By Maria Rocha-Buschel
State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced legislation at the end of October that would create a one-year window so that survivors of sex crimes who were 18 years or older can file lawsuits and seek justice.
Hoylman introduced the legislation, titled the Adult Survivor’s Act, after successfully passing the Child Victims Act through the state legislature earlier this year alongside Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal after the bill was stalled for years. Governor Andrew Cuomo finally signed the bill into law in February 2019.
“For too long, justice has been out of reach for adult survivors of sexual crimes,” Hoylman said. “Survivors have experienced horrific trauma and abuse, and many do not immediately come forward—they deserve our support whenever they decide they are ready to pursue justice. The New York State Legislature has already made historic strides to protect survivors by passing the Child Victims Act and prospectively extending the criminal and civil statute of limitations. Now, we must stand with survivors who have been failed in the past by our state’s insufficient laws, pass the Adult Survivors Act, and give these individuals their day in court.”
The legislation for adult survivors institutes a similar one-year look-back window for survivors of sex crimes who were 18 years of age or older at the time that the crimes were committed and for which the statute of limitations has now passed.
“Far too often, victims of sexual assault are denied access to the New York courts due to outdated statute of limitations, some of which are as short as 90 days or 1 year,” Attorney Jordan Merson, who represents victims of Jeffrey Epstein and other survivors, said. “This legislation will give adult sexual assault survivors a chance to be heard through the civil justice system.”
Hoylman said that this legislation would be a particularly important mechanism for women who survived sex crimes allegedly committed by Jeffrey Epstein. The Child Victims Act allows victims who were young girls when the crimes were committed to file lawsuits but multiple survivors who were 18 or older at the time currently have no recourse. The Adult Survivors Act would rectify this and give those survivors the opportunity to seek justice.
The legislation would create a one-year window, starting six months after the bill is signed into law, for victims to revive civil lawsuits in which the statute of limitations has passed for claims from conduct that constitutes certain sex offenses committed against a person who was 18 or older at the time. The bill also includes provisions to give statutory trial preference to revives claims and directs the court system to enact rules for timely adjudication in these cases, in order to ensure that legal proceedings don’t drag on and to avoid case backlogs.
Legislation from State Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas extended the civil and criminal statutes of limitations for future sex crimes, and the Adult Survivors Act would build on these successes by giving past survivors more legal options.
“Sex assault victims of all ages have been silenced by unfairly short statutes of limitations across the country,” University of Pennsylvania Professor Marci Hamilton, CEO of CHILD USA and longtime advocate for survivors, said. “New York has been one of the worst states for justice. Window legislation is needed by the victims and the public so that we can identify the perpetrators, shift the cost of abuse from the victims and educate the public.”