Adult survivors of sexual abuse can now file charges in New York even after the statute of limitations for their claims has expired, under a state law that takes effect Thursday.
The new law gives adult survivors of sexual assault a year to file lawsuits against the perpetrators. It also allows people who have been sexually assaulted at work or in the custody of an institution such as a hospital or prison to file a complaint against that entity, said attorney Doug Wigdor, who helped push the law.
“I think there’s going to be some very interesting cases in employment cases where powerful men, who supervised women or who supervised women, sexually assaulted them and they’re going to be able to hold their perpetrators accountable but also their employers,” Wigdor said. Representing women who testified against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, their New York convictions for rape and sexual assault were upheld this year.
New York’s new filing window gives adult sexual assault survivors who have been unable to process what happened more time to seek redress, said Jane Manning, a former sex crimes prosecutor who now heads the Women’s Equal Justice Project. state.
The measure mirrors the Child Victims Act of 2019, which temporarily extended New York’s statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases by two years and resulted in nearly 11,000 lawsuits, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for New York’s Administrative Office of the Courts.
“Sexual assault is a very traumatizing crime. Trauma itself takes time to process,” Manning said. “Add to that, our culture has burdened many of us with rape myths, about what real rape looks like, that don’t match up with actual sexual assaults that happen in real life.
“That’s why there are survivors who don’t even identify what happened as sexual assault until some time has passed. And there can be a lot of self-blame to deal with, even if that self-blame is completely unwarranted,” she said.
It’s important to give survivors of adult sexual assault the opportunity to seek redress through the civil justice system, which often fails the criminal justice system, Manning said.
“Too often in the criminal justice system, we still have too many prosecutors who refuse to take sex crime cases to trial because they think they’re going to be hard to win,” he said. “That’s not a good reason to refuse to take a sex crime case to trial. But it’s a reason survivors listen to too many prosecutors.”
Under the new law, separate lawsuits will be filed on behalf of more than 750 women who allege they were sexually assaulted in New York State prisons, attorney Adam Slater said.
“The arrest and custody relationship is one of the most extreme power imbalances that exists today,” Slater said. “According to New York State law, a person in custody is legally unable to give consent. Officers and guards at these facilities have a unique arsenal of methods to enforce their will on victims: physical restraint, force, denial of privileges, and complete control of their environment.”
The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has “zero tolerance for sexual abuse, sexual harassment and unauthorized contact,” the agency said in a statement, adding that it “thoroughly investigates all reports of sexual victimization, including unauthorized contact, and any retaliation v. People who report incidents or cooperate with such investigations.
“Employees have an affirmative duty to report any knowledge, suspicion or information about sexual abuse or sexual harassment, and any unauthorized contact,” he said. “Individuals who violate departmental rules are disciplined by the Department and, when proven that a crime has been committed, DOCCS pursues such cases for criminal prosecution to the fullest extent permitted by law.”
Asked for comment, the New York attorney general’s office referred CNN to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
E. Jean Carroll, who sued former President Donald Trump for defamation, said she plans to sue Trump under New York’s Adult Survivors Act. Carroll alleged that Trump forced her against the wall of a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room and raped her 27 years ago.
Trump has denied all the accusations against him.
More lawsuits are expected on behalf of about 40 women with new claims against Columbia University gynecologist Dr. Robert Hadden, said attorney Anthony DiPietro, who has represented 230 women Hadden allegedly sexually abused. Nearly 150 of those cases were settled before the Adult Survivors Act went into effect.
Hadden is due to go on trial next year on charges of luring and luring victims to his New York medical offices and unlawfully sexually abusing them from 1993 to 2012, prosecutors said; Hadden has pleaded not guilty.