Survivors, Advocates, Lawmakers Rally to Make Civil Justice More Accessible for Sexual Abuse Victims

Coalition of survivors of sexual abuse, lawmakers and advocates push for critical reforms including eliminating the civil statute of limitation on child sexual abuse cases

ALBANY, NY (04/16/2024) (readMedia)-- On Tuesday, survivors of sexual abuse, advocates, and lawmakers join to rally for the Survivor Justice Agenda: a legislative package of bills which includes proposals to extend the Rape Shield law to civil court, help trafficking survivors, and make it easier for people in state custody to file sexual abuse cases, among others.

The bills are:

  • Extending the civil statutes of limitation of sex trafficking (A1940/ S00349)
    • This bill would create a one year lookback window for survivors of human sex trafficking to file claims in civil court if the statute of limitation had expired. The CVA and ASA did not cover claims from trafficking survivors so this bill is necessary to ensure they have the same opportunities as other survivors of sexual assault and misconduct.
  • Eliminating the civil statutes of limitations for child sex abuse cases (A1854/S6099)
    • The civil statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse varies depending on the time of the crime. This bill creates a uniform standard for all survivors, and gives them the time they need to come forward with a claim.
  • Extending the rape shield laws found in criminal proceedings to civil as well (A4441/S994)
    • This bill prohibits lawyers from using a victim's sexual conduct, predisposition, or manner of dress as evidence during civil proceedings. It mirrors the standard set forth in criminal court for survivors.
  • Tolling the statute of limitation on civil claims that arise while a person is in state or municipal custody (S7796/A8407)
    • Right now, if a person is sexually abused while in custody of the state or a municipality (meaning prison, jail, public mental health facility, etc) they have to file a notice of claim within 90 days of a violation, a standard that makes them vulnerable to retaliation and abuse if in the care of the person who is harming them.
    • The Fair Access to Justice Bill would start the civil statutes of limitations once the person is released.
    • The bill also eases requirements on survivors to name the exact time, location, and date of the violation when they file suit, an often impossible standard for those in state custody to meet.
  • Closing the corporate liability loophole (S7926/A9443)
    • Currently corporate boards are not always liable for their role in covering up abuse of members of their company. This law would change that and allow members to be sued for their role in knowingly covering up abuse, no matter where it happened.

These bills build on the Child Victims Act (CVA) and Adult Survivors Act (ASA): New York State laws that opened up civil lookback windows for survivors of sexual abuse. Lawmakers have recognized that formerly constrained time limits to our statutes of limitations were not in line with the impact of trauma and did little to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place. More than 12,000 survivors have been able to seek new pathways to justice in the courts through the CVA and the ASA. These bills build on this critical work.

The passage of the Child Victims Act and the Adult Survivors Act, two pieces of legislation I was proud to sponsor, opened the door for thousands of survivors to speak up about the sexual abuse they suffered and to seek justice through the courts. At the same time, it highlighted the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our society and the work left to be done to protect survivors," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF - Manhattan), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Housing. "Balancing the scales of justice will require us to take a long, hard look at the systems that have kept survivors from coming forward over the years while shielding abusers from accountability. This session, we must pass the Survivor Justice agenda, including my bills to clarify the intent of the ASA so more cases can move forward, remove burdensome requirements that prevent survivors from filing claims against negligent corporations and to finally end the civil statute of limitations for child sexual assault cases."

"Passing the Survivor Justice Agenda is an imperative that we should all embrace. Survivors of sexual abuse should have access to justice whether or not they are in state custody when victimized, but current law severely obstructs this imperative in two significant ways. First, statutes of limitations can expire while a survivor is incarcerated or shortly after their release. Second, survivors must provide exceedingly precise details about their abuse. Given the challenges individuals face behind bars, these hurdles too often are prohibitive. For example, the clock can run out just in waiting to consult with counsel. The Fair Access to Justice Act brings necessary relief first and foremost by extending the period for seeking damages to three years after release from custody. What's more, this bill provides that the information with which a victim makes their case is to the best of their knowledge and belief, a far more reasonable standard. I look forward to advancing this bill as part of our broader efforts to make our state truly fair and just," said State Senator Julia Salazar.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said: "In the shadows of silence, survivors of sexual offenses often find themselves trapped by statutes of limitation, denied justice for crimes committed against them. The trauma they endure, compounded by a culture of silence, too frequently shields perpetrators from accountability. Bill A.1940A stands as a beacon of hope, extending the statute of limitations for certain sex trafficking offenses, breathing life into actions long barred by legal constraints. Granting trial preference and exempting claims from burdensome provisions ensures survivors have a fair chance at justice. New York's recognition of the urgency to address this issue, eliminating statutes of limitation for severe sexual offenses and extending protections for survivors, is commendable. Now, it's time to extend those protections further. This bill extends the shield of justice to sex trafficking survivors, eradicating limitations and extending civil recourse. It's not just about legalities; it's about affirming the humanity of survivors and ensuring their voices are heard. Let us stand together and pass Bill A.1940A this legislative session, affirming our commitment to justice and healing for all survivors."

Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said: "The Child Victims Act and Adult Survivors Act were tremendous steps forward in the fight for justice for sexual assault survivors in New York State, but that fight is far from over. I am proud to stand with the Survivors Justice Coalition in support of their legislative agenda, which includes four of our bills that build on the protections afforded from the CVA and ASA. Our civil statutes still lag behind our criminal statutes. Our bills will amend our civil laws to eliminate the statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault cases (S.6099A), make it easier to hold corporate officers accountable for sexual offenses (S.7926), and expand the criminal rape shield law that has been in place since 1975 for criminal cases, to civil cases (S.994). We must also reduce the burden of filing lawsuits against government entities under the Adult Survivors Act (S.5916), which has left too many survivors unable to receive justice because of legal technicalities. With these laws we can move closer to a New York where every survivor is heard, believed, and able to hold accountable those who harmed them."

"Over 10,000 survivors of sexual abuse filed claims against their abusers under the Child Victims Act and Adult Survivors Act - two pieces of legislation I was proud to support. Our work provided justice to those who were barred from the courts and exposed acting predators. Now, we must open the doors of justice to even more survivors of sexual abuse, including those who were abused while in state and municipal custody. Victims are forced to file a notice of claim within 90 days of an action, when the life and liberty of a victim is dependent on their abuser, it is nearly impossible to come forward. Many victims face retaliation and repeated abuse. We must get these bills passed as soon as possible so all survivors have access to justice," said Assembly Member Catalina Cruz.

"Today I am standing alongside survivors of sexual abuse, advocates, and my colleagues, in calling for the passage of the Survivor Justice Legislative Agenda," said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. " As a co-sponsor of A1940A, I know that there is a need to extend the statute of limitations for child sex trafficking survivors because these folks deserve to pursue justice when it is right for them."

"Human trafficking is incredibly pervasive in the modeling industry, and some of the world's most infamous sexual predators have had deep ties to modeling agencies. Known sex trafficker and Epstein accomplice, Jean Luc Brunel, was actually one of the original investors in one of the biggest model management companies in the world, my former agency, Next Model Management. Epstein himself was closely tied to Next founder, Faith Kates," said model Shaina Danziger. "We must extend the civil statute of limitations on sex trafficking so that my peers who have had to suffer in silence are able to seek recourse in the courts.

Michael Polenberg, Safe Horizon's VP of Government Affair said: "Safe Horizon, the nation's largest nonprofit victim assistance organization, strongly supports the package of bills known collectively as the Survivor Justice Agenda which would increase access to civil justice for survivors of sexual violence. These bills build on the foundations laid by the Child Victims Act and Adult Survivors Act, which Safe Horizon played a lead role in passing in recent years. The lawmakers who have introduced these important bills continue to recognize that trauma takes time, and survivors should be afforded ample time to seek justice in our civil courts. We urge the full legislature to pass these bills as soon as possible."

"A staggering two-thirds of sexual assaults go unreported each year due to the stigma survivors face when choosing to come forward," emphasized Erica Vladimer, co-founder of the Sexual Harassment Working Group. "New York legislators must take immediate action to build on the work already done to create survivor-centered laws that enable victims to seek the justice they deserve. Extending the criminal rape shield laws to civil practice will ensure that factors merely calling attention to a survivor's humanity cannot be used against them in civil court, and the focus remains on the actions of the perpetrators."