Bill aims to open win­dow for adult sex abuse suits

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Tarinelli

ALBANY, N.Y. >> Churches, youth groups and schools were hit by a tsunami of law­suits in 2019 af­ter New York gave sur­vivors of child­hood sex­ual abuse a one-year win­dow to sue over al­le­ga­tions or­di­nar­ily barred by statutes of lim­i­ta­tion.

Now, some law­mak­ers want to open the same win­dow for peo­ple abused as adults, a move that could lay a path­way for peo­ple to file ad­di­tional law­suits against some high-pro­file men tar­geted in the #MeToo move­ment.

Sen. Brad Hoyl­man in­tro­duced the Adult Sur­vivors Act this au­tumn, say­ing sur­vivors of adult sex abuse de­serve their day in court.

“For too long, jus­tice has been out of reach for adult sur­vivors of sex­ual crimes,” Hoyl­man said in a state­ment.

The pro­posal would give abuse vic­tims a tem­po­rary, one-year pe­riod to sue over abuse that oc­curred when they were 18 years or older. Af­ter the year win­dow was up, the state statute of lim­i­ta­tions would be back in ef­fect.

New York is one of 15 states where rules have been en­acted to ex­tend or sus­pend the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for cer­tain past claims. The Child Vic­tims Act has led to hun­dreds of law­suits filed by peo­ple who say they were abused as chil­dren

but were pre­vi­ously barred from su­ing.

With child sex abuse sur­vivors be­ing able to sue, sup­port­ers say a “look­back” win­dow for peo­ple as­saulted as adults is a mat­ter of fair­ness.

“Why are they not en­ti­tled to seek jus­tice?” said Marissa Hoech­stet­ter, an ad­vo­cate for sur­vivors of sex­ual abuse, not­ing that law­suits al­low peo­ple to seek jus­tice if crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion is not fea­si­ble.

The leg­is­la­tion is ex­pected to be con­sid­ered this com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion, which starts Jan. 8.

The bill would tem­po­rar­ily set aside a tenet of civil lit­i­ga­tion, which is that cases spoil with age. The mem­o­ries of po­ten­tial wit­nesses fade. Records are lost or de­stroyed. Po­ten­tial wit­nesses move, mak­ing them harder to find and in­ter­view.

Eileen Buholtz, an at­tor­ney based in Rochester, said statutes of lim­i­ta­tions are also meant to give peo­ple clo­sure and re­move the fear of a po­ten­tial law­suit for the rest of their lives.

In New York, the time lim­its for fil­ing law­suits over sex­ual as­sault vary for adult vic­tims, de­pend­ing on the type of abuse and when the of­fense took place. Ear­lier this year, law­mak­ers ex­tended the time limit for fil­ing law­suits to 20 years for cer­tain sex crimes like sec­ond-de­gree rape and sec­ond-de­gree crim­i­nal sex­ual act, but those ex­ten­sions are not retroac­tive. For some peo­ple abused decades ago, the limit for a law­suit could have been as short as one year.

In­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing the Ro­man Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts have been hit hard by law­suits over old sex­ual abuse of chil­dren, but the Child Vic­tims Act has also led to law­suits against in­di­vid­u­als.

One such suit tar­geted Har­vey We­in­stein, who faces a law­suit from a for­mer model who ac­cused him of sex­u­ally abus­ing her when she was 16 years old.

The late mil­lion­aire Jef­frey Ep­stein, who killed him­self at a fed­eral jail, is the sub­ject of an­other law­suit un­der the act.

A fed­eral in­dict­ment ac­cused Ep­stein of pay­ing un­der­age girls hun­dreds of dol­lars in cash for mas­sages and then mo­lest­ing them at his homes in New York and Florida.

Sarah Ann Masse, an ac­tor and writer, is part of a group of women who sued We­in­stein in fed­eral court, over al­leged sex­ual mis­con­duct and ha­rass­ment. She says that when she went to his home in Con­necti­cut for a job in­ter­view, he met her in his un­der­wear and then pressed her to him in an un­com­fort­ably long hug.

We­in­stein has de­nied hav­ing il­le­gal sex­ual con­tact with any women.

Al­low­ing adult sur­vivors to bring law­suits can hold past abusers ac­count­able and de­ter fu­ture be­hav­ior, Masse said.

“This is the next step that needs to be taken,” she said of the leg­is­la­tion.

In a court fil­ing, at­tor­neys for We­in­stein ar­gued that Con­necti­cut’s statute of lim­i­ta­tions for per­sonal in­jury had al­ready ex­pired.

HANS PENNINK - AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

State Sen. Brad Hoyl­man, D-New York, speaks June 19 in the Se­nate Cham­ber at the state Capi­tol in Albany, N.Y. Hoyl­man in­tro­duced the Adult Sur­vivors Act this fall, say­ing sur­vivors of adult sex abuse de­serve their day in court.

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