Wrestling Coach Speaks on the Impact of the New York Child Victims Act

The New York Child Victims Act went into effect in August of 2019, opening a one-year period in which survivors of abuse may file lawsuits that would have otherwise been outside of the statute of limitations.

The deadline to file under the New York Child Victims Act is August 14, 2020.

UPDATE: On Monday, August 3, 2020, Governor Cuomo signed legislation extending the look back window for victims to file claims under the Child Victims Act. The new legislation extends the special filing period by a full year and claims can now be filed under the Child Victims Act until August 14, 2021.

Wrestling coach and National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee Frank Popolizio Jr. speaks about his own experiences, and the impact the New York Child Victims Act has had on him personally.

My name is Frank Popolizio Jr., I’m from Clifton Park, New York. I’ve lived in the capital region my whole life. I’m associated with Journeymen Wrestling, I’m the owner and director of it. And we promote, advocate, and teach the sport of wrestling. We do a pretty good job at building champions, but part of that is to build people and build their mind, their spirit, their body, you know, the whole thing, not just on the mat, it’s about building people in life, and I’m passionate about it. Wrestling is obviously a scholastic sport but it’s more than that, it’s perhaps the best sport that mirrors life. You know, you get thrown on your back and you got to learn how to fight and get off your back and get to your feet. So, when I was 12 years old, I think it was 12, I was in the seventh grade, it was 1983. We were going on a trip, part of an off-season wrestling program, tournament competition.

During that experience or during that night of the competition, I was sexually abused by one of the volunteer coaches. It happened while I was sleeping, and I woke up to it and had to deal with it. And being 85 pounds and being 12 years old, you know, you’re not a man to be able to defend yourself but you put up a fight and you try to give it everything you got and I did. I became loud, I became vocal. There were other people in the room that, you know, struggled to get up and hear the calls, but eventually they did and that kind of mitigated the situation. But damage was done at that point. I’d let the little leadership know what had happened and we took it from there, and obviously that put him on his heels and, and he left. But that started a journey for me at that point. Being so young and you’re defenseless, I mean, yeah, I’m in the fight game but I’m still a little guy, and you’re still not mentally mature enough to necessarily metabolize something like that.

Unfortunately, it was a time where you didn’t talk a lot about it, you didn’t necessarily go to counseling about it, you didn’t tell a lot of people about it. And much of the mindset back then was, well, if you bring it up, people may look down upon you. And obviously we know that not to be true today. So, imagine being in seventh grade and this ugly event happens to you and you’re gonna have to go talk to adults and tell them exactly what happened graphically, and you feel an element of fear that you’re not gonna be believed. Well, there’s embarrassment, there’s shame, even though you had no control of it. So, you’re a victim because of what you just experienced, and then you can be a victim again by how people are gonna interpret it. Obviously that made it a little difficult.

So, I think there’s a benefit in learning early on about these situations. Obviously, the more education we can have, the better. I’m pretty outspoken. So, as soon as it happened, I didn’t have fear of seeking out leadership to tell them what had happened and how it happened.

The thing that I probably could have done a better job at recognizing was that I was being groomed. And those are the things that these predators, they’re good at it. And you have to be aware as a young person when people are trying to pull you into a situation that you’re just naive. I’m 12 years old, I had no idea what this guy’s intention was. I thought he was passionate about the sport. He was passionate about something else. The Child Victims Act was, I felt, like a breath of fresh air. I really did. I felt like my opportunity to speak out with a mature mind had passed. And I felt like as I got older and matured, and I wanted to do something about what happened to me, I didn’t have that opportunity until this law was passed. And it gave me a sense of, I don’t know, maybe the word is confidence that people believe in this situation enough that they have my back, right? Even though it’s not personal, but it felt like it was. And I had the ability to go after somebody that tried to trip me up in life or slow me down with this situation.

And as they were coming out of prison, I was there to remind them again, of, hey, just make sure you’re on the right path, because we’re gonna remind you right here, right now with this…with the Child Victims Act again. You know, for me, I didn’t have the opportunity to go after a criminal, I let that time pass. So, this is the next best thing for me to keep somebody honest. If I could give advice to others that I’ve had a similar situation, I would encourage them to be outspoken, I would encourage them to be fearless, courageous. I think it’s important that you fight. You know, you fight, you gotta fight.

Video FAQs

Get answers about the New York Child Victims Act and what it means for survivors of child sex abuse. Attorney Thomas J. Mortati is here to answer the most frequently asked questions about the new law, who it helps, what it’s like to file a claim, and more.

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