- A New York law would give sexual assault survivors a year to sue beyond the statute of limitations.
- The Adult Survivors Act goes into effect on Thanksgiving and is likely to bring a flurry of cases.
- Insider spoke with a prospective litigant who says she was sexually assaulted by a prison guard in 1997.
A prison guard entered the women’s dormitory at the now-closed Bayview Correctional Institution in Manhattan and tapped BV, who was sleeping in a bunk, on the shoulder.
“I want you to go clean the bathroom.” he told her, according to BV’s recollection of the 1997 exchange.
BV asked if she could do it in the morning, but the guard insisted. So he went to the bathroom, got down on his knees and started cleaning the toilet. Moments later, the guard entered the bathroom, unzipped his jacket and forced BV to give him oral sex, she told Insider, 25 years after the alleged attack.
“I gagged and cried,” BV said. She said she thought about screaming to wake the other women, but didn’t.
Now, for the first time since the attack, she is preparing to hold her alleged attacker accountable.
New York’s Adult Survivors Act gives women a year from Thursday to file a complaint against an alleged perpetrator and others responsible for incidents of sexual assault committed at any point in their adult lives, starting at age 18, in New York state.
One notable lawsuit pending under the new law is against former President Donald Trump.
An attorney representing former Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll said she plans to sue Trump for assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress under the ASA.
Carroll accused Trump in 2019 of sexually assaulting her in a dressing room in the mid-1990s, but has so far only sued for defamation based on his response to her allegation.
Claims like Carroll’s are typically off limits because they fall outside the statute of limitations, which in New York was increased in 2019 to 20 years for civil lawsuits involving certain sex crimes. This barrier will now be lifted temporarily and there is no cap on damage.
The guard who she said sexually assaulted her then told her that if she told anyone, her weekend privileges would be revoked, which allowed her to leave the facility to visit family.
“Most women just want to get on with their lives,” said Anna Kull, a partner at Levy Konigsberg representing BV. “And that’s why it’s important to have a longer statute of limitations, because by the time a sexual assault survivor is ready. to face what happened to her and she is prepared to bring it to the attention of the legal system and initiate legal proceedings, it may be too late.”
No institution is safe
Kull said she expects hundreds of previously incarcerated women to come forward under the new law.
Each year from 2015 to 2019, there were hundreds of reports of alleged sexual abuse or abuse inside New York City Department of Corrections and Community Supervision facilities, according to data released by the agency.
“You really wouldn’t believe how many women have been sexually assaulted in the New York state prison system,” Kull said.
But she added that her company also expects cases against medical providers, institutions and individual doctors. And Lawrence Pearson, a partner at Wigdor LLP, told Insider that some of the lawsuits he expects will be filed against teachers and educational institutions, hospitals and religious centers.
“These cases not only name and hold accountable the individuals who engaged in sexual assault or other sexual abuse, but they also name the organizations, whether they are employers or other organizations that allowed or generally covered for the men who engaged in abusive behavior,” said the Pearson.
In a statement to Insider, DOCCS said it has “zero tolerance for sexual abuse, sexual harassment and unauthorized relationships” and “thoroughly investigates all reports of sexual victimization”.
The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, the organization that represents law enforcement personnel statewide, declined to comment.
The one-year period under the ASA means that there is a limited period for bringing claims.
A similar law, the Child Victims Act, was passed in 2019 and allowed survivors of child sexual abuse in New York a year to file claims that would otherwise have exceeded the statute of limitations.
Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the window for another year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing thousands of additional lawsuits. Nearly 11,000 lawsuits were filed during the two years the Child Victims Act was in effect.
The CVA may provide insight into how many lawsuits will be filed in response to the ASA this year, Pearson said.
“Under the ASA, the Adult Survivors Act, which covers people who were not minors when they were abused or assaulted, you’re clearly talking about a much larger population of potential plaintiffs and people who were assaulted or abused,” he said. “And therefore, the volume of claims is very likely [will be] it multiplies what the Child Victims Act was, even by two years, into the one year that the lookback period under the ASA will run.’
Imani’s Safehouse, a New York-based organization that supports incarcerated women, works to educate sexual assault survivors about the ASA.
Founder Jennifer Fecu told Insider that some women said they couldn’t remember their abuser’s name or expressed reluctance to relive the trauma of their abuse. Others didn’t believe the ASA really existed, Fecu said.
BV told Insider she had no idea the ASA existed until she stumbled upon it while investigating cases of police brutality.
The lack of awareness among survivors, combined with the limited timeline, likely means that only a fraction of sexual abuse survivors will actually follow through with filing lawsuits, attorneys told Insider.
“I don’t care how many cases a company has — it’s a small percentage of the actual number of women who experience sexual assault,” Kull said.
However, ASA still offers some hope for many, including BV
“I can’t believe they’re actually trying to show respect for the things they did to us,” BV said.