once again, this time to celebrate the enactment of the broadest statute of limitations law in the country for child and adult victims of rape.
Kostrub said he has hired a lawyer and is ready to savor whatever justice he can find.
“This is joy,” he said, hours after Gov. Phil Murphy signed the new statute of limitations legislation into law. “But I would trade anything in my life not to be here, to never have been a victim.”
The new law grants victims who previously could not file lawsuits because the statute of limitations had passed, a new two-year window — from Dec. 1, 2019, to Nov. 30, 2021 — to file their cases. Adults who were sexually assaulted as children may bring a civil suit up until the age of 55 or seven years after they make “the discovery" that connects their emotional and psychological injury to their sexual abuse, according to the law.
The legislation (S477) also gives adult sexual assault victims in New Jersey seven years to file a civil lawsuit, a change sought by the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“This legislation will change lives," said the coalition’s Executive Director Patricia Teffenhart. "It will give voice to those who have been silenced. It shifts accountability to individual and institutions which have caused harm and it will ensure that in New Jersey, justice delayed in not justice denied.”
New Jersey is the 13th state to expand its statute of limitations law, “and by far it’s the best,” Marci Hamilton, CEO and academic director of CHILD USA, a research and advocacy organization which studies childhood sexual abuse.
“Three things are going to happen,” Hamilton said. “New Jersey is going to find out who the hiddensween are in this state. New Jersey is going shift the cost of abuse from victims to the ones who caused it. And we are going to educate the public about how bad this problem is.”
State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, the bill’s sponsor since its inception 21 years ago, called the incidence of child sexual assault a “pandemic." Were it not for the determination of people wiling to repeatedly testify, the law would not have passed, he said.
“We call the the individuals here today survivors because many have not” survived, Vitale added, recounting some of the “awful stories” offered as testimony in support of the bill. Among the most distressing, he said, was those from “parents weeping at the witness table, barely able to get the words out about how their children took their own lives because they could no longer live with the emotional distress and the horror of their abuse.”
Mark Crawford, the state director of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests who approached Vitale about the legislation 20 years ago, praised his fellow advocates.
“The accounts suffered by the survivors is the real reason we are here today,” Crawford said. “You have made New Jersey today a better place.”