New York Adult Survivors Act (ASA)
New York has become one of the most progressive states in the fight for justice for sexual assault victims and sexual abuse victims. Legislation, such as the recently passed Adult Survivors Act (ASA), and the previously passed act the Child’s Victim Act (CVA), give survivors of sexual assault and sexual abuse revived avenues to bring lawsuits.
The major element of the new legislation is the temporary tolling of the statute of limitations.
The Adult Survivors Act (S66 §214-j), alters the past and current statute of limitations. The ASA opens a “lookback window” for persons who were over the age of eighteen at the time of the sexual assault or sexual abuse to bring their claim or action regardless of how long ago it happened. This “lookback window” allows survivors to bring their claims regardless of any previous statute of limitations until November 23rd, 2023.
The Adult Survivors Act is structured like its sister bill, the Child Victims Act. In fact, the statutory language for both acts is accurately consistent. Both create a “Lookback Window” that allows previously time-barred cases to proceed. Further, both apply to over 20 sexual offenses in the New York Penal Law §130. The ASA is the third New York State legislation that advances sexual abuse victim rights. It functions as the last piece of the puzzle that completes protection for victims who survived sexual abuse at over 18 years of age. Being the third of the legislative family, the ASA clearly reflects a political agenda to address sexual abuse.
The 2017 #Metoo and 2018 #TimesUp movements gained gravity for sexual harassment and assaults that many women faced. It constructed a vital political climate for all victims of sexual assault. Regardless of gender and age, victims across New York began to push for legislation that represented their demand for accountability of the perpetrators. Therefore, since 2019, the New York State legislature has passed three separate legislations—each amending New York Laws to protect a different group of sexual assault victims.
The first legislation, S2440, known as the Child Victims Act, advanced rights of those who were sexually abused as a child. Not only did it change the statute of limitations from 3 years after turning 18, to 55 years old, but it also created a two-year window that enabled previously time-barred lawsuits to be processed. The second legislation, S6574, extended the statute of limitations proactively, for all sexual abuse victims. From September 16th, 2019 onward, victims of sexual assault have up to 20 years since the date of assault to bring up their case.
However, the third legislation, the Adult Survivors Act, faced much more obstacles than its sister bills. The ASA was introduced in the same 2019-2020 legislative session as CVA and S6574; however, it died in both Senate and Assembly judiciary committees. In a stark comparison, the ASA did not pass after Governor Cuomo resigned, 2 years after when he signed the CVA into law back in February 2019. Further, in the 2021-2022 legislative session, the bill came to a halt in the Assembly judiciary committee again in January 2021, and subsequently died in committee at the end of 2021 session in June. In the meantime, several rallies were held to advance the ASA through the slow-moving judiciary committee. Out of all, Safehorizon has been the most active organization in pushing for the ASA’s passage. Under the code A648A, ASA regained momentum when it was reviewed by the Assembly judiciary committee again in January 2022. Incidentally, it was four months after Governor Cuomo’s resignation.
It must be unequivocally clear that it has not been established evidence that substantiates Governor Cuomo with the ASA’s time-consuming passage.
However, some victims and legislators view Cuomo to be related to this discrepancy in legislative efficiency. A Politico article gathered evidence for this theory. The article spelled out that among other handsy politicians, Cuomo would be subject to previously time-barred lawsuits for sexual harassment and assault. Legislator Lindsay Rosenthal, who drafted both the Child Victims Act and Adult Survivors Act, stated that “If there was a reason to pass the Adult Survivors Act, Governor Cuomo provides an object lesson.”
Moreover, Assemblymember Catalina Cruz adopts a conservative approach toward this allegation. Cruz confirms that several reporters asked for her opinion, but she neither confirms nor denies any Cuomo implications. However, Cruz is open to the possibility that Cuomo could have had some influence over the process. Regarding a correlation between allegations of Cuomo and the bill’s lack of movement, Cruz said “Just because I don’t think it does, doesn’t mean there isn't. There’s a reason why several reporters asked me that.”
The ASA’s passage is nevertheless a victory for sexual assault victims. Often, there is a time lapse between the date of assault and the date that victims bring suit. The traumatic experience requires time and effort to conciliate. Moreover, many weren’t certain of the nature of the conduct they endured, whether it constituted sexual assault. Perpetrators often psychologically manipulate victims into believing that some intimate contacts are benign and friendly. Grooming is one example of this behavior, often seen in catholic church molestation cases. Hence, many victims do not report some ambiguous contacts for fear of retaliation, stigmatization, or their narrative being dismissed.
Therefore, “Lookback Window” is an extremely powerful instrument for victims who were ready to file suit, but passed their legal time frame. Therefore, from this standpoint, the ASA is significant in inclusivity and accessibility for all. It is the final gear that motorizes New York State protection for all sexual assault victims.
The CVA enabled more than 9000 cases to be heard. And we can reasonably expect ASA enabling thousands of cases to proceed in the New York State judicial system. The march to justice may be strenuous and prolonged. But the sexual abuse attorneys at the Law Office of Michael S Lamonsoff firmly believe that wheels of justice grind slow but grind fine.