Adult Survivors of Sexual Assault Now Have a Second Chance to Sue in New York – NBC New York (47)

Adult sexual assault survivors who missed legal deadlines to sue their abusers will now have a second chance to file lawsuits under a new law Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law Tuesday.

The Adult Survivors Act gives victims of sexual abuse a one-year window for survivors of sexual assault that occurred when they were over the age of 18 to sue their abusers no matter when the abuse occurred.

“Today, we take an important step in empowering survivors across New York to use their voices and hold their abusers accountable,” Governor Hochul said. “Fighting sexual assault requires that we recognize the impact of trauma within our justice system. I am proud to sign this legislation, which is part of our collective responsibility to protect one another and create an environment that makes survivors feel empowered. While our job is not done, eradicating sexual assault begins with our ability to bring the perpetrators of these heinous acts to justice and this legislation is a historic step forward.”

The law is modeled after the now-expired New York Child Victims Law, which gave people a similar second chance to sue for sexual abuse they suffered as children. That window was initially scheduled to last a year, but it was extended twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By the time that window closed, more than 9,000 lawsuits had been filed, many against institutions like churches, schools, camps and scouting groups.

Advocates for abuse survivors had pushed for a similar lookback window for people who were abused when they were 18 or older.

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“Sexual assault steals a part of the soul, whether you’re 6, 16 or 60 years old,” said the bill’s lead sponsor in the Assembly, Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan.

“All sexual abuse survivors deserve justice and their day in court,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, also a Democrat.

The state Assembly passed the bill with a 140-3 vote on Monday after the state Senate approved it last month.

The lookback window for lawsuits will begin six months after Governor Hochul signs the bill.

It’s unclear whether the law would have as big an impact as the Child Victims Act, which created a wave of litigation that could take years to resolve. Several Roman Catholic dioceses in the state have filed for bankruptcy amid the torrent of lawsuits by abusive clergy. Similar laws involving children in other states have also sparked lawsuits elsewhere, a factor in the bankruptcy of Boy Scouts of America en 2020.

However, that law only applied to people who were under 18 when they were abused, based on the theory that at a young age they could not be expected to tell the court what had happened to them.

Many lawmakers were initially reluctant to open a similar window for people sexually assaulted as adults, reasoning that they were better able to fight for themselves in a court of law.

States typically impose time limits on how long someone can wait to file a lawsuit in civil court because a fair trial becomes more difficult as witnesses’ memories fade and evidence is lost.

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