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How the Child Victims Act revealed New York’s dark history of child sexual abuse

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Inside the red brick walls of the Church of Saint Rita, 9-year-old Steven Cowen was Father Stephen Gregory’s “favorite altar boy.”

The then 32-year-old Catholic priest at the Staten Island church used to take Cowen out of his classes and ply him with wine until the child was “visibly intoxicated,” court records say.

Then, in the quiet solitude of the church’s rectory and sacristy, Cowen’s young body was repeatedly defiled when he was allegedly forced to wash Gregory’s feet and genitals with holy water and perform oral sex on him.

The abuse Cowen, now 53, says he endured over the course of two years starting in 1977, which Gregory emphatically denies, later led to a crippling sex addiction and has continued to haunt him to this day. But thanks to the Child Victims’ Act, which allowed victims with old claims that have passed the statute of limitations to take legal action, he’s finally getting the closure he’s long hoped for.

“It definitely gave me a lot of comfort,” Cowen, a married dad of five who now lives in East Setauket, told The Post of his decision to sue the Archdiocese of New York and the Church of Saint Rita in June under the Child Victims’ Act.

Cowen (right) said he was forced to perform oral sex on Father Stephen Gregory at the Church of Saint Rita.
Cowen (right) said he was forced to perform oral sex on Father Stephen Gregory at the Church of Saint Rita.

“The idea of knowing that I’ve spoken out … I’m like, ‘Oh my God,’ even the satisfaction that he knows that I know. I honestly would like to see him in court to tell him that he didn’t get away with it.”

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of New York said they take “seriously all allegations of sexual abuse, and responds with compassion and respect” but are unable to comment on specific suits brought under the Child Victims Act.”

The Church of Saint Rita declined comment.

Cowen was able to sue the Archdiocese of New York and the Church of Saint Rita due to the Child Victims' Act.
Cowen was able to sue the Archdiocese of New York and the Church of Saint Rita due to the Child Victims’ Act.
Stephen Yang
Cowen says the abuse he endured from Father Stephen Gregory still haunts him and it led to a sex addiction.
Cowen says the abuse he endured from Father Stephen Gregory still haunts him and it led to a sex addiction.
Stephen Yang

Finally, a chance at justice

The Child Victims’ Act, which went into effect August 2019, opened up a year-long window for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to file claims against their perpetrators, regardless of when the crimes occurred. The law also changed the statute of limitations for civil sexual abuse claims, allowing any survivor to file suit until the age of 55 when the previous cut-off age was 23.

The law’s so-called “look-back window” ends Saturday.

“So many adults had been abused as children and had no recourse because of the punitively short statute of limitations,” State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who spent years pushing for the bill’s passage as a sponsor, told The Post.

“If you were a child that was abused, if you didn’t file a claim by the age of 23 you had no recourse civil or criminal. So that injustice was perpetrated year after year.”

The law’s look-back window was extended for an additional year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and since it took effect, more than 9,000 survivors of childhood abuse across the state have been able to sue their perpetrators and the institutions that protected them. About half of those suits were filed in New York City alone, according to data from the Office of Court Administration.

The Child Victims' Act allows child sex abuse victims like Steven Cowen (pictured) to sue for damages as adults.
The Child Victims’ Act allows child sex abuse victims like Steven Cowen (pictured) to sue for damages as adults.
Stephen Yang

The suits have targeted a range of defendants, including individual abusers like Jeffrey Epstein, to powerful institutions like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, which have faced devastating fallouts from the legal battles.

At least three New York dioceses — Rochester, Rockville and Syracuse — filed for bankruptcy following the passage of the Child Victims’ Act and the BSA has faced claims from over 82,000 victims across the country, forcing them to also file for bankruptcy. The BSA didn’t return a request for comment for this story.

Just days ago, Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre used the law to file suit against Prince Andrew alleging she was forced to engage in sex acts with him when she was just 17, a claim he denies.

When the Child Victims’ Act went into effect, the floodgates opened in courtrooms across the state, revealing just how rampant child sex abuse was.

Nearly every realm of public and private life that interacts with children — from schools, hospitals, foster care providers, summer camps and recreational centers — have been targeted under the law, illuminating the scourge of abuse that long lived in the shadows.

“Overall, the [Child Victims’ Act] window has accomplished what it was intended to do,” said Jeff Herman from Herman Law, which has brought at least 1,400 cases under the law. “By giving victims the opportunity to seek justice, we have helped thousands of New Yorkers who were sexually abused as children. For the first time in their lives, they are able to seek accountability and share their stories to begin the healing process.”

Herman expects to file an additional 200 more before Saturday’s deadline.

“The added benefit is that we are able to expose hundreds of previously unidentified predators, which will protect children in the future,” he added.

Slow settlements but a sense of relief

It’s unclear how many cases brought under the Child Victims’ Act have been settled or thrown out since the law’s inception and the Office of Court Administration said most are still pending.

Many have faced long delays after courts across the state were shut down and forced to operate on an emergency basis because of the pandemic.

In a glimpse, the Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala law firm said about 10 percent of the 479 cases they’ve brought under the law have been settled. They noted, however, that many of the defendants are waiting for the look-back window to expire so they know exactly how many claims they’re up against before they start negotiating.

While attorneys say it’ll likely take years to see a complete picture of the monetary results that came from suits brought during the look-back window, the survivors behind the dockets are relieved to just finally be heard after so many years of silent anguish.

Vincent Festa, who worked as a child psychologist, allegedly abused Gregory Vita at Herricks Union Free School District.
Vincent Festa, who worked as a child psychologist, allegedly abused Gregory Vita at Herricks Union Free School District.
SCPD

“I have to pinch myself. It feels like a miracle,” said Gregory Vita, 58, of his ability to file suit decades after school psychologist Vincent Festa at the Herricks Union Free School District in Nassau County abused him multiple times in 1978 when he was 16, court papers allege.

“It gives me a feeling of justice, it also gives me a feeling of relief and a feeling that I’m not crazy, that this really happened,” Vita alleged. “When this happened, immediately I complained to the school … nobody said anything. The vice-principal basically told people they were crazy and trouble makers so after a while you kind of give up. Nobody wants to hear it.”

While Vita’s abuser is now dead, his pending lawsuit, like many others, targets the institution that he alleges protected his predator for so many years and failed to do anything to stop the abuse.

“[The school] should have stopped him a long time ago,” Vita, who lives in Long Beach, explained.

Michael J. Porchenick-Allen, who sued the Boy Scouts, alleged the abuse he suffered spanned across four years.
Michael J. Porchenick-Allen, who sued the Boy Scouts, alleged the abuse he suffered spanned across four years.

“He was like a big intimidating guy. He used to go around school looking for kids. Everybody knew what was going on. For 40 years they were calling him ‘Festa the Molesta,” Vita claimed.

An attorney for the school said they could not comment on pending legislation.

The Child Victims’ Act also provided a sense of relief for Michael J. Porchenick-Allen, 51, who sued the Boy Scouts last year claiming he was molested at age 13 by Long Island Scout leader Dennis Pfleger.

The alleged abuse lasted for four years.

“In a way, it was kind of therapeutic,” Porchenick-Allen said of the ability to sue. “It was something that I buried for 40 years of my life.

“The time had come — this was a demon that had been consuming me. It had been affecting me through my entire adult life and now is the chance to bring this to the surface, kind of face it and start the healing process in a way.”

Roderick Cushey was allegedly sexually assaulted by a priest in the 1960s.
Roderick Cushey was allegedly sexually assaulted by a priest in the 1960s.
Dennis A. Clark

Porchenick-Allen’s attorney Jason Amala, of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, noted the case is on pause while the Boy Scouts hammer out their bankruptcy proceedings. But “fair compensation” for the abuse his clients endured is only one aspect of the healing process.

“For most people, what’s arguably more important for them is they want answers, they want to know ‘how did this happen?’” Amala said.

“The Scouts are trying to push this under the rug and they are trying to protect everyone who may [have had] something to do with this. The accountability has to be there … this has to be brought to light,” Porchenick-Allen added of the Boy Scouts’ attempt to reach mass settlements with no litigation, which prevents the sordid details from being revealed in court.

For Roderick Cushey, a 72-year-old retired psychologist who alleges he was sodomized with a pole by a Catholic priest at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High school in Brooklyn in the mid-1960s, the ability to file suit goes far beyond potential payouts.

“If I get compensated it’s all well and good, but I’m not doing this to get rich,” Cushey, who sued the Diocese of Brooklyn and the school in August 2020, told The Post.

“I will do whatever it takes if it helps that to stop,” he said of the Catholic Church’s long reign of sexual abuse.

“This was global.”

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What Time Will ‘Riverdale’ Season 6 Be on Netflix?

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The season finale of Riverdale aired in late July on The CW. Notice we said season finale? Thankfully, the beloved series will return for a seventh season, but, unfortunately, Season 7 will be the final installment of Riverdale.

If you already streamed the current season, make sure to read Alex Zalben’s interview with Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on Decider. If you’re waiting to binge Season 6 on Netflix, well, you better clear your calendar because all 22 episodes are about to drop on the streamer. What time will the sixth season of Riverdale debut on Netflix? What time does Netflix release shows? Here’s everything you need to know.

WHEN IS THE RIVERDALE SEASON 6 NETFLIX RELEASE DATE?

Riverdale Season 6 premieres Sunday, August 7 on Netflix.

HOW MANY EPISODES ARE IN RIVERDALE SEASON 6?

The sixth season of Riverdale consists of 22 episodes.

WHAT TIME DOES NETFLIX RELEASE NEW SHOWS?

Netflix releases new episodes at 3:00 a.m. ET/12:00 a.m. PT.

WHAT TIME WILL RIVERDALE SEASON 6 BE ON NETFLIX?

Netflix is based out of California, so Riverdale Season 6 will be available to stream at 12:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (3:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time) beginning Sunday, August 7. If the clock strikes 12:00 (or 3:00 a.m. for folks on the East Coast) and you don’t see the new episodes, give it a moment, hit refresh, and then enjoy the show!

WILL THERE BE A SEASON 7 OF RIVERDALE?

Yes! Decider recently covered that very topic.

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Actress Anne Heche Suffers Severe Burns After Crashing Car Into Los Angeles Home

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Actress Anne Heche, known for her roles in such films as Donnie Brasco, Volcano and I Know What You Did Last Summer, was involved in a fiery car crash in the Mar Vista area of Los Angeles on Friday.

According to TMZ, Heche was driving a blue Mini Cooper and had first crashed into the garage of an apartment complex. Residents of the apartment complex tried to get her out of the vehicle but she backed up and sped off.

Footage of Heche speeding down the streets of her neighborhood had been obtained by TMZ as well as her initial encounter at the apartment complex.

In the first clip, you can hear her car crash towards the end. It has been reported that the actress crashed into someone’s home, causing her vehicle and the house to erupt into flames. Heche suffered severe burns and was resisting being taken away in a stretcher. You can also view footage of this via the TMZ article.

It has not been confirmed whether alcohol has been involved in the incident since her condition prevents doctors from performing any tests to determine if she was driving under the influence. She is currently intubated in the hospital but expected to live.

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These are the vulgar license-plate requests the DMV has rejected

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Stay CL4SSY, New York!

The state Department of Motor Vehicles nixed 3,752 requests for vanity license plates in the last three years because it deemed them too raunchy, radical or simply ridiculous.

New York’s personalized plates go for $60 initially, and then $31.25 annually for renewal. You can get any plate as long as no one else has it and it’s not offensive.

Odds are a request for a plate that marks a wedding anniversary or shows your allegiance to a team — like METS86 — will pass muster with the DMV gatekeepers.

Vulgarity won’t get you to first base.

So plates with the phrase LFGM — the acronym for Pete Alonso’s “Let’s F–king Go Mets” rallying cry — did not make the cut.

And you won’t see anyone driving around with the custom plates MILFDAD, AS5M4N and WLHUNG.

Crude meanings such as “MILFDAD” are unacceptable by the DMV.
Crude meanings such as “MILFDAD” are unacceptable by the DMV.
New York DMV
NYC123
New York state Department of Motor Vehicles denied more than 3.5 thousand requests for license plates deemed inappropriate.
New York DMV
“AS5M4N” was rejected for referring to “Ass man.”
“AS5M4N” was rejected for referring to “Ass man.”
New York DMV

The DMV also put NICEBUNS, FATFANNY, GOTAPOOP and BENDOVER in the rear-view mirror.

One player unsuccessfully tried to score the plate YESDADDY, to no avail.

The DMV also shot down such dark requests as DEADGIRL, GENOC1DE, S8TAN, DETONATE and MURDERM3.

“SUM8ITCH” is not allowed.
“SUM8ITCH” is not allowed.
New York DMV
The DMV thoroughly nixed a request for “CNNLIES.”
The DMV thoroughly nixed a request for “CNNLIES.”
New York DMV
BOOBIE is prohibited.
BOOBIE is prohibited.
New York DMV

Getting political is a dead end too — FJOEBIDN, FDTRUMP and CNNLIES were nixed.

LUDEDUDE, NARCO, GOT METH and BLUNT also went up in smoke.

Staten Island attorney Bill Dertinger said his blue 1995 Jaguar SJS was tagged with ESQLTD after his company and his 2014 Porsche had the plate GHOSTGTS because the sleek sportscar was white.

“The plates can make you stand out — which can be a curse or a blessing,” the 54-year-old Dertinger said. “Make sure you don’t cut anybody off.”

A man attempted to sneak in “YESDADDY” onto his license plate.
A man attempted to sneak in “YESDADDY” onto his license plate.
New York DMV
The DMV stopped a request for “FJOEBIDEN.”
The DMV stopped a request for “FJOEBIDEN.”
New York DMV
The DMV also rejects any license plates referring to politics.
The DMV also rejects any license plates referring to politics.
New York DMV

There must be a New York Jets fan playing referee at the DMV because a request for the seemingly innocent plate GASE was sidelined. Ex-Jets head coach Adam Gase had an offensive 9-23 win-loss record during his forgettable two-year tenure.

The DMV would not reveal who gives the final yea or nay.

“The DMV reviews all custom license plate requests and works hard to ensure that any combinations that may be considered objectionable are rejected,” said agency spokesman Tim O’Brien.

“GLOCKS” referring to guns is not accepted by the DMV.
“GLOCKS” referring to guns is not accepted by the DMV.
New York DMV
“FLYMOFO” is not approved by the DMV.
“FLYMOFO” is not approved by the DMV.
New York DMV

He said guidelines on what plate combinations are restricted can be found on the DMV website: https://dmv.ny.gov/learn-about-personalized-plates. Approximately 50,000 personalized and custom plates are sold per year, O’Brien said.

Bagged Tags

The state DMV has rejected 3,752 requests for custom license plates in the last three years because it deemed them potentially offensive. Here are some:

YESDADDY

FJOEBIDN

FDTRUMP

GLOCKS

FLYMOFO

BOOBIE

AS5M4N

BUDLIGHT

DEADGIRL

SUM8ITCH

GENOC1DE

S8TAN

CNNLIES

DETONATE

MURDERM3

MILFDAD

WLHUNG

Source: NYS DMV

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