In 2019, the state legislature passed the Child Victims Act, which gave victims of childhood trauma a one-year period to sue institutions and individuals for compensation, even if the statute of limitations had expired.
Now, advocates want to take the next step, by passing the Adult Survivors Act, allowing a similar year-long window to sue, only for those who were over 18 when they suffered abuse.
“An arbitrary statute of limitations with a time to come forward to bring a case doesn’t necessarily work when it comes to traumatic experiences,” said Civil Court Judge Heela Capell. “And so what the Adult Survivors Act would do is give survivors that were over the age of 18 at the time of a sexual assault the opportunity to come forward now.”
Supporters say those who experience abuse as children are often also abused as young adults.
“The cycle of abuse starts in childhood and so often times those who are saying they’ve been harmed as adults were harmed as children,” explained Donna Hylton, the founder of the advocacy group A Little Piece of Light. “As people don’t really understand, predators know prey. And those that harm people know who to prey on.”
So far, the bill hasn’t gotten much traction in Albany. But supporters remain hopeful, even with less than ten scheduled legislative session days left.
The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, said it took 13 years to pass the Child Victims Act.
“It’s not the same opposition to the Child Victims Act that we experienced with the Boy Scouts, for example, the Catholic Church, the insurance companies. All of those institutional opposition,” Rosenthal said.
But less opposition hasn’t seemed to clear a path to automatic passage. Beyond legal recourse, survivors say the legislation gives them cover to speak out about abuse.
“I was sued for defamation for speaking about being a survivor of childhood sexual assault,” said Capell. “And because of the Child Victims Act, I was able to countersue using the Child Victims Act, so I had a shield.”
Most of the heavy lifting in Albany this year was done as part of the state budget, which passed in April. There are a number of outstanding issues lawmakers would like to resolve before the middle of next month, but it’s unclear how many big ticket items, like the Adult Survivors Act, will actually pass before the session ends June 10.