Historic NY law that helped victims of sexual abuse is expiring soon

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A New York law that opened a one-year window for adult survivors of sexual assault to file civil suits past the statute of limitation expires Thursday.

The majority of the more than 2,500 sex abuse suits brought under the Adult Survivors Act (ASA) were against the state over alleged abuse in prisons, but the law also saw former presidents, hip-hop icons, actors, senators and doctors held accountable for decades of alleged abuse.

Former president Donald Trump and Bill Cosby were among those who faced consequences for decades of alleged sexual abuse crimes under the ASA.

In May, courts awarded writer E. Jean Caroll $5 million in a sexual abuse and defamation suit against Trump after Carroll testified that he raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in Manhattan 27 years ago and later harmed her reputation by publicly claiming the statement was a “complete con job,” “hoax” and “lie.”

When the ASA was passed in May, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said the criminal justice system had failed sexual assault survivors for far too long. In looking back on the impact of the law, he extended gratitude to Carroll and others for their vocal support of the ASA.

One of Cosby’s earliest accusers filed a lawsuit Thursday against the comedian over alleged sexual abuse that took place decades ago. The same day, R&B singer Cassie filed a lawsuit alleging rapper and music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs subjected her to years of sexual violence and physical abuse.

Because the law allows survivors to file suits against abusers as well as against institutions, Columbia University now faces a suit from over 300 survivors who say one of the school’s former gynecologists, Robert Hadden, sexually assaulted them and that university administrators and medical staff — who were aware of the abuse as early as 1994 — actively covered it up. Survivors filed this suit on Tuesday.

Advocates at Safe Horizon, the largest victim service agency in the country, consider the ASA a “monumental victory”, saying it provided a viable path to justice and healing for survivors. Safe Horizon advocated for the legislation with help from a coalition of survivors, modeling it after the Child Victims Act (CVA), another New York law that extended the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual assault. 

“The one-year look back window has enabled survivors to take back their power by pursuing a suit against the person who caused them harm, or a negligent institution, without fear of the statute of limitations,” Liz Roberts, chief executive of Safe Horizon, said in a statement.

“We are grateful to the survivors and advocates who fought so hard for the ASA to become law and support all survivors in their healing journey.”

Linda Rosenthal, a New York assemblymember who co-sponsored the bill also responded to the looming expiration date

“Archaic laws have long shielded abusers and shut survivors out of the opportunity to have their voices heard and seek justice through the courts. With the work of Safe Horizon and many other advocates, the ASA has successfully given power back to survivors.” she said.

The deadline to file a suit is November 23.

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