By Tatiana Siegel
November 18, 2022
IN LATE FEBRUARY 2020, Evelyn Yang gathered at Foley Square in Manhattan with a handful of survivors in the hopes of pulling off something unprecedented. Her husband, Andrew Yang, had recently wrapped his presidential campaign, and all of the travel and scheduling demands that went along with that bid had subsided. On that sunny but cold day, she and Weinstein accuser Ambra Gutierrez and a couple of legislators were focused on launching a bill in New York dubbed the Adult Survivors Act. If it passed, New York would become the first state in the nation to offer adult victims of sexual offenses the opportunity to file legal claims that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations. It was a bustling afternoon downtown, and it marked one of the last in-person meetings that she attended before the Covid lockdown.
“The odds were against us,” says Yang. “But we were just relentless, and we were a powerful group. And we were emboldened because we were doing something that was brand new.”
For Yang, sexual abuse was a personal issue. She recently had revealed to CNN that she was assaulted by her former gynecologist Robert A. Hadden, who pleaded guilty in 2016 to sexually abusing 19 women. Still, Yang wasn’t thinking about her own plight that day as the lunchtime crowd in Foley Square began to thin. After all, her case was within the statute of limitations. But there are now more than 200 Hadden accusers, and she was well aware of the fact that the vast majority of their cases fell outside of the statute.
“These women were told, ‘Come through the door. Your voice matters.’ But then the door was slammed in their face, and they were told, ‘Oh, you’re too late, actually,’” Yang explains. “I just couldn’t live with that.”
Fast forward three years, and the Adult Survivors Act has been signed into law by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, with a yearlong window opening on Nov. 24 that allows victims to sue their abusers as well as the institutions that protected sexual predators. In the Hadden case, Columbia University and its affiliated hospitals recently reached a $165 million settlement with 147 patients of the former gynecologist, but Yang says that isn’t nearly enough.
“To this day, Columbia has been refusing to notify former patients to let them know that their former OB-GYN is a convicted sex felon or even that he lost his medical license or something to just signal to these patients that, ‘Wait a second. Maybe that thing I thought he did actually happened to me,’” Yang says.
In an effort to get the word out on this yearlong window, Yang and other high-profile survivors like music executive Drew Dixon have teamed with Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization, to launch a PSA as well as a massive Times Square billboard.
“Trauma takes time,” says New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, who was one of the ASA’s biggest champions, tells Rolling Stone on why this second chance is so vital for victims. “And we see that for some survivors, many decades after the incident occurred when they understand what happened to them that they have the wherewithal and resolve to move forward with a lawsuit.”
The New York ASA mirrors the 2019 Child Victims Act, which spawned more than 10,000 civil lawsuits in New York during the two years the filing window was open, including that of Weinstein accuser Kaja Sokola, who was 16 when she says she was sexually assaulted by the one-time film mogul.
Dixon, who says Russell Simmons raped her in 1994 and shared her harrowing story in a lengthy New York Times feature and in the acclaimed HBO Max documentary On the Record, joined Yang in pushing for the passage of the ASA, more for the benefit of other survivors than for herself. She is focused on making sure other survivors are aware of the window and is still deciding whether or not she will use the ASA for herself to sue those against whom she has claims.
“Like so many survivors, I now have this opportunity,” Dixon notes. “But unlike so many survivors, I’ve also had the opportunity to have my story told and vetted at a very high level by rigorous third party media outlets, which is not available to survivors whose perpetrator isn’t famous. And so, for them, this would be their first opportunity to set the record straight.”
A number of women have already signaled that they will use the ASA to file claims, most notably journalist E. Jean Carroll, whose lawyers told a judge that she plans to sue former President Donald Trump later this month. (She says Trump raped her at a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s.) Many others are expected to utilize the window, and the floodgates will open over the next 12 months.
“I think there will be thousands of cases, and some of them will be high profile, and some of them won’t. And they’re all really, really important,” says Safe Horizon’s Liz Roberts. “But yeah, I think there will be some high profile cases. There’s a lot of history in New York.”
For Yang, the PSA offered a full-circle moment after three years of false starts (in 2021, the bill passed in the Senate, but the Assembly failed to bring it to a vote), organizing virtual press conferences, knocking on doors and “yelling at a lot of folks on social media,” she says with a laugh. When the team at Safe Horizon emailed her the PSA’s rough cut, she watched it alone in her home, and the tears began to flow.
“They shot the B roll of all of us talking and commiserating,” she says. “And there was joy on our faces and this sense of like holding the space with each other for each other and this communion of survivors and the power of what we can accomplish. It captured a really celebratory day, and the PSA just took me back to it. And now we can tell the world that the door is open.”