HORSEHEADS, N.Y. (WENY) — Over 6,400 people so far filed claims against their abusers under New York States Child Victims Act, which allows people who were sexually abused as children to file a civil suit against their abuser or organization, regardless of how long it has been since the abuse took place.

Decades have come and gone since many survivors dealt with childhood sexual assault. Most of them, with the same thought in the back of their minds.

"Some of my earliest memories are of the abuse taking place," said Jeff.

When Jeff thinks back to the Summer he spent with his uncle

"I remember me and my brother both being groomed. He would suggest that we go ride snowmobiles. He took an interest in us," Jeff said.

Whether someone spent time with a family member or, in Michael's case, at church. As kids, they didn’t get the sense that something was wrong right away. 

"Absolutely not, it wasn’t until some outside church activities came about that my encounters came along," Michael said.

When he was a teenager, Michael started helping out with funeral mass as an altar boy to make a few extra dollars.

"He had asked me if I wanted to go to the movies. He had driven me home from one of the masses, it was a funeral mass, and parked, sitting in front of our home."

Michael says he felt odd about accepting the pastor's invitation, but his family encouraged him to spend time with his perpetrator.  

"My mother was immediately dismissive. ‘Oh no, he’s a great guy. I don’t think you should feel uncomfortable. I think you should join him,’" Michael said.

But, others didn’t have a sense of security. 

"He made me feel unsafe. He made me feel scared all the time," Tammy said.

When she lived in a home with her foster father, Tammy went to bed most nights, terrified.  

"I didn’t expect him to come in the room when it was that dark and we were sleeping and I just laid there terrified not knowing what he was going to do because he came right towards me," Tammy said.

Over time Tammy says her experiences at the foster home got worse. She felt she had to protect her younger sisters who slept in the same room as her.

"The only thought in my head, when that door would open, was please leave my sisters alone," Tammy said.

After things escalated, these survivors felt the need to talk to someone. 

"I said to my mother, who was cooking dinner, I said Uncle Mike wants me to touch him and he wants to touch me," Jeff said.

For Jeff, the abuse stopped almost immediately. 

"Something inside me as a child, strangely enough, was able to communicate this to an adult that would take care of me," Jeff said.

Speaking up didn’t always bring the abuse to an end. Tammy says she tried talking to her caseworker about her foster father. 

"She said that, more or less, she didn’t believe me because she had children placed there a lot and they were good people."

Many survivors say they’ve dealt with unresolved trauma from the abuse. In Tammy's case, her experiences as a child changed her life as a young adult.

"I started using IV drugs and drinking a lot. It really affected me more as a young adult. I tried to have a good marriage, tired settle down and it didn’t work," Tammy said.

Tammy isn't the only survivor who had issues with interpersonal relationships.

“I would blame this episode in my life as a reason to why I’ve had quite a few failed relationships. My ability to trust and have a healthy relationship was damaged due to this," Jeff said. 

Struggles related to trauma can present themselves in many different ways.

“I don’t like to go to hospitals because he worked at a hospital. I don’t like organized religion because it’s hard for me to have faith in a human being that might be acting inappropriately and illegally, yet standing in front of people hypocritically and talking about their faith and their lives, Michael said.

Years later, they’re looking for closure and accountability.  

"In the absence of an apology letter, which I know I will never get, where else is there to go?" Michael said.

Opening a civil case gave them and voice. They hope others can find theirs.  

"I just, I want them to come forward, I want them to open their mouths and scream, just scream to the top of their lungs until somebody listens to them because I just want people to know that this kind of stuff affects a person's life for the rest of their life," Tammy said.

Many civil cases don’t lead to any payment.

"I’m very grateful that they were willing to take my case on just based on principle and not financial gain because my perpetrator is not a rich man," Jeff said.

Some survivors feel like filing helped them move forward. 

"There are a lot of victims out there that are suffering. I know what it’s like to suffer, but I know what it’s like to recover too," Jeff said.

Others feel like filing lets others know they're not alone.

"You know, there’s nothing that I can do about something that happened 40 years ago, but maybe we can stop it from occurring for future generations," Michael said.

If anyone who experienced childhood sexual assault comes across their stories, these survivors have a message.

"It's not your fault. The truth doesn’t harm. Come forth. Do right by yourself. Do something for yourself," Michael said.

HORSEHEADS, N.Y. (WENY) — The legislation was passed almost two years ago, giving survivors of childhood sexual assault a chance to open a civil case against their perpetrator. 

“That means that survivors who suffered abuse decades ago can now come forward and commence a lawsuit," said Aubrey Hetznecker, Associate Attorney at Schlather, Stumbar, Parks and Salk, LLP.

There are a few limitations to who can file. 

“You have to have experienced sexual assault under the age of 18 and the abuse had to have occurred in New York State," Hetznecker said.

The look-back window ends on August 13th of this year and people who are thinking about filing need to act quickly. 

“I think as this issue moves forward there’s talk about other legislation. I don’t see any other further extensions moved on this bill," said Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, New York States 132nd District.

Hetznecker says it can take some time to process paperwork and survivors should find a lawyer now. For some, taking that step is hard.  

“Others need time to process, what was a one-year window and now a two-year window is sometimes not enough time for a survivor to come to terms with whether or not they want to commence a civil proceeding," Hetznecker said.

If a survivor hasn’t yet filed, Assemblyman Palmesano says this is the time to take action against a person or institution. 

“Some kind of recourse. We know none of this is going to take away the pain individuals encountered during their time, but if it can bring some sort of closure and help to these individuals who were abused," Palmesano said.

In order to move forward with a civil lawsuit under the Child Victims Act, Hertznecker says paperwork or documents for any case needs to be submitted to the courts before 11:59 at night on August 13th.

"Even if that time-line comes and passes, it's important for survivors to potentially come and talk to an attorney about what the implications are. There is other legislation that is in the works about adult survivors, not necessarily child survivors. We're not really sure where that will end up. Regardless, if any survivor wants to think about filing they should think quickly," Hertznecker said.

More information about the child victims act with language translations can be found here.