Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law Tuesday allowing adult survivors of sexual crimes the chance to sue their attackers or institutions that harbored them regardless of when the offense took place.
The state Assembly approved the Adult Survivors Act by a vote of 140-3 on Monday, a month after the state Senate approved it unanimously.
The new law will temporarily lift the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits related to sex offenses perpetrated on someone who was at least 18 years of age, providing a one-year window for those people to sue. It follows the similar Child Victims Act, which lawmakers enacted in 2019 and resulted in thousands of lawsuits that otherwise would have been barred.
"So those who thought they got away with horrific crimes they committed, I just have one message: Your time is up," Hochul said in the Capitol's Red Room. "Your victims will see you in court. And you will be brought to justice.”
The one-year lookback period will begin six months from when Hochul signed the bill.
Hochul, the first woman to serve as New York governor, was joined by the sponsors of the legislation and sexual-assault survivors who pushed for its approval, including Marissa Hoechstetter -- one of dozens of women to accuse New York City gynecologist of abuse -- and Drew Dixon, a former record company executive who says hip hop mogul Russell Simmons raped her in 1995. (Simmons denied the claim whenDixon went public with her story in 2017.)
Advocates for survivors of sex crimes had been pushing the measure for years, arguing that sexual trauma often takes time to process. The state’s statute of limitations often expires before survivors are ready to move forward, they argued.
"It took me 22 years before I was ready to speak publicly about what happened to me in the music industry, because trauma takes time," Dixon said. "And the last thing I wanted as a 24-year-old Black woman was to call out the king of hip hop as a sexual predator."
The bill applies to anything classified as a sex offense under state law, which ranges from misdemeanor forcible touching to first-degree rape, a class B felony. It also applies to incest crimes. The measure only lifts the statute of limitations for civil claims, not criminal charges.
The Democrat-led Senate unanimously approved the measure last year, but the Assembly – also led by Democrats – failed to put it to a vote. After the Senate passed the measure again this year, the Assembly followed suit, choosing to pass it with less than two weeks left in the state’s annual legislative session.
“There is much work to be done, but today the Adult Survivors Act will do so much to help put survivors on the path to healing,” said Manhattan Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat, who sponsored the measure. Manhattan Sen. Brad Hoylman sponsored the bill in the Senate.
The vote Monday followed an emotional news conference at the Capitol earlier in the day where multiple state lawmakers told their own stories of being survivors of sexual assault, some sharing publicly for the first time – just as four lawmakers did when they approved the Child Victims Act in in 2019.
Among them was Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas of Queens, who said she was the survivor of a rape 25 years ago.
“I’m so grateful that this will be a decision that each survivor will be able to make for themselves, to allow them to live their life with some semblance of dignity, some semblance of justice, and some semblance of healing,” she said on the Assembly floor.
The bill received broad bipartisan support, though three Republicans voted against it.
Assemblymember Andy Goodell, a western New York Republican, raised a number of concerns over the measure, noting the state has limitations on when lawsuits can be filed in order to maintain due process. There are also questions of the complications decades-old lawsuits could cause for institutions and their insurers, he said.
“All of a sudden you say, ‘You can go back 30 years,’” Goodell said. “That insurance company may not provide coverage, may not exist anymore. So that’s another reason we have reasonable statute of limitations.”
The bill drew praise from the Sexual Harassment Working Group, a collection of legislative workers who experienced or witnessed harassment by state lawmakers.
“Trauma-informed laws, like the ASA, recognize that for many survivors, there are often significant barriers before accountability and justice are an option; at times the survivor must first achieve the physical and economic safety to pursue a lawsuit,” the group wrote in a statement. “This is on top of the years it can take to psychologically process the experiences and the resulting harms.”