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Supporters press for passage of Adult Survivors Act in New York

 Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou speaks in favor of the Adult Survivors Act at a news conference in Albany on February 15th, 2022. To her right are Assembly sponsor Linda Rosenthal and Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman
Karen DeWitt NYS Public Radio
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Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou speaks in favor of the Adult Survivors Act at a news conference in Albany on February 15th, 2022. To her right are Assembly sponsor Linda Rosenthal and Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman

On the third anniversary of the passage of New York’s Child Victims Act, supporters of a measure that would give the same rights to adult survivors of sexual abuse said it’s time for the New York State Legislature to pass it.

The Child Victims Act, approved in 2019, opened up a one-year window for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to bring their alleged abusers to court, in some cases years after the statute of limitation laws expired. The window was extended a second year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns that made it harder to access the state’s court system.

The act’s sponsor in the Senate, Brad Hoylman, said many survivors -- including those who say they were abused as children by Catholic priests or Boy Scout leaders -- took advantage of the opportunity to be heard.

“10,857 cases (were) filed under the Child Victims Act,” Hoylman said. “That is an example of success.”

Linda Rosenthal, who is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly, said those legal rights need to be extended to adult survivors as well.

Rosenthal spoke as news came of a settlement in federal district court in Manhattan between Britain's Prince Andrew and a woman who accused him of sexual abuse. Rosenthal said Virginia Giuffre won in the court of public opinion, but she said other survivors need more tools to pursue justice.

“The prince had to pay, but what about all the people who have been sexually assaulted across the state of New York who have no venue?” Rosenthal asked.

Marissa Hoechstetter is one of hundreds of women who say they were sexually abused by gynecologist Robert Hadden, formerly a prominent fertility care specialist at Columbia University. Hadden later struck a plea deal with the Manhattan district attorney that did not include jail time. The U.S. Attorney and the Manhattan DA have since reopened the case.

Hoechstetter said the Adult Survivors Act is about returning some measure of power to survivors.

“We are not asking for the government to make a judgment about our claims,” Hoechstetter said. “We are asking to make those claims ourselves.”

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who supports the bill, is a survivor of childhood sexual assault. She said she and her immediate family kept the abuse quiet for two decades until she spoke about her ordeal during debate on the Assembly floor on the Child Victims Act.

“Statues of limitations are made up,” Niou said. “It took me over 20 years to even acknowledge that I had this something like this happen to me.”

The Adults Survivors Act has been approved unanimously in the Senate but has stalled in the Assembly.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul became the state’s chief executive after state Attorney General Tish James found former Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo denies the allegations, but he resigned last August.

Hochul, when asked about the Adults Survivors Act, said she supports the idea but is leaving it up to the Legislature to decide how to proceed.

“I look forward to working with the Legislature to achieve the objectives, but let's look at the language specifically,” Hochul said in answer to a reporter’s question on Monday.

Hoylman said Hochul has been supportive of anti-sexual assault measures, but he believes her active support could push the bill along.

“It’s always helpful when the governor weighs in on an issue before the Legislature,” Hoylman said. “But I’d also argue that we have a lot of momentum in both houses, too.”

Hoylman said that if the measure passes in both houses later this session, he believes the governor would sign it.

Copyright 2022 WXXI News. To see more, visit WXXI News.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.