For a year, a special New York law has cleared the way for a wave of headline-grabbing lawsuits against famous men accused of sexual misconduct, including former President Donald Trump, hip hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs and the comedian and actor Russell Brand.
But when the Adult Survivors Act expires after Thanksgiving, it also will have led to a multitude of legal claims by women who say they were sexually abused while serving time in the New York’s prisons and jails.
More than 2,500 lawsuits have been filed so far under the law, which created a year-long suspension of the usual time limit to sue over an alleged sexual assault.
Some of those lawsuits have targeted employers, or institutions such as hospitals, accused of failing to do enough to stop abuse by doctors or other workers. The large majority, though, have been filed against the state, New York City and local counties and involve allegations of abuse at state prisons and local jail systems.
Survivors called it an opportunity to finally be heard.
“For so long, I didn’t have a voice. And it didn’t matter, I thought. Like, who was I?” said Alexandria Johnson, who says she was raped multiple times while incarcerated in state prison and a New York City jail. “I have to keep going forward with this because it matters. … There’s so many stories, so many, not just mine.”
After Thursday, people will once again be barred from suing over abuse that happened many years ago.
New York was one of several states to revisit laws in recent years that set time limits for civil legal claims stemming from sexual assaults, though usually for people abused as children. Advocates say New York’s current window gives traumatized adults a chance to seek accountability from big institutions and powerful men who can use their wealth and position to shield themselves.
“The reason we fought so hard for this bill is because trauma takes time,” Safe Horizon CEO Liz Roberts said.
Precise counts for Adult Survivor Act filings were not yet available this week, but there were at least 2,587 electronic filings in state courts, with some lawsuits filed on behalf of multiple people. More than half those filings were prison-related claims against the state. Hundreds of additional filings named New York City’s corrections department.
The act was modeled after a previous New York law offering people abused as children a temporary window to file claims. By the time the Child Victims Act’s two-year window closed in August 2021, almost 11,000 people filed lawsuits, many involving the Roman Catholic Church.