ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York will temporarily set aside its time limit for adults who were sexually assaulted to bring lawsuits under a law signed Tuesday — a measure similar to one for child victims that sparked a surge of court actions.
The Adult Survivors Act signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul will open a one-year “window” for claims that would otherwise be barred by the state’s usual statute of limitations for lawsuits. The window will open in six months.
The law is modeled after the state's Child Victims Act, which provided a similar window that closed in August. Advocates for survivors praised the act but said it failed to cover adults, who can experience the same sense of trauma or shame that makes it difficult to promptly seek accountability.
“It forgot a lot of people,” Hochul said during a bill-signing ceremony at the state Capitol. “What about the people who were adults when they experienced this trauma? We didn’t do enough to protect those individuals, until today.”
More than 10,800 lawsuits were filed under New York's Child Victims Act during a two-year window, which had been extended because of difficulties bringing lawsuits during the pandemic.
People involved with the issue say it's unclear if the new law would result in a similar number of lawsuits.
“I think that it’s impossible to predict,” said Liz Roberts, CEO of Safe Horizon, a victim assistance organization. “But we wouldn’t be surprised if it was a similar scale to what we saw with the Child Victims Act.”
Jennifer Freeman, of the Marsh Law Firm, said it's possible some adults might be hesitant to move forward in court knowing defendants are likely to claim there was consent — which is not an issue in cases involving children. But Freeman, who has represented hundreds of sex abuse survivors, said it's also possible some adults would be more prepared to move forward.
“A 45-year-old perhaps has a larger voice and ability to center themselves and bring on a claim versus someone who was sexually abused at age 6 when they really had a very difficult time processing what happened to them,” Freeman said.
And while Child Victims Act lawsuits often involved institutions like churches and camps, it's possible there will be a larger share of cases against individuals under the new law, experts say.
Roberts said she expected a mix of cases against individuals and institutions, such as a hospital that failed to take action against an abusive doctor or a college that was aware of somebody who was sexually abusing students and failed to take action.
Advocates said New York, along with New Jersey before it, is among only a few states addressing the fact that it can take adults time to address trauma.
“What we’re doing by signing the law today is putting the power back in the hands of survivors,” advocate and survivor Marissa Hoechstetter said at the bill signing.