Former President Donald Trump has been able to fend off a lawsuit brought against him by author and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, who said he raped her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. When Carroll decided to describe the alleged assault in an excerpt from a book in 2019, Trump had been president for two years and the statute of limitations for criminal charges or lawsuits against him had long passed. Carroll sued Trump for defamation, alleging that he defamed her in statements to reporters in which he denied knowing her, accused her of making up her story to sell books and insulted her appearance, and was tied up in court for years. fending off Justice Department interference and endless bids for delay.
Now, Carroll and thousands of other victims of sexual assault in New York state are getting a new chance to seek legal action against the people who harmed them years or decades ago. New Yorkers who were sexually assaulted as adults but ran out of time to seek redress in court under the Survivors Act there is a one-year “control window” to sue abusers, as well as institutions negligent in responding to an attack. While many states have experimented with lookout windows to allow child victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits, New York’s law marks only the second time the statute of limitations has been extended to people who were adults at the time of the assault. (New Jersey was the first.) In a way, the new law is an acknowledgment of the many obstacles that prevent survivors from pursuing justice in court — ongoing trauma, shame and fear of retribution, not to mention ineffective policing. “Combating sexual assault requires us to recognize the impact of trauma on our justice system,” Governor Kathy Hochul said as she signed the bill into law.
Until 2019, survivors of second- and third-degree rape in New York State had just five years to file criminal charges against their attacker with a prosecutor, and typically less time to file a civil lawsuit. That year, the statute of limitations was extended but not retroactive, meaning many survivors never had a chance at a court order or settlement. “The Adult Survivors Act is the latest step in the state legislature’s reckoning with outdated and ineffective statutory restrictions for sexual assault survivors,” Michael Polenberg, vice president of government affairs for New York City victim support organization Safe Horizon, said in a recent webinar. . Survivors will have one year to file their claims.
In 2019, New York opened a similar window for childhood sexual abuse. By the time the window closes in 2021, nearly 11,000 claims have been filed under the Child Victims Act, including 3,336 cases involving the Catholic Church. While many are still ongoing, some have reached settlement points: Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein’s partner, settled Virginia Giuffre’s Child Victims Act lawsuit in February, just weeks before she was required to take a deposition over her abuse claim. While most of the lawsuits have been filed against relatively deep-pocketed institutions that covered up or enabled the abuse, some survivors have filed lawsuits against individuals: a former Lutheran pastor, an elementary school teacher, and others. Now a plaintiff has won a $25 million jury verdict against an 80-year-old Boy Scout leader, Buffalo News In March, a reporter said the verdict was meaningful, not because of the money, because the jury believed him and approved of the practices. “I probably won’t get a penny out of it, but putting a dollar amount on it makes people realize how terrible it is,” he said.
As the Child Victims Act revision period ends in 2021, survivor advocates have mounted a major push to pass a similar bill for adult victims. One obstacle: intransigence in the state Assembly as former Gov. Andrew Cuomo still clings to power amid a flood of sexual assault and harassment allegations. It took until May 24 of this year — just months after Cuomo handed over the governorship — for the act to pass and be signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul. (Cuomo continues to deny the allegations against him. It remains unclear whether he will file a lawsuit under the new law; former aide Charlotte Bennett, one of the first to speak out against the governor, did not. The lawsuit against Cuomo and his top staff, the statute of limitations had not yet expired.)
As with the Child Victims Act, hundreds, if not thousands, are expected to flood the state court system in short order. One firm, Slater Slater and Schulman, has already announced it will represent at least 750 women previously incarcerated alleging systemic sexual abuse in New York’s jail and prison systems. According to the firm, which works with Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney known for representing the families of black victims, state or county governments failed to prevent correctional officers from sexually abusing the women while they were incarcerated, even when they knew the abuse was occurring. police violence.
For example, a 1985 report by the New York Correctional Association found an example of “forced sex” by staff at Bayview, a medium-security prison in Manhattan where officers “threatened inmates with disciplinary action or removal from the program.” when they refuse to have sex.” But the abuse continued in the years that followed: Jacquiline Wiggins, now a 58-year-old nurse, New York Times A Bayview guard repeatedly raped her while she was incarcerated there in the 1990s. She says she still remembers the guard’s haircut, body odor and teeth, but hasn’t told anyone since then — until she learned about New York’s new law. “I choked it out,” Wiggins said Time. “I kept it inside me. I didn’t think I was worthy. I didn’t think anyone would care.” She is now one of 200 Bayview plaintiffs filing a claim under the Elderly Survivors Act.
As for Carroll, his attorney told a federal judge in September that they would file a lawsuit in New York when the look-back window opens. In a preliminary version of her lawsuit filed last week, she accuses the former president and says his conduct amounted to first-degree rape.
“We’re finally at the point where we’re going to take over the courts with these important cases,” said victims’ rights attorney Kerry Goldberg, who taught survivors about the new law at a Safe Horizon webinar. Goldberg’s firm announced Monday that it will work with employment lawyer Susan Crumiller to file cases under the new law — an initiative called the Survivors Law Project. Goldberg cautions that litigation isn’t for every survivor: “With the person who traumatized you the most in your life,” it can be an emotionally taxing, exhausting process.
Goldberg says the new law isn’t just important to him as a lawyer. She is also considering whether to file a lawsuit over the Adult Survivors Act. “I really appreciate what our customers do,” he says. “How will this affect me emotionally? Energetic? My time? What supports do I have?” He decided to go through the admissions process at his firm to lay out all his options. “Just because I know the law,” she says, “doesn’t mean the emotional toll of being involved in litigation over something traumatic is any different than what our clients go through.”
Update, Nov. 23: This story has been updated to note that Cuomo has denied the charges against him.