ALBANY — State senators unanimously voted Thursday to pass the Adult Survivors Act to open a look-back window for survivors of sexual abuse to file litigation against their accusers.
Senators voted 62-0 to pass the Adult Survivors Act to give people ages 18 and older one year to file civil lawsuits for past sexual abuse and hold abusers accountable, even if statutes of limitations on those legal claims have expired.
“Until 2019, most adult survivors of sex crimes had no more than one to three years to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser,” bill sponsor Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, said on the floor Thursday afternoon. “For many survivors it takes years to come to terms with the abuse committed against them, let alone to summon the courage to report the abuse or engage in a protractive court fight.”
Shame, religious beliefs, family relationships and a person being unable to remove themselves from abusive situations can make it difficult for a person to process or litigate trauma within the state’s time-barred civil lawsuits based on sex crimes.
The companion bill in the Assembly has sat in the chamber’s Judiciary Committee since Jan. 6.
Representatives of the Assembly majority did not respond to requests for comment Thursday about the Democratic conference’s stance on the Adult Survivors Act or what issues have stalled the measure.
“The ASA is a common-sense, narrowly tailored piece of legislation that will provide adult survivors of sexual assault who were stymied by short statutes of limitations with access to long-denied justice,” said Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, who sponsors the bill in the lower house. “Now that the state Senate has passed the bill, the Assembly, the People’s House, must act to continue to support survivors.”
Hoylman and Rosenthal modeled the bill after the Child Victims Act. Signed into law Jan. 28, 2019, the CVA gave child sexual abuse survivors a vehicle to file civil lawsuits against their abusers for incidents that happened before age 18.
Gary Greenberg, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who for several years led the charge to pass the Child Victims Act, encouraged Assembly leaders to reject the Senate-passed bill.
“I would urge them not to pass the bill the Senate passed today — to reject it and make it a better bill,” he said.
Greenberg continues to plead with legislators to amend the Child Victims Act, or hold a hearing about the measure, as it has largely failed to provide justice to victims. Thousands of victims abused by a family member, a stranger, or people who live in rural areas face the greatest barriers to finding attorneys to take their case — especially if a victim’s abuser lacks financial wealth or other assets, or was not abused by an institution.
Adult survivors of sexual abuse can include people assaulted or abused by medical providers, formerly incarcerated people or models in the fashion industry, athletes abused by coaches or teammates and others, Hoylman said.
“With the Adult Survivors Act... we’re giving that shot at justice to the countless adult survivors of sex offenses who were previously denied an opportunity because they didn’t come forward in time,” said Hoylman, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair. “This legislation, like the Child Victims Act, is not about guaranteeing outcomes. It’s about providing survivors with the chance to seek justice.”
Greenberg argued Hoylman’s examples of adult survivors involve large, wealthy institutions, and would likely see their cases move forward.
Lawmakers are pushing to pass the Adult Survivors Act in both chambers by the end of legislative session June 10.
Child-sex abuse survivors from across the state have raised concern about the Adult Survivors Act for incidents occurring after age 18 as they struggle to retain attorneys or legal representation to advance their cases in court.
Leading Democrats in the Assembly, including Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine, D–Glen Cove; are expected to examine the Child Victims Act, Greenberg said, adding he is confident leaders will seriously examine and amend the Adult Survivors Act bill to meet criteria so every victim has the chance for justice.
“The law the Senate passed is not the law that will get justice — this is why I was against the Adult Survivors Act as written because it didn’t meet the criteria to get justice for all victims,” Greenberg said. “It’s very frustrating to think you’re going to get justice and call attorneys because no one will take your case. It leaves you standing at the door of justice and not being able to get through that door.
“They’re basically being revictimized.”
Greenberg has called and written Hoylman and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, numerous times to request a legislative hearing on the Child Victims Act to examine the number of victims who have come forward versus filed cases and to fix its flaws. Greenberg has not received a response.
Greenberg said passing the Adult Survivors Act is politically convenient for Hoylman, who is running for Manhattan Borough President.
“This isn’t the do-all the state Senate thinks it is,” he added. “I’m disappointed that they did pass the Adult Survivors Act as is, and I’m going to work to convince Speaker Heastie and the Judiciary Committee to not pass the law as is based on the facts. Thousands of adult survivors who will never see the inside of a courtroom under this lookback, and the state Senate did not meet their criteria of getting justice for every victim in New York state. It hasn’t been done with the Child Victims Act, and it certainly won’t be done by the Adult Survivors Act.”
Senate bill no. S.6847 would establish the Child Victim Foundation Fund — a supplemental child victim fee to assist victims of childhood sexual assault with civil legal costs and services.
Business corporations would choose to donate all or part of their tax refund to the public fund.
A percentage of winnings or damages paid to victims should also go to the fund, Greenberg said.
Sen. James Gaughran, D-Northport, sponsors the bill, which was referred to the Budget and Revenue Committee on Jan. 8. It has not advanced since.
Greenberg, of New Baltimore, in Greene County, spearheaded the movement to pass the state’s Child Victims Act and led the effort through forming the Fighting for Children PAC and ProtectNYKids Inc.
Hoylman said Thursday more than 6,000 cases have been filed under the Child Victims Act since August 2019.
The deadline to file cases under the Child Victims Act is Aug. 14.