Adult sex abuse survivors can now sue their abusers in New York — even if the statute of limitations on their claims has expired — under state law that goes into effect Thursday.
The new law gives adult survivors of sexual assault one year to file lawsuits against their abusers. It also allows people who have been sexually assaulted at work or in the care of a facility, such as a hospital or prison, to sue that facility, said attorney Doug Wigdor, who helped push the law.
“I think there will be some very interesting cases in the employment cases where powerful men who were or were supervising women have sexually assaulted them and they will be able to hold their abuser but also their employers accountable ‘ said Wigdor, who represented women who testified against film mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose rape and criminal sex offense convictions in New York were upheld this year.
The new window to sue in New York gives adult survivors of sexual assault who may not have been able to face what happened to them more time to appeal, said Jane Manning, a former sex crimes prosecutor and now Director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project in the State.
The measure reflects the Child Victims Act of 2019, which temporarily extended New York’s statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases by two years and has resulted in nearly 11,000 lawsuits, said Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the New York State Office of Court Administration.
“Sexual assault is a highly traumatizing crime. Trauma itself takes time to process,” Manning said. “Add to that the fact that our culture has loaded many of us with rape myths about what real rape looks like that don’t tally with actual sexual assault that happens in real life.
“Because of this, there are survivors who take time to identify what happened to them as sexual assault. And there can be a lot of self-blame to deal with, even though that self-blame is completely unwarranted,” she said.
Giving adult survivors of sexual assault an opportunity to turn to the civil justice system is important because they are often let down by the criminal justice system, Manning said.
“All too often in the criminal justice system we still have too many prosecutors who refuse to bring sex crime cases to court just because they think they’re going to be hard to win,” she said. “That’s not a good reason to refuse to bring a sex crimes case to justice. But that’s one reason survivors still hear from too many prosecutors.”
Under the new law, separate lawsuits are expected to be filed on behalf of more than 750 women who claim to have been sexually assaulted in New York state prisons, attorney Adam Slater said.
“The prisoner-guard relationship is one of the most extreme power imbalances in existence today,” Slater said. “Under New York State law, a person in correctional custody is not legally capable of consent. Officials and guards in these facilities have an unmatched arsenal of methods to exert their will on victims: physical confinement, violence, deprivation of privilege, and total control over their environment.”
The New York City Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has “zero tolerance for sexual abuse, sexual harassment and unauthorized relationships,” the agency said in a statement, noting that “all reports of sexual victimization, including unauthorized relationships, and retaliation Thorough investigations are carried out into persons who report incidents or cooperate in these investigations.
“Employees have an express duty to report any knowledge, suspicion or information regarding an incident of sexual abuse or sexual harassment and any unauthorized relationship,” it said. “Individuals who violate Department rules will be disciplined by the Department and if there is evidence that a crime has been committed, DOCCS will refer those cases to prosecution to the fullest extent permitted by law.”
When asked for comment, the New York City Attorney’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 the New York Adult Survivors Act. Carroll claimed Trump pushed her against a locker room wall at Bergdorf Goodman and raped her 27 years ago.
Trump has denied all allegations against him.
Additional lawsuits are being filed on behalf of about 40 more women with new lawsuits against Columbia University gynecologist Dr. Robert Hadden, expected, said attorney Anthony DiPietro, who represented 230 women allegedly sexually abused by Hadden. Almost 150 of those cases were settled before the Adult Survivors Act came into force.
Hadden is scheduled to go on trial next year on six counts of luring and coaxing victims into his New York doctors’ offices and subjecting them to unlawful sexual abuse from about 1993 to 2012, prosecutors said; Hadden has pleaded not guilty.