For Saratogian Bridie Farrell, today marks another new beginning. Farrell, who had her sights set on speedskating for the US national team and eventually in the Olympic Games at the tender age of 15, only to have her dreams shattered when an Olympic speedskater more than twice her age allegedly sexually abused her in Saratoga Springs over a seven-month period, has today (July 30) filed a civil lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against him, as well as the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee and US Speedskating. (Read more about the lawsuit here.)
Farrell, who is the co-founder, president and CEO of America Loves Kids (formerly NY Loves Kids), a nonprofit organization that advocates for child sexual abuse victims across the country, publicly outed her alleged abuser, four-time Olympian Andy Gabel, in 2013, some 15 years after the abuse took place. At the time, it caused a crush of media coverage, including reports on ESPN and later, an in-depth feature in Marie Claire. Four years later, she would co-found America Loves Kids, and since then, Farrell’s lobbied hard to see child sexual abuse laws passed on the state level, her initial focus being in her home state. That initial fight came to fruition on February 14, 2019, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s Child Victims Act (CVA) into law. She’s also advocated for the passage of similar laws in New Jersey, California and Arizona; and that list has grown to include Louisiana, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Maryland (though COVID has largely ground the process to a halt).
I filed my Child Victims Act civil case today. I’m grateful for the opportunity to stand up for myself and others. I encourage you to do the same. #metoo #kidstoo #ChildVictimsAct #AmLK pic.twitter.com/cfn885Z3wc
— Bridie Farrell (@BridieUSA) July 30, 2020
Remarkably, Farrell was able to file today’s civil suit because of the passage of New York’s CVA, the very law she fought so tirelessly to get passed in the first place. “This is definitely something I’ve been working on for the last year,” says Farrell. “Ultimately, what [I’m hoping to] get out of it is to change the system; I’ve been asking [the defendants] to make changes and clean things up for seven years, and it hasn’t happened.” When Cuomo signed the CVA into law in February 2019, it immediately changed the statute of limitations for future cases filed by child sexual abuse victims ages 28 for criminal suits and 55 for civil suits. (Hence, for example, the flurry of suits filed against various Catholic Diocese across the state in the last year.) In addition, a look-back window was enacted on August 14, 2019, allowing all sexual abuse survivors previously time-barred by the prior statute of limitations, to file new civil cases, regardless of their age for a period of one year. That was what allowed Farrell to ultimately file her complaint.
Obviously, the COVID-19 crisis, which brought everything in the state to a standstill for the past four months, threw a wrench into the process, making things considerably more complicated for those survivors seeking to file new suits and try existing ones in courtrooms. “The problem is that the courts closed, so people that wanted to file Child Victims Act cases were unable to for a period of time,” explains Farrell. “Then the courts did open, but people were still trying to figure out how to actually live and manage through the crisis, which unfolded [most drastically] in New York State. Even though the courts may have opened online, I think that a lot of people were still in triage mode about how to live their lives and do their jobs and raise their kids.”
To that end, Cuomo first extended the look-back window to January 14, 2021. Since then, the New York State Assembly and Senate have passed a bill, which is still awaiting Cuomo’s signature, to tack another full year, so that child sexual abuse survivors would have until August 14, 2021 to file new suits.
More than 1,000 new child sexual abuse lawsuits have been filed in New York following the CVA’s passage last August.