Spectrum News [Syracuse NY]
November 21, 2023
By Kate Lisa
Both lawmakers who sponsored the Adult Survivors Act, or the law that created a one-year period for adult survivors of past sexual assault to file a case against their abuser, say they support extending the lookback period an additional year next session.
Sponsors Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, both Manhattan Democrats, say they’ll also explore a permanent change to New York’s statute of limitations for sexual assault.
“I think it’s something we should certainly consider,” Hoylman-Sigal said.
The senator says he’s in early talks with other lawmakers about extending the Adult Survivors Act when they return to Albany in January. Attorneys expect a flurry of cases to be filed under the Adult Survivors Act before Friday’s deadline, adding to more than 2,500 cases so far.
The measure allows survivors of sexual assault to file a civil suit against a person or institution for past sexual abuse that happened after the age of 18, regardless of the statute of limitations. Survivors can file a case by the end of Black Friday.
The lookback window has led to suits against former President Donald Trump, hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs and Brooklyn state Sen. Kevin Parker, who was accused of rape under the law last week.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re bringing it against, whether it’s the president of the United States, a member of the New York state Legislature, a neighbor, a pastor, a friend or family member. We are all equal under the eyes of the law and under the Adult Survivors Act,” the senator said.
More than 500 of the complaints were filed by incarcerated women against correction officers in state prisons and jails. Several dozen have been filed in the last three weeks.
The legislation was modeled after the Child Victims Act that Hoylman-Sigal and Rosenthal also sponsored, which allowed victims of childhood sexual assault to hold their abusers accountable.
Hoylman-Sigal says he’s open to extending the Child Victims Act’s lookback window, too, which was open for two years because of court delays in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s something Rosenthal says she’ll need to consider, but said both should be done as separate legislation outside the budget.
“It doesn’t really have any fiscal relevance to the state, necessarily, unless someone from the state is convicted,” she said.
Rosenthal said Tuesday she’s heard from many survivors who want their day in court, but recently learned about the one-year window and have run out of time to make the decision. The assemblywoman said she’s heard from advocates and attorneys alike who say one year wasn’t long enough.
“I’m sure we’ll hear from others who say I just couldn’t make it by the deadline,” she added.
Michael Lamonsoff, a sexual abuse and trafficking attorney with the Law Offices of Michael Lamonsoff, represents many survivors who filed cases under the Adult Survivors Act. He also supports an extension because he says the law was inadequately publicized, and it takes years for survivors of sexual assault to process what happened to them.
“Survivors go through a lot before they come to the conclusion that it’s not their fault, they did nothing wrong and they want to do something about it,” he said Tuesday.
If the window reopens, he says the state should advertise it to New Yorkers and dedicate a part of the state Supreme Court to handle sexual abuse cases and process cases more quickly.
“We’re talking about cases that could be 30 years old, so many survivors are not going to survive their own lawsuits,” Lamonsoff said. “And that to me is a travesty of justice.”
Lawmakers will weigh an additional one-year extension while Rosenthal and Hoylman-Sigal say they expect pursuing a change to the statute of limitations will take more time.
“Statutes of limitation only serve to protect the perpetrators, and this is an opportunity to perhaps change that,” Hoylman-Sigal said.
Other lawmakers Tuesday were tight-lipped about if they’d support extending the lookback period of the Adult Survivors or Child Victims acts.
Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, says they’ll review the matter as a conference.
Representatives with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ office did not return a request for comment.
A spokesman with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office says the governor will review any legislation both houses of the Legislature pass next session.