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One-year legal window for filing lawsuits under Adult Survivors Act closes on Thursday

Gov. Kathy Hochul signs the Adult Survivors Act into law on May 24, 2022. Behind Hochul, from left: survivor Marissa Hoechstetter, Assembly sponsor Linda Rosenthal, survivor Drew Dixon and Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman.
Mike Groll
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Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul signs the Adult Survivors Act into law on May 24, 2022. Behind Hochul, from left: survivor Marissa Hoechstetter, Assembly sponsor Linda Rosenthal, survivor Drew Dixon and Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman.

As the one-year window to file lawsuits against alleged sexual abusers under the state’s Adult Survivors Act is set to close this week, an early supporter said the law so far has been a success.

The law opened the legal window for victims of sexual harassment or assault to file a claim in court, even if the alleged incidents occurred years or even decades ago. 

The Assembly sponsor of the bill, Linda Rosenthal, said nearly 3,000 claims have been filed during that window, which closes on Thanksgiving Day. Among those claims was one against former President Donald Trump; in that case, a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll and awarded her $5 million.

Suits were also filed against hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, who settled for an undisclosed sum one day after rape allegations were made against him, and the actor Bill Cosby, whose accuser said in a lawsuit filed last week that he raped her over 50 years ago. 

Cosby, who has been accused of sexual abuse by multiple women, had previously been convicted of sexual assault, but that was later overturned.

In addition, class-action lawsuits were filed by hundreds of women who say they were sexually abused in New York prisons.

“I think … one of the best things about this law is that it empowers people who were muted, who were not allowed to pursue any kind of justice in the courts,” Rosenthal said. “They see that society's listening to them, that they hear them. That it's not like in the past where people who were abused were told, ‘Shut up, I will ruin you if you say anything.’”

In the final days of the one-year window, a lawsuit also was filed against state Sen. Kevin Parker. The woman alleged that Parker raped her in her Brooklyn apartment in 2004, when she was helping him coordinate a relief effort for Haitian flood victims.

Parker, who hasn’t commented on the charges, has a history of anger issues, including charges of assault against a traffic cop, that were later dropped when he agreed to take anger management classes. 

Rosenthal said, as in all the lawsuits filed, the alleged abuser is still innocent until proven guilty.

“However, it's very serious when someone accuses someone of something so devastating as rape,” Rosenthal said. “Senator Parker will have his day in court.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who signed the Adult Survivors Act into law, called the accusations against Parker “shocking” but agreed that nothing is proven yet.

“We'll let that play out right now. It's extremely disturbing,” Hochul said. “As the information unfolds, I may have a strong opinion on that. But right now, I just want to see what else is out there. Let's let this unfold a little bit."

Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, also called the allegations “extremely disturbing” and said the leader will be monitoring the situation and taking appropriate action as necessary. 

Rosenthal said she’s not ruling out a bill to open another one-year window lookback when the legislative session resumes in January.

In 2019, New York extended the statute of limitations to 20 years for adults filing civil lawsuits in cases of alleged sex crimes.

Rosenthal said perhaps the limits need to be lifted altogether.

“The statutes of limitations are based on antiquated views on certain crimes,” she said. “And (are) also written mostly by men.”

She said in cases of sexual abuse, it can be decades before someone is ready to come forward with an accusation.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.