Adult Survivors Act: The New York law that saw Diddy, Trump, Cosby and more sued for historic sexual assault

Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC [Sydney, Australia]

December 2, 2023

By Velvet Winter

In May 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Adult Survivors Act into state law.

The act came into action on November 23, 2022, creating a one-year period when adult sexual abuse victims could file lawsuits that otherwise would have been barred because the case was too old.

Now, that window is closed.

However, the small amount of time afforded to victims saw more than three thousand legal claims filed under the act.

It also saw high-profile actors, politicians, musicians and more face lawsuits that would have otherwise never seen the light of day.

What is the Adult Survivors Act?

The Adult Survivors Act was a law that created a one-year window for sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits for offences that would otherwise have been outside the statute of limitations.

Ordinarily, US states impose deadlines on how long someone can wait to sue in civil court because it becomes more difficult to hold a fair trail as witnesses’ memories fade and evidence is lost.

In 2019, New York extended the statute of limitations to 20 years for adults filing civil lawsuits for a select number of sex crimes. However, that legislation only affected new cases and was not retroactive.

It was modelled on the New York’s Child Victims Act that revived old claims over child sex abuse and led to thousands of lawsuits against schools, churches and youth organisations.

By the time the Child Victims Act’s two-year window closed in August 2021, almost 11,000 people filed lawsuits, many involving the Roman Catholic Church.

The act ended on November 24, 2023.

Who was sued under the Adult Survivors Act?

More than 3,700 legal claims were filed in the 12 months the Adult Survivors Act was active, with many coming against big-name celebrities and a handful of politicians.

Here’s a guide to some of the more high-profile lawsuits:

Donald Trump

Former US president Donald Trump was one of the first to be sued under the law when it took effect last November, by a writer who said he had raped her in a department store dressing room.

E. Jean Carroll, a columnist, had written of the alleged assault in a 2019 book. He rebuffed the accusation, saying it never happened.

She initially sued Trump only for defamation because the allegations dated back to the mid-90s and the deadline for filing a legal claim had long since passed.

But the Adult Survivors Act cleared the way for a suit claiming sexual assault.

In May, a jury found Trump liable of sexually abusing Carroll, but not raping her. She was awarded $5 million, including damages for defamation. Trump has appealed the decision.

Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs

From one of the first lawsuits under the act to one of the last.

In mid-November, Combs was sued by singer Cassie who alleged beatings and abuse by the powerful music producer.

The lawsuit alleged Combs brought the singer into his “ostentatious, fast-paced, and drug-fueled lifestyle” soon after she met him and signed to his label in 2005, when she was 19 and he was 37.

Ventura, now 37, said Combs, now 54, began a pattern of abuse as soon as their on-and-off relationship began in 2007.The lawsuit was settled one day after it was filed.

Combs said in a statement that he “vehemently denies” the allegations.

Two more women came forward with lawsuits in the last week of November, just before the law’s expiration. They accuse Combs of sexual abuse in separate incidents dating back to the early 1990s. A spokesperson for Combs denied the allegations.

Bill Cosby

The former comedian spent about three years in prison after he was found guilty of drugging and molesting a Temple University employee. He had his conviction overturned and was released in 2021.

Under the Adult Survivors act, Bill Cosby was sued in November by Joan Tarshis, who said she was a young comedy writer when Cosby drugged and assaulted her on two occasions in the years around 1970.

She had first made the accusations in 2014, but her ability to sue him was previously limited due to the statute of limitations.

A representative for Cosby didn’t respond to questions about the claim, instead citing the number of well-known figures named in lawsuits filed under the act and asking, “When is it going to stop?”

Harvey Weinstein

Former Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein is already serving multiple lengthy prison sentences after being convicted of rape and other assaults in 2020 and 2023.

Under the Adult Survivors Act, Weinstein was sued in October by actor Julia Ormond, who accused the movie producer of bringing down her movie career after a sexual assault in 1995.

Weinstein, who is in prison in New York, “categorically” denied the accusations through his attorney.

Russell Brand

The British comedian and actor was sued under the law by a woman who said she was an extra on the set of the movie Arthur in 2010, in which Brand was starring. The woman accused Brand of exposing himself and assaulting her in a bathroom.

He has not commented on the suit, but in connection to claims in British media outlets in September by four women who said he assaulted them, he said his relationships were “always consensual.”

Axl Rose

Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose was accused by a former model of raping her in 1989 in a New York City hotel room.

Sheila Kennedy said she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression because of the attack, which she has referenced before.

Attorney Alan Gutman said in a statement on behalf of Rose: “Simply put, this incident never happened. Notably, these fictional claims were filed the day before the New York State filing deadline expires.”

Steven Tyler

In an accusation dating back to the 1970s, a woman has accused Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler of forcibly kissing and groping her.

The woman says she was 17 when she met Tyler in Manhattan in the summer of 1975, and that he assaulted her twice during that day.

Tyler has made no public comment on the accusation.

Tyler was sued for sexual assault and battery in 2022 under a 2019 California law that gave adult victims of childhood sexual assault a three-year window to file lawsuits for decades-old instances of assault.

Julia Misley said she Tyler had an illicit sexual relationship with her when she was a teenager.

Rudy Giulaini

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and personal attorney for Donald Trump, is being sued by a woman who says he coerced her into sexual activity while she did work off the books for him.

The woman, Noelle Dunphy, said Giuliani made suggestive comments and demanded sex while she worked for him as a business development director and public relations consultant between 2019 to 2021.

His spokesperson strongly denied the allegations.

Mike Tyson

Boxer Mike Tyson was sued by a woman who said he raped her in Albany, New York, in the early 1990s after she met him at a club and was in his limousine. There was no comment from representatives for Tyson.

The heavyweight boxer spent three years in prison after being convicted of rape in 1992.