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Adult Victims Act Passes Legislature

Adult survivors of sex crimes are likely to have one year to bring civil lawsuits against their abusers.

On Monday, the state Assembly passed the Adult Survivors Act (A.648), sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-New York City. The Senate bill (S.66), sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-New York City, was passed unanimously in the Senate on April 26. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the bill Tuesday.

“Regardless of the age, sexual assault leaves deep wounds that often take years to heal. By passing the Adult Survivors Act, the New York State Assembly helps rebalance the scales of justice by providing survivors with the time they need to come forward. When the ASA becomes law, the doors to justice will be flung wide open and survivors will have an opportunity to pursue justice in the courts. I am grateful to my colleagues in the New York State Assembly for standing with survivors and to Speaker Carl Heastie for his leadership. And most of all, I am grateful to the members of our survivor-led coalition who fought fearlessly for years to see this bill become law,” Rosenthal said.

The Adult Survivors Act would create a one-year window for adult survivors of sexual offenses to bring civil claims that were previously time-barred by current statute of limitations. The legislation would also grant trial preferences to such cases so claims are heard quickly.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, was one of four votes against the Adult Survivors Act in the Assembly. Goodell was also opposed to the 2019 Child Victims Act, which lengthened the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for child sexual offenses and created a one-year window for the revival of otherwise time-barred child sexual abuse-related lawsuits. His reasons were largely the same in 2022 as they were in 2019.

“Everyone in this room, I think everyone in this room appreciates the seriousness of sexual offenses,” Goodell said. “And of course everyone in this room wants to accomplish multiple objectives. One, we want the perpetrator punished. Nobody disputes that. Second we want the perpetrator to pay, to be punished criminally and pay financially for the damage they have done. We’re all in accord on that. But that’s not the only thing we look at when we talk about amending the criminal law or the civil law. That’s not the only thing we look at. We also look at justice and equity and fairness for both parties. Because, sadly, sometimes a defendant is wrongfully accused and it’s called acquittal. And that happens. So we want to be fair to the defendant and make sure the defendant has an appropriate opportunity to prove their innocence while at the same time we want to be tough on crime and make a guilty party pay.”

More than 10,000 Child Victims Act cases were filed during a lookback extended by COVID-19. Earlier this year, Judge Lewis Kaplan joined other judges to rule that the Child Victims Act was constitutional and did not violate due process rights for those accused of wrongdoing. That particular case involved Child Victims Act charges filed against Prince Andrew and involved allegations of child sex abuse on the private island of Jeffrey Epstein at the home of his associate, Ghislaine Maxwell. Epstein committed suicide in August 2019 after being indicted on federal sex trafficking charges while Maxwell has been convicted of five federal charges.

Goodell also said, in his opinion, the Adult Victims Act’s longer statutes of limitations could allow create issues with insurance providers who won’t cover claims brought forward under the one-year lookback period. A 2020 City & State story reported increased insurance costs for schools and non-profit organizations and difficulties finding old insurance providers as they responded to lawsuits from actions that happened decades ago.

“I appreciate the compassion that my colleagues and the sponsor want to show for victims of sexual offenses,” Goodell said. “We have a 20 year statute of limitations for every rape, every criminal sexual act, incest, all the serious ones are already 20 years.”

New Jersey also passed legislation in 2019 increasing the civil statute of limitations for both child and adult survivors of sexual offenses while creating a two-year window for the revival of claims whose statute of limitations had expired. Hoylman and Rosenthal first introduced the Adult Survivors Act in 2019 after the Child Victims Act passed. The state Senate passed the bill in 2021, but the bill didn’t make it through the Assembly before the end of the 2021 legislative session.

Before Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, D-East Elmhurst, voted in favor of the Adult Survivors Act, she disclosed for the first time publicly that she is a survivor of a 25-year-old sexual abuse incident.

“No bill or law will ever undo the pain, the trauma, the sadness or the guilt that comes with this experience. but what the sponsor has done here and what we will do here today is provide some semblance of hope, some semblance of justice for myself and so many survivors that stand here in this chamber and those who have called us and told their stories over and over and over again to get this bill through,” she said. “I commend the sponsor, I commend the advocates, I commend the survivors who have shared their stories and I’m so grateful that this will be a decision that each survivor can make for themselves, to allow them to live their life with some semblance of dignity, some semblance of justice and some semblance of healing. I am deeply proud to vote in the affirmative today.”

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