If you’re a survivor of sexual assault looking to pursue justice under the Adult Survivors Act, read this Q&A to find out more.
On May 24, 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Adult Survivors Act (ASA) into law, which gives survivors of sexual assault an opportunity to heal and seek justice.
The Adult Survivors Act creates a special one-year look-back window to allow survivors whose case or claim expired outside the statute of limitations, and who were 18 or older when they were sexually assaulted in New York State, to file a lawsuit against the person who harmed them and/or the negligent institution.
The one-year window will begin on November 24, 2022 and will allow survivors to sue, even if they were already outside of the civil statute of limitations.
Before reading this FAQ:
- The first section has specific information about filing under the Adult Survivors Act. If you’re a survivor of sexual assault looking to learn more about how to pursue justice under the Adult Survivors Act including the legal process, how to pick a lawyer, etc., we recommend you start there.
- The second section was designed to provide answers to a broader range of questions. If you want a more general understanding to see if pursuing a lawsuit under the Adult Survivors Act is right for you, click here to jump forward to that section.
Q: What Should Sexual Assault Survivors Expect if Filing a Lawsuit Under the Adult Survivors Act Lookback Window?
The transparent answer is that, for many survivors, bringing a lawsuit is hard, even if the end result is satisfying.
Many find filing a lawsuit emotionally difficult because it can feel like engaging in combat with the person who has caused intense trauma and/or the institution defending them.
Abusers have the right to defend themselves and this usually involves attacking the survivors’ credibility, memory, and shaming them for waiting so long to come forward. Even the settlement process can be frustrating as there is a lot of back and forth.
In essence, survivors should be aware of the realities and have a support system they can rely on.
Q: I’m a Survivor and I Want to File a Lawsuit Under the Adult Survivors Act – What Should I do Next?
Since every sexual offense may not qualify under the Adult Survivors Act, you should speak with a lawyer who can help determine whether or not you have a case. It may also be helpful to look through Article 130 which lists all the crimes under the Adult Survivors Act.
When you speak to a lawyer, you will have to give details about what you actually experienced – the abuse incidents themselves – which can be difficult to talk about with a stranger.
Q: How do I Decide on a Lawyer? What Kind of Lawyer Should I Use?
Look for a lawyer who has experience working on cases involving sexual abuse and assault. A lawyer who has handled cases that are similar to yours can help navigate any issues that may arise in your case. Find a lawyer who you feel that you can trust. For more guidance on how to pick a lawyer, our experts created this guide.
Q: How do I find a lawyer?
Safe Horizon cannot recommend specific lawyers or firms but can refer you to look at the Crime Victim Bar Association page.
If you are not sure if you want to file a lawsuit under the Adult Survivors Act and are looking for more general information, here are some questions to ask.
Pursuing legal action is a very personal decision. Survivors may want to hold the person who harmed them and/or the institution that enabled that person accountable in the eyes of the law. Some survivors feel that it’s a way to get others to understand that there is no one way that sexual assault happens.
Q: Could a Survivor be Sued for Suing?
It is possible. They may file a counterclaim, most likely for defamation for “harming their reputation.”
Q: Will the Survivor Owe Money if they Lose?
It depends. If the court finds the case valid and there aren’t valid counterclaims against the survivor, then chances are that they won’t owe money.
Q: Can Survivors Sue Anonymously
It is possible but it isn’t guaranteed. At the very onset of the case, lawyers can file motions to proceed anonymously. Most lawsuits are filed publicly, and the legal papers are accessible, but there can be exceptions in cases where the plaintiff is a sexual assault survivor. There’s also just a journalistic code of conduct where journalists do not say the name of plaintiffs in sexual assault cases unless they have previously discussed the case themselves.
Q: What if there is no Evidence of What Happened?
Evidence or what we call “corroborated evidence”, or “corroboration” is sometimes needed and sometimes not needed. Typically, abusers don’t abuse their victims in the presence of anybody else so it can be hard to come by.
Examples of this include witnesses the survivor spoke to, notes, diary or journal entries, text messages, emails, letters, and photographs.
Q: What if the Abuser who Caused Harm Passes or Passed Away?
Although you cannot sue a dead person, you can sue their estate if they have one. The estate must be open and have a personal representative.
For example, in clergy abuse cases the diocese was sued, and even though the majority of the priests had passed away, the churches were sued as an institution.