Weinstein + Hadden Survivors, Safe Horizon & Advocates, Lawmakers Rally for NY Adult Survivors Act

Coalition pushes for one-year look back window for all time-barred survivors of sex abuse

NEW YORK, NY (02/28/2020) (readMedia)-- Just days after the verdict in the Weinstein case, survivors of sexual assault, including Ambra Battilana-Gutierrez, Dominique Huett, Marissa Hoechstetter, Evelyn Yang and Alison Turkos, joined Safe Horizon, lawmakers, and other advocates to call for the Adult Survivors Act (ASA): legislation that would provide a one year look back window for any time-barred survivor (18+) of sexual abuse to sue his/her abuser, or the institution that may have protected them, in civil court, even if the statute of limitations has expired. The ASA (S.6810/A.8726) was introduced into the New York State legislature in October 2019 by Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. The growing coalition includes the Model Alliance, the YWCA of Brooklyn, Know Your IX, the Sexual Harassment Working Group, the Joyful Heart Foundation, Housing Works, The Violence Intervention Project, the Women's Prison Association, the Crime Victims Treatment Center, ACR-Health and the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

The ASA is modeled on the Child Victims Act which passed the Legislature and was signed into law last year, allowing survivors of childhood sexual abuse with expired claims one year to sue in civil court. Six months into the window, over 1,600 claims have already been filed through the Child Victims Act.

"Every survivor should have the right to pursue justice in the way that is right for them. We need to ensure those survivors who previously had no recourse in the courts have a chance at seeking justice and healing. The Adult Survivors Act will make that opportunity a reality for so many," said Ariel Zwang CEO of Safe Horizon.

The ASA would apply to survivors who were abused under Article 130 crimes, 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 for 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 survivors with expired claims. 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.

"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. That's why I'm supporting the Adult Survivors Act in New York now, so that the 70 plus patients we know of - let alone the hundreds more who may exist - can get the justice we've been denied," said Evelyn Yang.

"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.

"When Harvey Weinstein assaulted me in 2010, I felt like reporting the crime would not be taken seriously because of the power dynamics that existed where victims are often blamed and discredited. It took me 7 years to feel safe in filing a police report and only after I had the testimony of other witnesses published in the New York Times. These crimes are complicated and it often takes people time to process what coming forward means to their lives. The Adult Survivors Act should be passed to afford survivors more time for access to justice," said Dominique Huett.

"As one of dozens of survivors of sexual assault by former OB/GYN Robert Hadden, I know how it feels to hold a terrible truth and decide to speak it out loud. It takes time. 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. Survivors deserve an opportunity to be heard in their own time. With the Adult Survivors Act, New York has the opportunity to provide survivors - all of us - access to justice," said Marissa Hoechstetter.

"Holding the institutions and individuals who harmed you accountable is one of the hardest things a person can do. It is never an easy decision to move forward in the criminal or civil legal system, but no survivor should be denied their chance at justice. The Adult Survivors Act is a vital piece of legislation to put the power back in the hands of survivors. By giving adult survivors the one year look back window, the Adult Survivors Act helps New York State not just say it's a place where "we Believe Survivors" but a place where we put that into practice," said Alison Turkos.

"Rape and sexual assault are under-reported, in large part because of a societal culture of victim-blaming. Many of New York State's laws have and continue to reinforce this culture and essentially forced survivors to remain silent. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have now empowered survivors to find their voices and speak despite the deep shame that was cast on them. Now that they are ready to speak, the law has a responsibility to listen. I am proud to sponsor the Adult Survivors Act, which will allow survivors who were silenced for years to seek justice. It is far beyond time that we put survivors first," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan).

"At least 100 women accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, but was found guilty of felony sex crimes against two women in part because New York's statute of limitations prevented many from pressing charges. Last year we recognized it takes many years and lots of courage to come forward and report sexual assault, which is why Albany extended the criminal statute of limitations from 5 years to 20 years and allowed child survivors of sexual assault to have civil claims heard under the Child Victims Act. Anyone who was a legal adult when they were sexual assaulted by predators like Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein or others should the same opportunity to come forward and seek justice. We must pass the Adult Survivors Act (S.6810/A.8726) to give these survivors their day in court. The #MeToo movement has inspired a sea change in our culture -- it should inspire a sea change in our legal system too," said State Senator Brad Hoylman.

"The Model Alliance believes in real consequences for abusers and that all surviviors of sexual abuse deserve the opportunity to have their day in court. Thanks to the bravery and tenacity of models, including Ambra Gutierrez and Dominique Huett, survivors' voices are finally being heard. We proudly stand in coalition with our partners to call for the passage of the Adult Survivors Act," said Sara Ziff, founder and Executive Director of the Model Alliance.

"As CEO of the YWCA Brooklyn, I work with hundreds of survivors each year who struggle to rebuild their lives after the devastation of a sexual assault. As a survivor myself, it took me many years to find the courage and fortitude to speak about my own experience, and even more to report the sexual assault to the authorities. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations in my case had expired and the perpetrator was never brought to justice. The Adult Survivors Act would provide the opportunity for adult survivors in NYS to finally hold their abusers accountable even if the statute of limitations has expired. This bill will empower survivors, especially women like those we work with at the YWCA Brooklyn, who are already marginalized due to socio-economic status, gender and race. I commend Safe Horizon and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Senator Brad Hoylman as well as all the advocates working on this very important legislation," said Martha Kamber, CEO & President of the YWCA Brooklyn.

"As survivors of workplace harassment and assault, the Sexual Harassment Working Group understands how difficult it can be to seek justice. It can be hard to find the energy, courage, words, and support to speak out against abusers. For many, finding that strength must wait until time has passed, external supports are built, or other victims come forward to corroborate your experience. How crushing to find then that you are outside of the statute of limitations for seeking justice. Trauma-informed practice must take this into account and provide a route to justice for those who were denied it in the past. Passing the Adult Survivors Act will complete the good work started by the Child Victims Act," said the Sexual Harassment Working Group.

"The Adult Survivors Act embodies a transformative opportunity in the fight for survivor justice across New York State. We cannot keep survivors locked out indefinitely from a pathway to justice, as the pathway to reckoning with the trauma of sexual violence is neither predictable nor linear. This retroactive expansion of the statute of limitations will finally give survivors the window of opportunity we have been looking for - to speak our truth and dismantle the power wielded by both abusers and the institutions that protect them from accountability. How much time has passed since an instance of abuse should never matter when the impact of violence can often last a lifetime for survivors. Opening the opportunity for civil litigation over the course of one year is the trauma-informed approach survivors need and deserve," said Jaslin Kaur, Student Engagement Organizer at Know Your IX.

"Its time that NY provided justice for those of us who have been harmed in and failed by our communities. Justice is a Jewish value. It's time for the Jewish community and the legal system in NY to empower, support and provide justice for all victims of sexual violence," said Tamara Schoor, survivor and Jewish community activist.

"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. As we push to reform statues 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.

'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.

"Rapists must pay. The purpose of our courts is to take money from wrongdoers and give it to injured parties. Survivors of sexual assault deserve justice, love, understanding, and closure. But also, they deserve to have the financial assets of their rapist. Money won't take away the memories, but it can make life more comfortable. Unlike other injuries, the 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. Fairness requires justice for sexual assault victims. And fairness is the ASA," said Carrie Goldberg, victims rights' attorney.

"The only way to stop sexual assault is to hold perpetrators and their enablers accountable. This law would do just. It allows courageous survivors, who suffer lifelong harm from their assaults, to seek remedies directly from their perpetrators and others who knew or should have known," said Mariann Meier Wang, attorney at Cuti Hecker Wang LLP.

Hoylman and Rosenthal both sponsored the Child Victims Act, which enacted long-awaited statute of limitation reform - both prospectively and retrospectively -- for survivors of child sexual abuse.

New Jersey is the only state that has ever provided a look back window for adult survivors.

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 fail to get a resolution in the criminal justice system the ASA provides a further pathways to justice. Especially for certain vulnerable populations, like those formerly incarcerated, individuals abused by an intimate partner, and disabled survivors, the ASA would give them a much needed chance to hold their abusers accountable.