Thousands of sexual assault victims in New York did not file lawsuits against their abusers for many years, due not only to the trauma experienced but also because the statute of limitations ran out.
Then Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Adult Survivors Act into law in Nov. 2022.
What You Need To Know
- Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Adult Survivors Act into law last Thanksgiving. It opened a special, one-year “lookback window,” permitting sex crime victims to file civil claims regardless of when the crime occurred
- As of Nov. 27, 2,065 lawsuits were filed in civil supreme court and another 1,696 in the court of claims under the law
- The ASA one-year window ended on Nov. 23, leaving advocates asking for an extension or reopening of the time to file cases
It opened a special, one-year “lookback window,” permitting sex crime victims to file civil claims regardless of when the crime occurred.
As of Nov. 27, 2,065 lawsuits were filed in civil supreme court and another 1,696 in the court of claims under the law.
But that window ended at midnight on Nov. 23, leaving sex crime victims and their advocates arguing: they need more time.
They rank among upwards of the 3,000 civil claims filed under the Adult Survivors Act.
The law froze New York’s statute of limitations for one year.
Anyone who believes they were a victim of sex assault or abuse when over the age of 18 could file for damages in civil court.
“It may take them years and sometimes decades to really fully confront what’s happened to them and to find the courage and their voice to pursue some form of justice,” said Attorney Mariann Wang, Cuti Hecker Wang LLP, who represents several individuals who filed suits under the law.
She admits it’s still an uphill battle, especially as crimes might’ve occurred decades in the past.
“You have to be creative and thorough in your case,” Wang said.
She said evidence could be confidential exchanges between a victim and loved ones, written exchanges or even an observed change in behavior.
“There are aspects in a complaint that are just incredibly private and so that’s another thing that I don't think people realize when you're filing a lawsuit,” Alison Turkos, advocate and sex assault survivor. “It's really like tearing open wounds.”
Turkos filed a lawsuits before the law took effect against rideshare company Lyft and the NYPD after being abducted at gunpoint and later raped. Both cases are ongoing.
“It has just been such a long and tedious process.. It’s really like two steps forward and one step back sometimes. You go to multiple lawyers and see if they will take your case,” said Turkos.
“It does require a rigorous investigation and being prepared for the lawsuit. So it’s not an easy thing,” Wang added.
She represented two of the women who accused Cuomo of sexual harassment in 2021 — allegations that were substantiated in a state attorney general’s report.
Cuomo surfaced in a filing last week, when a former female aide accused him of retaliation under the ASA.
The former aide, Brittany Commisso, previously filed a criminal complaint, accusing him of groping her, but the Albany County District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute.
“Cuomo and his counsel keep repeating that prosecutors didn’t prosecute him,” said Wang. “But that has nothing to do with whether or not he did not engage in the behavior that actually does violate the law, but anti discrimination law and other civil remedies.”
Cuomo has maintained his innocence.
Meanwhile, advocates want the window reopened or even to abolish the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases.
Hochul’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
But lawmakers note attitudes shifted, and once the highly controversial Child Victims Act became law.
The law allowed for victims abused under the age of 18 to file suits.
“I think there were many institutions that wanted to cover themselves//the Catholic Church insurance companies, schools, you know, there were many institutions that were complicit and that protected and harbored the abusers,” said bill sponsor, Democrat Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who represents Manhattan.
Over 10,000 cases were filed under the CVA, forcing many Catholic dioceses to file for bankruptcy.
Rosenthal admitted talks are underway regarding what comes next when lawmakers return to Albany on Jan. 1 for the start of the legislative session.