Safe Horizon + Survivors Condemn Assembly's Failure to Pass Adult Survivors Act

Senate unanimously passed bill, but Assembly failed to bring it to a vote

ALBANY, NY (06/11/2021) (readMedia)-- Safe Horizon and survivors of sexual assault condemned the Assembly's failure to pass the Adult Survivors Act (A.648 Rosenthal/S.66 Hoylman) before the end of the session. The bill -- which would open a civil lookback window to time-barred survivors who were over the age of 18 at the time of their abuse -- passed the Senate unanimously last week, thanks to the leadership of sponsors Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal. Despite dozens of co-sponsors from across the state and editorial board support in numerous media outlets, Speaker Carl Heastie chose not to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Survivors repeatedly told their stories in press conferences, interviews and opinion pieces and more. Safe Horizon also launched a PSA in support of the Adult Survivors Act last month, which targeted key Assembly leadership through Facebook ads.

First introduced in 2019, the Adult Survivors Act is based on the Child Victims Act (CVA) lookback window -- which the Assembly passed two years ago by a vote of 135-9. The CVA was stalled for 13 years because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to even hold a hearing on the bill, much less bring it to the floor for a vote, due to opposition from the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America and other institutions. There is no organized opposition to the ASA and the Assembly is controlled by Democrats.

Survivors have called on lawmakers to give them access to the civil courts -- some of whom have already been failed by a criminal justice system that favored their abusers, including some of the 200+ women abused by ex-Columbia gynecologist Dr. Robert Hadden and women abused by Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. The ASA would allow survivors another shot at justice and accountability. Correcting the historic wrong of artificially low statutes of limitations should happen with all necessary speed.

"The Assembly's failure to pass the Adult Survivors Act sends the message to survivors that they are not seen, heard or respected. The New York State legislature has committed a painful injustice against survivors, proving that laws which favor abusers take precedence over having their wrongdoing recognized and tried in the court of law. We will continue to fight for the rights of survivors until the justice system does exactly that," said Liz Roberts, CEO, Safe Horizon.

"By failing to pass the Adult Survivors Act, the Assembly is telling survivors that we do not matter. The Assembly's failure to even bring this widely supported bill to a vote where it surely would have passed also lets us know that they are okay with institutions enabling sexual violence. Their inaction negates their previous good work to extend statutes and take other protective measures. As one of more than 200 women seeking justice in a case against a former Columbia University OB/GYN, I experienced systemic failures to protect women, girls, and pregnant patients during some of the most intimate and vulnerable periods of our lives. In order to stop serial sexual abuse, we need a public reckoning for those institutions that fraudulently conceal violence and protect predators. No matter their age, each victim deserves to be heard," said Marissa Hoechstetter.

"We were both sexually abused by the same coach. We were born the same year, just months apart. Now forty years later, with the statute of limitations long passed, only one of us can pursue the justice and closure we deserve. That's why we spent so much time and energy fighting for the Adult Survivors Act to remedy this injustice. The pain and damage inflicted on sexual assault victims lasts a lifetime. The distinction in the statute of limitations between child and adult is arbitrary at best, and exploitative at worst, because in the end, it serves no real purpose except to let perpetrators walk away without facing any consequences for their actions. We're beyond disappointed in the Assembly's inaction to get this bill over the finish line," said Robert Bender and Bob Druger, survivors.

"As a survivor, as an advocate, as a former New Yorker, and as a person I am bewildered, angry, and disappointed that the assembly failed to even bring the Adult Survivors Act to the floor for a vote. When the Child Victims Act passed in 2019 we were led to believe that it was the beginning of a new era of understanding and justice for survivors. This was supposed to be the capstone on a three-year legislative righting of the wrongs experienced by survivors, and instead this common-sense bill that passed unanimously in the Senate was allowed to die in the Assembly. You failed survivors today," said Asher Lovy, survivor, director of ZA'AKAH.

"The failure of the Assembly to pass a humane bill that affords people with a disability an additional year to file a claim against their sexual abuser accountable, shows a lack of understanding of the process, struggle, and pain an adult with disability has endured. We are being told to choose between employment- unemployment, education-dropping out, housing - homelessness and healthcare or not. For the adults with disabilities the decision to stop receiving healthcare can be a choice of life and death. I can't believe Assemblymember Heastie and other members want to send the message that adults with disabilities who have been sexually abused are not important - that adults with disabilities must continue to be ignored. A bill that will cost the taxpayers nothing. The cost will be on the abuser and can help adults with disabilities a step closer to being survivors," said Lourdes Rosa-Carrasquillo, Director of Advocacy, The Center for Independence of the Disabled -- NY.

"As we are moving our society towards holding persons and institutions accountable, we also need our legislative representatives to pass bills that help survivors demand justice, remedies, change, healing and compensation for the suffering that they unjustly endured. It's time for the law to catch up with survivors needs," said Margarita Guzmán, Executive Director, Violence Intervention Program.

"We are extremely disappointed that the Adult Survivors Act was not brought to the floor for a vote in the New York State Assembly. With a unanimous vote to pass this bill in the New York State Senate and support from many Assembly members including Assembly member Linda Rosenthal and all of the co-sponsors of the bill, there should be no reason as to why the bill wasn't brought to the Assembly floor for a vote, passed and sent on its way to the Governor's office to be signed into law. There are survivors who were waiting for this bill to be passed this session and now their wait has been extended. Survivors deserve better," said Selena Bennett-Chambers, Director of Public Policy, New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

"The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault is disappointed that the New York State Assembly has failed to pass the Adult Survivors Act. As an organization dedicated to centering the voices of survivors in sexual violence response and prevention and trauma-informed care, we are dismayed at the Assembly's failure to recognize the ?need for this legislation. We commend the New York State Senate for moving the bill forward and hope the Assembly will do the same during the next legislative session," said Rachel Geller, LMSW, Director of Prevention & Policy, New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.

"We are disappointed in the NYS Assembly's failure to pass the Adult Survivors Act. Not enacting this bill sends a terrible message to survivors that they don't matter and what happened to them doesn't matter. We hold hope that Assembly leaders will hear us next session and pass this legislation. Survivors deserve better," said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy, Joyful Heart Foundation.

"The overwhelming majority of women impacted by incarceration, the population of individuals with whom we partner with at the Women's Prison Association, have experienced years, if not decades, of trauma and abuse. For many, that abuse continues into adulthood and abusers are rarely held accountable, especially when protected by a powerful institution. The Assembly's failure to pass the Adult Survivors Act is senseless and shameful. We will continue to advocate for survivors and work with systems-involved women to find hope, healing, and justice," said Laura Davies, Managing Director of Development and External Affairs, Women's Prison Association.

"We are disappointed that, despite its uncontested passage in the Senate and broad support in the Assembly, the Adult Survivors Act did not move to the floor for a vote this session. It's hard enough for survivors to share painful memories in hopes of finally being able to heal, only to be silenced yet again by powerful men and the institutions that enable them. We remain committed to expanding pathways for survivors in the fashion industry to pursue justice," said Sara Ziff, Executive Director, Model Alliance.

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families, said, "New York State's failure to pass the Adult Survivors Act is indicative of the extensive educational work that remains since #MeToo ignited a movement to bring justice to survivors of sexual assault and harassment. While we are disappointed in this outcome, Sanctuary for Families remains committed to supporting survivors, educating communities to prevent violence before it occurs, and creating platforms for survivors to share their stories. We look forward to advocating with survivors and our partner organizations next year."

About the ASA

The ASA - (A.648 Rosenthal/S.66 Hoylman) - is the next important step that the New York State legislature must take to reform the State's long-outdated statute of limitations for survivors of sexual violence. Modeled on the Child Victims Act, the ASA would provide a one-year lookback window to survivors who were abused when they were 18 years old or over. If passed, adult survivors would have one year in which to file a civil claim -- no matter how long ago the abuse happened -- even if the statute of limitations has expired.

Recognizing that the constrained time limits in NY's statutes were not in line with what experts understand about trauma, the legislature in 2019 passed the CVA, which has allowed over 5,000 survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits to date. That same year, the Legislature extended the civil and criminal statute of limitations for several felony offenses -- including extending the civil statute of limitations for Rape in the second and third degrees prospectively up to 20 years. However, the law does not apply retroactively, meaning that certain survivors who were abused prior to 2019, still have only between 1-5 years to file a civil lawsuit.

The ASA applies to Article 130 crimes, including Rape 2 and 3, criminal sex acts, among others and incest offenses in Section 255. Just like the Child Victims Act, the ASA would also waive the 90 day notice of claim requirement to bring a case against a public institution.

According to the science of trauma, it can take survivors years -- even decades -- to process sexual abuse. When those survivors are ready to come forward, it may be too late due to restrictive statute of limitations on sex crimes. For some survivors who may have reported within the statute of limitation, but failed to get a resolution in the criminal justice system the ASA provides a further pathway to justice.

The ASA will create new paths to justice for survivors who were denied access to our courts because of an artificially narrow statute of limitations. The bill will give all survivors, including people who were formerly incarcerated, individuals abused by an intimate partner, and disabled survivors, a much needed chance to hold their abusers accountable.