By Maiysha Kai
October 27, 2021
“Before we take on our abusers, survivors must take all the time we need to heal,” says Drew Dixon, the acclaimed music exec who was among several women to go public with rape allegations against Russell Simmons in the documentary On the Record. During a press conference at the New York offices of victim’s services nonprofit Safe Horizon on Tuesday, Dixon stood alongside fellow survivors Evelyn Yang, who was abused by disgraced Columbia University OB/GYN Robert Hadden; and Donna Hylton, the once-incarcerated author of A Little Piece of Light: A Memoir of Hope, Prison, and a Life Unbound and founder of a nonprofit of the same name, who was abused both before and during her incarceration.
Together, they advocated for the Adult Survivors Act (ASA), a New York State bill which “would provide time-barred survivors who were over the age of 18 with a one-year lookback window to sue their abuser—or the institution that protected them—in civil court,” according to a release provided to The Root.
After passing unanimously in the NYS Senate last spring, the bill has since stalled in the Assembly, despite having over 50 co-sponsors from across the state. The ASA is modeled after the Child Victims Act, (CVA), which was passed by the Assembly three years ago with a lookback window extended an additional year in 2020 to accommodate court system delays caused by COVID-19. “More than 10,000 cases in New York were filed under the Child Victims Act by the time the window closed earlier this year,” noted the release, adding: “If passed, adult survivors would have one year in which to file a civil claim—no matter how long ago the abuse happened—even if the statute of limitations has expired.”
The ASA applies to Article 130 crimes, including Rape 2 and 3, criminal sex acts, among others and incest offenses in Section 255. Just like the Child Victims Act, the ASA would also waive the 90 day notice of claim requirement to bring a case against a public institution.
According to the science of trauma, it can take survivors years — even decades — to process sexual abuse. When those survivors are ready to come forward, it may be too late due to restrictive statute of limitations on sex crimes. For some survivors who may have reported within the statute of limitation, but failed to get a resolution in the criminal justice system the ASA provides a further pathway to justice.
The ASA will create new paths to justice for survivors who were denied access to our courts because of an artificially narrow statute of limitations. The bill will give all survivors, including people who were formerly incarcerated, individuals abused by an intimate partner, and disabled survivors, a much-needed chance to hold their abusers accountable.
For survivors, that opportunity could be a game-changer; allowing them more time to process their trauma and to decide if and how they want to respond.
“Its impact will be immense, measured not only by the sheer number of lives it will help but also measured by the dignity it will restore for victims who were robbed of their confidence, self-worth and vision for the future,” said Hylton in a statement.
“I remained silent for decades, because I was mindful of the myth of the dangerous, predatory Black man,” Dixon shared on Tuesday, later adding, “I’m sure that I am not the only Black woman whose sense of loyalty to my race delayed her decision to come forward. It took me 22 years to be ready to say out loud that I was raped by Russell Simmons. Survivors face so many obstacles on our lifelong journey to healing, so I hope that the New York State Assembly and Governor Hochul will pass the Adult Survivors Act to put time on our side.”
As noted in the press release, survivors of color are especially vulnerable to miscarriages of justice, as their abuse often goes unreported.
Survivors of color face unique barriers to seeking justice, as recent news surrounding R. Kelly and Bill Cosby underscores. R. Kelly was convicted last month, nearly 30 years after he married the 15-year-old singer Aaliyah and continued to abuse dozens of Black and brown women and men. Women of color are more likely to be abused, but are less likely to report, in large part due to longstanding mistrust of the criminal justice system. More than 20 percent of Black women are raped during their lifetimes, a higher share than among women overall, but only one in every 15 Black women report their abuse.
“Abuse impacts every part of a survivor’s life: Our relationships, our careers and our health. But most survivors will never get the chance to hold their abusers accountable,” said Lizette Martinez, who is among R. Kelly’s accusers, in a statement. “That’s because across the country, our statutes of limitations on sexual violence have no connection to the lived experience of being a survivor, and even less so if you’re a woman of color.” she urged.
Dixon’s lived experience proves Martinez’s point. “I walked away from a career where I excelled because I was raped and sexually harassed, while trying to do my job,” she explained in a statement. “I stayed silent about my experience for decades because as a Black woman, I didn’t want to expose two heroes in my community as a sexual predators, but every victim of sexual assault in every industry and in every setting deserves a pathway to accountability and justice.”
“We work with survivors of sexual assault every day. Each survivor faces a difficult path forward—but the obstacles women of color face are even greater,” said CEO of Safe Horizon Liz Roberts. “Outdated statutes of limitations mean that survivors have missed the opportunity to take legal action before they ever even tell someone what happened to them. Passage of the Adult Survivors Act will give survivors—especially survivors of color—an important path to justice and healing.”