Wave of sex abuse lawsuits seen as NY opens door to victims

ALBANY, NY — Victims of sexual assault in New York will have a unique opportunity to continue their abuse starting Thursday, under a new law that is expected to spark a wave of allegations against prison guards, middle managers, doctors and a few personalities, including former President Donald Trump. .

For one year, the state will waive normal time limits for bringing sex crimes prosecutions, allowing survivors to seek compensation for assaults that occurred years or even decades ago.

Advocates say the Adult Survivors Act is an important step in national judgment on sexual misconduct and could provide a measure of justice for people who may have needed time to come forward due to trauma , embarrassment or fear of reprisal.

“I feel like I’ve been in prison for almost three decades,” said Liz Stein, 49, who says she was abused by millionaire and notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein when she was a young woman. “And it’s long overdue for me and the other victims to be freed from this prison we’ve been in, and for those responsible to be held accountable.”

The law is modeled after the State’s Child Victims Act, which opened a two-year window in 2019 in which nearly 11,000 people sued churches, hospitals, schools, camps, scout groups and other institutions for abuse they said they suffered as children.

Most states that have opened such windows have done so only for those abused in childhood, although adults in New Jersey have included.

New York will begin accepting electronic deposits on Thanksgiving Day, six months after Governor Kathy Hochul signed the law. The lawyers say they have received calls from people considering lawsuits, mostly women.

“I think there will be a lot of women who say, ‘I think that’s me. Because I think what happened at that Christmas party in 1998 was wrong. And I don’t couldn’t tell anyone at the time. And they want to tell somebody,” attorney Jeanne Christensen said.

Legal action has already been promised on behalf of hundreds of women who say they were sexually abused while serving time in state prisons.

Other cases could come from students assaulted by professors, athletes assaulted by coaches, or workers assaulted by bosses.

A lawsuit against Trump is expected from E. Jean Carroll, longtime advice columnist for Elle magazine, who claims he raped her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s.

Trump denies the allegation, saying Carroll made up the sale of a book. Carroll is already suing Trump for defamation, saying his denials and derogatory comments to the media damaged his reputation.

Claims can be made against negligent institutions and the estates of deceased persons. Some are expected from women who have been inspired to come forward by the #MeToo movement, only to be told too much time has passed to take legal action.

It is not clear that there will be as many prosecutions as there have been under the Child Victims Act. This law has attracted many advocates because of the possibility of verdicts against deep-pocketed institutions involved in the care or education of children.

Stein’s lawsuit, which will be filed by his lawyer, Margaret Mabie, will be against Epstein’s longtime girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, and other parties. Stein was working at a store in Manhattan in 1994 when she met Maxwell, who introduced her to Epstein.

Maxwell is serving a 20-year sentence for helping Epstein sexually abuse underage girls. Maxwell’s attorneys did not immediately respond to an email request for comment. Epstein committed suicide in prison in 2019 after his arrest for sex trafficking.

In addition to the high-profile claims, there will be “many, many more” cases that go unpublicized, said Liz Roberts, CEO of nonprofit victim aid Safe Horizon. Roberts said for many survivors, just telling their story can be healing.

“I’m just starting to find my voice, and I’m learning how powerful it can be,” said Laurie Maldonado, one of dozens of women who say they were sexually assaulted during exams by the New York gynecologist. Robert Hadden.

Hadden gave up his medical license after being convicted in 2016 of sex-related charges in state court. He pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sexually abusing numerous young and unsuspecting female patients for more than two decades.

The medical institutions that Hadden employed, Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian, have already resolved claims for 225 women, including a group of 147 who recently settled $165 million. They said in a statement that they remain open to settling other claims “irrespective of the Adult Survivors Act.”

While the Child Victims Act received a lot of publicity when its window opened in 2019, some advocates worry that too few people would know about the one that’s opening up to adults.

Safe Horizon launched a public awareness campaign featuring survivors last week, including a public service announcement and press conference in Times Square.

“We just realize that a year is a short time,” Roberts said.

ABC News

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