After one year, with more than 2,500 lawsuits filed, New York’s Adult Survivors Act expired Friday. The act lifted the statute of limitations for civil claims by adult sexual assault survivors, providing New Yorkers a one-year “lookback window” to sue their offenders or the institutions that enabled them.
For the last year, survivors’ high-profile cases against powerful individuals have made national headlines, sometimes decades after they were assaulted. In May, a federal jury found Donald Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation in a case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll under the act. The rapper Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs has been sued three times under the act. Cases have also been brought against performers Russell Brand, Bill Cosby, and Jamie Foxx.
But, of course, not every case was brought against a famous person—and many reveal the complicity of powerful institutions in New York state. As the act was set to expire, Anna Kull, a partner at trial law firm Levy Konigsberg LLP, told the Financial Times that of the nearly 630 cases she filed, 600 were “cases filed on behalf of formerly incarcerated women who were sexually abused by correctional officers.” The Survivors Law Project, a collaboration between lawyers Carrie Goldberg and Susan Crumiller, filed suit against the New York Police Department under the act, alleging “a pervasive and long-standing custom and practice of transferring and/or demoting female police officers in retaliation for making complaints of sexual harassment.”
The Survivors Law Project also worked with Maggie Cruz to bring a suit on behalf of her mother, a developmentally disabled woman who was raped and impregnated in 1985. Through a DNA test, Cruz identified her father as a caretaker who worked at the facility where her mother had lived. “My mother has had a hard life,” said Cruz in a statement. “I hope this lawsuit will help her get the care that she deserves after [the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities] failed to protect her from her attacker 37 years ago.”
Evelyn Yang, the wife of former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, used her platform to help pass the act, inspired by her own experience being sexually assaulted by her OB-GYN while pregnant with her first child. Earlier this year, she spoke to my colleague Maggie Duffy about her experience:
The other part of it that makes me lose sleep is thinking of anyone out there who, like me, buried this experience thinking that they were completely alone. Knowing they were assaulted, but thinking, “Oh, this must have just been something I did to invite his abuse, so I’m just going to bury it and try to forget about it.”
If you’re not paying attention to the news, you would still think that you were alone. Everyone deserves to be notified. Everyone deserves a chance at some kind of justice closure.