June 16, 2024

By Nadine YousifBBC News

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The Adult Survivors Act was passed in 2022 to give victims of historic sexual assaults a chance to come forward

A legal deadline has prompted a rush of sexual assault lawsuits against high-profile figures including Axl Rose, Sean “Diddy” Combs and New York Mayor Eric Adams.

The list of names has grown this week, with some being accused of abuse that allegedly took place decades ago.

That’s in part because a New York law, the Adult Survivors Act, is due to expire on Friday.

Here’s what to know.

What is the Adult Survivors Act?

The law, which was signed by New York Governor Kathy Hochul last year, temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for people filing a sexual assault complaint.

It was enacted in November 2022 for a one year period.

The act gives people a “lookback window” on sexual assault that took place before the 20-year legal statute of limitations. This means civil lawsuits on historic sex crimes can be filed for a limited time.

It specifically applies to people who were victims of an assault when they were an adult over the age of 18.

The act is modelled after a similar one for children, called the Child Victims Act, which was passed in 2019 in New York.

Why was it passed?

The act was passed to acknowledge the impact of trauma on sexual assault survivors, and how it may delay people from coming forward to the legal system at the time of the incident.

Joanne Zannoni, the executive director of the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said it offers survivors a window of opportunity to hold their alleged abusers accountable.

“This can be an important part of survivors’ healing,” Ms Zannoni said.

When signing the law, Governor Hochul called it “an important step in empowering survivors”.

New York State has also enacted other measures designed to help survivors come forward, such as extending the statute of limitations from three years to 20 years for a select number of sex crimes in 2019.

That extension, however, only applies to new cases and is not retroactive.

What lawsuits have been filed?

The Adult Survivors Act has prompted a rush of historic sexual assault claims in New York, including several high-profile cases.

Diddy, the American rapper whose legal name is Sean Combs, has been sued three separate times in the lead-up to Friday’s deadline.

New York’s Mayor Eric Adams, meanwhile, was sued for an alleged assault that occurred in 1993. So was former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. A former aide has alleged Mr Cuomo groped her while she worked in his office.

All three have denied the claims against them. Mr Combs reached a settlement in one of the cases filed against him by his ex-girlfriend, singer Cassie.

Other celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Axl Rose have also been sued. Both deny the allegations against them.

Former President Donald Trump was also sued by writer E Jean Carroll under the law. She accused him of sexually assaulting her in a Manhattan department store in 1996.

A judge ruled in Ms Carroll’s favour and ordered Mr Trump to pay her $5m (£3.9m) in damages.

While these cases make headlines, the law has also enabled hundreds of people who are not high-profile, or accusing a high-profile person, to file historic sexual assault lawsuits.

It is estimated that more than 2,500 legal actions have been filed since the lookback window was opened last year.

Do other states have similar laws?

Yes.

In California, for example, a lookback window for historic sex abuse cases opened in January 2023 for four years. It applies to people who were victims of sexual assault when they were adult that occurred any time from January 2009 to the present.

New Jersey also enacted a two-year window in December 2019, which applies to people who were both children or adults at the time of the abuse.

Other states have focused similar laws on survivors of child sex abuse. Vermont and Maine removed their statute of limitations indefinitely for those cases.

Earlier this year, Nevada removed its statute of limitations for adult victims looking to file a civil lawsuit against their alleged abusers.



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