New York State’s Adult Survivors Act
Lesley Brovner & Mark Peters
March 29, 2022
What is the Adult Survivors Act?
The Adult Survivors Act (ASA), if enacted, would be a landmark law that would create a lookback period allowing the adult victims of sexual assault and abuse, whose claims are now time barred, to pursue those claims in court.
How is the Adult Survivors Act Similar to the Child Victims Act?
The ASA is modelled on Child Victims Act (CVA) which created a lookback window for survivors of sexual assault who were under the age of 18 at the time of the assault. The CVA resulted in over eight-thousand lawsuits and was incredibly effective at holding institutions accountable for long-ago abuse of children.
The CVA only applied to cases of abuse where the victim was under eighteen years of age. The ASA would create a similar one-year lookback window for survivors of sexual abuse who are over eighteen and whose claims are presently time barred. For civil cases, right now, adult survivors of sexual abuse generally have three years to file a claim. For criminal cases, the statute of limitation is generally five years for felonies, and two years for misdemeanors – some of which can be quite serious.
What did the Child Victims Act do?
In February 2019, New York State passed the CVA, extending the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases in New York.
Previously, in most criminal cases, the statute of limitations for felony offenses ended when the survivor turned 23; now, the CVA increases the statute of limitations until the survivor turns 28. For misdemeanor offenses, the statute of limitations had ended when the survivor turned 20 but has now been increased to 25 years of age. In civil cases, where the limitations period has not already expired, the survivor now has until they turn 55 to file a claim.
Why was the Child Victims Act important?
In civil cases, prior to the CVA, the victims of child sexual abuse had only a short window of years, after turning 18, to bring a civil lawsuit against their abuser. The CVA created a “lookback window” for those cases as well, allowing any victim of sexual abuse whose claim was previously time barred to bring an action up until August 14, 2020. That window was later extended to August 14, 2021.
The CVA allowed survivors of sexual abuse to hold powerful institutions liable for abuse that they tolerated for years. It helped more than eight-thousand survivors seek justice for the wrongs committed against them.
Why is the Adult Survivors Act needed?
Passing the ASA is absolutely essential if we are to provide justice to the countless people, mostly women, in New York State who have been assaulted and abused.
The ASA should be seen as a necessary companion bill to the CVA. Given the historical stigma attached to sexual assault, as well as the career threat that reporting assault by a superior at work can entail, it is no surprise that many sexual assault survivors did not report their assaults at the time they occurred or in the years immediately following. With time, however, some survivors are able to come forward. Unfortunately, by the time they do so, the statute of limitations has often passed, and so legal redress is unavailable. The ASA, by creating a lookback window, would solve this problem. Like the CVA, it would allow survivors to finally hold powerful institutions and individuals accountable for their conduct.
What is the status of the Adult Survivors Act in New York?
The ASA was passed unanimously by the State Senate back in June 2021. However, the Assembly, for reasons that remain unclear, failed to even bring it to a vote at that time. On January 11, 2022, the Senate Judiciary Committee again passed the measure and further action is expected.
What other recent changes have been made to the NYS rape and Sexual Assault laws?
In September 2019, the New York Legislature extended the limitations period for some rape and sexual assault cases. That was good news, but the 2019 Law did not extend all limitations periods and, more important, it did not create a lookback window. Therefore, sexual assault claims involving adult survivors that were time barred in 2019 remain time barred. Only the ASA will fix this problem.
In March 2022, Governor Hochul signed three bills to fight sexual harassment in the workplace: The first bill established a toll free hotline for women experiencing harassment; the second bill makes state and public employers subject to the Human Rights Law and gives those employees the same protection as employees who work in the private sector; the third bill makes it illegal for employers to take retaliatory action against employees who file complaints about harassment in the workplace.
If you believe you have been the victim of sexual assault or harassment, and want advice on your legal options, contact the lawyers at Peters Brovner LLP who have extensive experience with these issues.