It took a change in law to hold Trump accountable in New York. Massachusetts should follow its lead.

Boston Globe

May 9, 2023

E. Jean Carroll was only able to bring her lawsuit against the former president because of a change in New York law.

The jury verdict finding former president Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll as well as for defaming her by claiming that she lied about it was a shot at justice that Carroll would not have received had the New York Legislature not acted.

That is because the civil trial came decades after the expiration of the statute of limitations for the alleged sexual attack, which happened in the 1990s according to Carroll. But last year, state lawmakers passed and Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law the Adult Survivors Act. That law gave survivors of sexual assault that occurred when they were adults a one-year period to bring civil claims for damages for such attacks regardless of when the attack took place.

The revelations from the #MeToo movement demonstrated all the ways powerful sexual abusers have been able to threaten, bully, and dismiss their accusers into silence. Laws, like the ones passed in New York and California giving survivors who have been able to find the courage and strength to seek justice, should serve as a model for lawmakers on Beacon Hill and beyond.

Bay State lawmakers have in the past responded to the moment to make laws work for those who have been victimized. For example, in 2014 the Commonwealth enacted a law that extended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims by 32 years, citing evidence that many children and adult survivors of sexual abuse — including victims of the Catholic Church priest abuse crisis — often took years to overcome the mental, emotional, and physical trauma in order to bring a claim in court and testify against their abusers.

That law was upheld by the state’s highest court and it has served as a lifeline for survivors, said attorney Mitchell Garabedian.

“The law was very effective for many victims because it gave them the opportunity to obtain justice and validation through the courts,” said Garabedian, who has represented sexual abuse victims since the 1970s. Garabedian said some of his clients took decades before they were able to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered, and without the change in law they would have had the courtroom doors closed on them by the time they were ready to make their allegations.

Garabedian is among those calling for the statute of limitations to be lifted entirely from sexual abuse and rape claims. That is worth a debate among lawmakers.

But at the very least, New York’s law has shown how a limited window can make a difference, allowing those who can prove their allegations in court an opportunity for redress. Carroll’s case rested in part on the testimony of other women who came forward to testify that they too were assaulted by Trump. The #MeToo movement demonstrated the strength survivors gain in numbers.

The law has not merely allowed claims against high-profile defendants who otherwise might have been able to stonewall or, as in Trump’s case, defame and insult their way out of being held accountable. It has also led hundreds of prisoners to file lawsuits seeking redress for abuse they say they suffered while incarcerated but were unable to report out of fear of retribution by guards and other personnel. It also provides a venue for those who were sexually abused in the workplace, but did not disclose that fact for years out of fear of professional reprisal, to also get a chance to make their case.

And while one year may well not be enough time for every survivor of abuse to bring a claim, the limited approach at the very least rebuts the criticism that allowing lawsuits based on decades-old abuse claims is unfair to defendants by opening floodgates to a wave of unchecked lawsuits. But lawmakers could and should revisit the law if they find that credible claims of abuse need more time to see the light of day. In that way, adopting an Adult Survivors Act would be a good start for Beacon Hill.