Hadden, Weinstein Survivors + Safe Horizon Lobby Lawmakers to Stand Up for Survivors of Sex Abuse

Evelyn Yang, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, Marissa Hoechstetter, Alison Turkos + others: "survivors rights don't pause"

ALBANY, NY (05/05/2020) (readMedia)-- Although the NYS Legislature is not in session, Evelyn Yang, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, Marissa Hoechstetter, Alison Turkos and dozens of survivors of adult and childhood sex abuse, joined Safe Horizon in a virtual advocacy day in support of the Adult Survivors Act (S.6810 Holyman / A.8726 L. Rosenthal) and extending the one year look back window of the Child Victims Act (S.7082 Hoylman / A.9036 L. Rosenthal) another year.

Like the Child Victims Act, passed last year, the Adult Survivor Act (ASA) would allow survivors one year to bring a civil suit against their abuser or the institution that may have failed to protect them, even if they're past the statute of limitations.

The ASA applies to survivors who were abused when they were 18+, while the CVA applies to those abused when they were under 18. Since the CVA passed, over 1,800 survivors have filed civil lawsuits, but the COVID-19 crisis has created mass confusion and halted new filings, as the window comes to a close late this summer.

Both the Assembly and the Senate have passed resolutions and rules changes allowing lawmakers to legislate remotely but have not stated when session will resume.

"Look back windows work. Eight months since the child victims act look back window opened, 1,800 survivors of child sex abuse have filed claims against their abuser and negligent institutions in civil court. Adult survivors deserve the same access to justice. Survivors need lawmakers to make good on their promise of a pathway to justice, and that starts by extending the lookback window of the Child Victims Act another year and passing the Adult Survivors Act," said Michael Polenberg, Vice President of Government Affairs for Safe Horizon.

Look back windows are not unique, in fact, many states have windows that are multiple years long. New Jersey and North Carolina have two year windows, California has a three year window, and Vermont and the territory of Guam have eliminated the civil statute of limitations altogether.

Other than Safe Horizon, the largest victims services organization in the country, few others -- with the exception of lawyers advertising for clients -- have provided widely available public information to survivors in multiple languages about the CVA look-back window.

The ASA is modeled after the CVA. The ASA would apply to survivors who were abused under Article 130 in the penal code, which includes rape 2 and 3, criminal sex acts, among others, and incest offenses in Section 255. Last year, Albany lawmakers, recognizing that the statute of limitations were artificially low and not in line with what experts understand about trauma, voted to extend civil statute of limitations for the several felony offenses including rape in the second and third degrees prospectively to 20 years. But many adult sexual assault survivors who were abused prior to 2019, had only between 1-3 years to file a civil lawsuit. The ASA would provide a pathway to justice for time-barred survivors. Similar to the Child Victims Act, the ASA would also waive the 90 day notice of claim requirement to bring a case against a public institution.

The ASA would help the vast majority of women abused by Harvey Weinstein who are beyond the statute of limitations and cannot currently seek damages for the harm he caused them, including loss of income, damage to their careers, and emotional and physical harm. This lack of civil recourse has given the Weinstein Company leverage in settlement negotiations, which the New York Times reported last year to be an absurdly low sum. Similarly, women abused by former OB-GYN Robert Hadden range in age, so while some are within the statute of limitations, others are not.

New Jersey is the only state that currently recognizes the need for a look back window for adult survivors.

"Right after Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted me, I did everything you're supposed to do as a victim of a crime: I immediately filed a claim with the NYPD. At their direction I recorded Weinstein admitting to the assault and apologizing to me. Yet the criminal justice system failed me. I, and countless other women, need the Adult Survivors Act which creates a look-back window to right the wrongs of a system that favors rich and powerful men over the women they abuse. We deserve a chance," said Ambra Battilana-Gutierrez, member of the Leadership Council of the Model Alliance.

"The Adult Survivors Act will let survivors name their abusers in court and access justice on their own terms. After sharing my story, the outpouring of support I've received from strangers and other survivors reaching out to say 'me too' has made it crystal clear that when we speak out we can change the world. But we need to change the laws too. New York lawmakers should stay in remote session to address the many issues left on the table requiring action, including crisis relief, housing, voting and assault survivors rights. The pandemic is no time for our state leadership to stop leading," said Evelyn Yang.

"We were jubilant at the Child Victims Act's passage, and again at its signing by Governor Cuomo. Yet we knew all too well where it fell short and how much work we needed to do for it to live up to its vast potential. So, long before a pandemic induced coma shut down the New York State court system, we were already lobbying hard to get this all too short single year window extended (S.7082/A.9036). If no action is taken by New York State's legislators to prevent its slamming shut in August, a desecration of justice, perhaps worse than not opening a window in the first place, will have been callously and unnecessarily perpetrated upon the child sexual abuse victim/survivors of New York yet again," said Brian Toale, survivor.

"In these unprecedented times when many survivors find themselves alone with horrible, painful memories of sexual abuse, we need our lawmakers fighting for us and offering hope. We are not asking the legislature to make any decision on the merits of cases. Instead, we are simply requesting access to the courthouse so that adult victims of sexual abuse have the opportunity to make their case. If and when someone chooses to come forward, their pathway to justice should not be time barred or limited to results from a fraught criminal justice system," said Marissa Hoechstetter.

"It is urgent that the Adult Survivors Act is passed into legislation. In the past so many victims of abuse, assault and rape were silenced, shamed and not believed. The #MeToo Movement is and will continue to be a moment of reckoning as well as an awakening for men and women on what it means to be a survivor of sexual abuse. I urge our lawmakers to allow this law to be passed for adults who now are able to grapple with the injustice they were shown due to this cultural shift and have the ability to take civil action as a way toward resolve, restitution and healing. It would open the door for predators to be held accountable for their behavior and put an end to this abuse that hides in the dark. This act would be a means to reallocate the blame on where it belongs, their abuser," said Dominique Huett, survivor.

"For too long, New York's inadequate laws closed the doors to the courthouse for thousands of survivors of childhood sexual assault. The one-year window created by the Child Victims Act threw those doors open to survivors, who had for years carried with them shame and trauma of their abuse. It is clear, however, that one year is simply not enough time for all survivors who have suffered in silence for a lifetime to find their voice. Survivors need more time, and we must not close the window and slam the door shut on justice. We must get back to work and pass my bill A.9036 to extend the window for an additional year," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan).

"Since the Child Victims Act's look-back window began, 2,085 New Yorkers who survived child sex abuse have come forward to seek justice and share their stories. After years of delay, the New York State Senate finally passed this historic legislation thanks to the leadership of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Now, the unexpected threat of COVID-19 has threatened the progress we made by passing the CVA. Survivors who had been ready to come forward are no longer able to do so, because the COVID-19 crisis has shut down most court proceedings. I'm proud to sponsor legislation with my colleague Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal to extend the CVA's revival window for another year, which will bring New York's laws in line with progressive states like California and New Jersey and allow survivors to file suit once the courts re-open. Now more than ever, New York must stand with survivors of sexual assault," said State Senator Brad Hoylman.

"COVID-19 has paused many aspects of our lives, but it has not stopped the devastating impact of sexual violence and the need to hold perpetrators accountable. In just three months the look-back window under the Child Victims Act will expire, and the thousands of survivors unable to file new cases during this pandemic will lose their chance at seeking justice. The Legislature must urgently return to session to pass survivor centered legislation, including the extension of the CVA look-back window. We cannot allow our own negligence to deprive New Yorkers of the rights they deserve," said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx/Westchester).

"We must focus on prioritizing the Adult Survivor Act that will extend the look-back period for survivors and focus on survivors who experienced abuse after 18 years old," said Assemblymember Niou. Around a year and a half ago, we passed the Child Victims Act in New York State but our work is not yet done. Through the lookback window, thousands of survivors got justice - but there are so many survivors who still do not have access to the resources necessary to seek justice against their alleged abusers. Amid COVID-19 we have lost a lot of our original look back window without the court systems functioning at full capacity. A single year look back window is not enough and we need an extension for those seeking justice. Looking forward, we must also work on ensuring that money and means are not a barrier to anyone seeking justice," said Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou.

"This crisis has laid bare the fundamental inequities in many areas of society, and survivors of sexual and domestic violence have been acutely impacted. While the full scope of the secondary and tertiary impacts of COVID-19 are unknown as of yet, we know the impacts to the mental and physical health of survivors have been enormous. In order to both respond to and prevent these devastating outcomes, we need to build our infrastructure now and strive to go further to protect the most vulnerable," said Azaleea Carlea, Director of Legal Services at NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. "The Child Victims Act was an important first step in addressing the systemic barriers to justice for survivors, and we believe the Adult Survivors Act is an important follow-up. We urge the Governor and Legislature to consider the impacts of COVID-19 on the Child Victims Act and the Adult Survivors Act, and to make accommodations accordingly. This includes extending the look-back window for the Child Victims Act to allow all survivors whose access to justice has been cut off by this pandemic the opportunity to pursue their cases, and to ensure that no survivors are forced to choose between their health and their civil protections."

"We know that victims of sexual abuse may not disclose what happened to them for many years or even decades. They may feel silenced, powerless, ashamed or struggle with coming to terms with the fact that such a heinous act was committed against them. When these victims come forward, it is important to provide these victims with an opportunity for recourse. Allowing adult victims of sexual abuse, whose claims are time-barred under current law, a one year look back window to purse a civil claim is an important step forward. That's why it's so important for the Adult Survivors Act to be passed and signed into law this legislative session," said Selena Bennett-Chambers, Director of Public Policy, New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

"People with disabilities are sexually abused at a higher rate than the general population. This is true across all disabilities and genders. They need more time to report their sexual abuse claims. Sometimes this is because they are institutionalized or because they are living in the community with an abuser and need time to protect themselves and report. We strongly support an extension of one year to the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims," Susan M. Dooha, JD, Executive Director of Center for Independence of the Disabled New York (CIDNY).

"Victims of sexual assault do not operate under a strict timetable. The law needs to recognize this reality and give sexual assault victims the chance to be heard in court," said a sexual assault survivor from Dutchess County.

"Trauma may happen in the past but it continues to live in the present unless survivors feel they will be seen, heard and believed," said Hillary Tullin, survivor.

"With the historic passage of the Child Victims Act, the sexual harassment reforms championed by the Sexual Harassment Working group, and the extension of the criminal statutes of limitations for rape 2 and 3, New York State took its first steps in acknowledging the realities of sexual violence, and including survivors in the fight for justice. But the work isn't over. While the Child Victims Act was a good start, there are many survivors who need more time to learn about their options and consider them carefully. There are also countless adult survivors of sexual violence in New York State who have been denied justice for too long by unrealistically shallow statutes of limitations. By its very nature, sexual violence prevents immediate disclosure because victims, regardless of age, often feel intimidated, threatened, ashamed, and are often overwhelmed by the trauma they experienced. We need to acknowledge the realities of sexual violence and give survivors of all ages the time they need to seek justice safely," said Asher Lovy, survivor.

"New York's fashion industry relies on a workforce of mostly young, female, immigrant models, who lack basic rights and protections and who experience high rates of sexual assault. Many survivors in our community took years to report their abuse due to deep trauma and fears of retaliation, whereas others turned to law enforcement in a timely manner, but were denied the chance to seek justice. They deserve a chance to bring a civil lawsuit -- and the Adult Survivors' Act would do precisely that," said Sara Ziff, Executive Director, Model Alliance.

"The COVID-19 crisis has made very clear the importance of the work we do for justice and on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society. I applaud and am pleased to be part of adapting the way we do advocacy to meet the moment," said Donna Hylton, activist, author and Founder/President, A Little Piece of Light, a non-profit organization.

"Trauma from sexual violence often outlasts the statute of limitations and it may be years before a survivor is ready to seek vindication in courts. Survivors deserve justice, understanding, and closure. That is the purpose of our courts. Being a victim is expensive and life-altering. Money can't take away memories, but it can make life more comfortable. Rapists must pay," said Carrie Goldberg, founder of Victims' Rights law firm C.A. Goldberg, PLLC.

"Sexual assault is a crime with a lifelong, profound impact on survivors. This impact does not go away -- in fact many survivors suffer long-term, chronic physical and psychological ailments. The damage to survivors' lives is not time limited; neither should the perpetrator's responsibility. That is why the Joyful Heart Foundation stands with our partners in support of the Adult Survivors Act and the extension of the Child Victims Act one-year window. As we push to reform statutes of limitations across the country, this legislation acknowledges that even if the criminal justice system fails a survivor, they will still have the right to sue their accuser. Healing may look different for every survivor, but justice is a pathway to healing that cannot be overlooked," said Ilse Knecht, Policy & Advocacy Director for the Joyful Heart Foundation.