ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A special New York law has paved the way for a year-long wave of headline-grabbing lawsuits against famous men accused of sexual misconduct, including former President Donald Trump and hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy Combs and comedian and actor Russell Brand.
But when the Adult Survivors Act expires after Thanksgiving, it will also have given rise to a flurry of legal claims from women who say they were sexually abused during their time in New York City jails and prisons.
More than 2,500 lawsuits have been filed so far under the law, which resulted in a one-year suspension of the usual deadline for lawsuits alleging sexual assault.
Some of these lawsuits were against employers or institutions such as hospitals that were accused of not doing enough to stop mistreatment by doctors or other workers. But the vast majority have been filed against the state, New York City and local counties and involve allegations of abuse in state prisons and local prison systems.
Survivors called it an opportunity to finally be heard.
“I didn’t have a voice for so long. And it doesn’t matter, I thought. “Who was I?” said Alexandria Johnson, who says she was raped multiple times while incarcerated in state prison and in a New York prison. “I have to keep doing this because it’s important. … There are so many stories, so many, not just mine.”
Starting Thursday, people will again be banned from suing over abuse that occurred many years ago.
New York was one of several states to revise laws in recent years that set deadlines for civil claims related to sexual assault, although typically for people who were abused as children. Advocates say New York’s current window gives traumatized adults a chance to demand accountability from big institutions and powerful men who can use their wealth and position to protect themselves.
“The reason we fought so hard for this bill is because trauma takes time,” said Safe Horizon CEO Liz Roberts.
Exact numbers on Adult Survivor Act filings were not available this week, but there were at least 2,587 electronic filings in state courts, with some lawsuits filed on behalf of multiple people. More than half of those filings were prison-related lawsuits against the state. Hundreds more filings named the New York City Department of Corrections.
The law was modeled on an earlier New York law that gave people who were abused as children a temporary avenue to file a claim. When the Child Victims Act’s two-year period ended in August 2021, nearly 11,000 people filed lawsuits, many of them involving the Roman Catholic Church.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said the original law “forgot” people who suffered the same kind of abuse as adults. She signed a new law on November 24, 2022, giving adult survivors a one-year window.
A series of high-profile lawsuits followed.
One of the first lawsuits after the window was opened was against Trump. A jury in May found the former president guilty of sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll in 1996 and awarded her $5 million. Trump has denied the accusation.
Harvey Weinstein was sued last month by actress Julia Ormond, who accused the former film producer of sexually abusing her in 1995 and subsequently hindering her career. Weinstein, who was convicted of rape in New York and California, denied the allegations through his lawyer.
Grammy-winning music executive Antonio “LA” Reid was sued by Drew Dixon, who worked for Reid when he was CEO of Arista Records. She says Reid sexually assaulted her twice in 2001, including an incident on a private plane. No attorney for Reid was listed in the electronic filings.
Combs was accused in a lawsuit last week by R&B singer Cassie of subjecting her to a long-term relationship that included beatings and rape. A day after the filing, the two artists announced an agreement. Combs denied the allegations.
Brand was accused in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting a film extra during the filming of “Arthur” in 2010. British media in September published claims from four women who said they were sexually abused by Brand, who says his relationships were “always consensual.” ”
Bill Cosby was accused in a lawsuit more than 50 years ago of sexually abusing a young comedy writer. Joan Tarshis initially made the allegations against Cosby in 2014 that are contained in the new lawsuit. A Cosby spokesman did not address the specifics of Tarshis’ claims, but asked, in light of recent lawsuits against famous men, “When will it stop?”
The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually abused unless they agree to be identified or choose to tell their stories publicly, as Carroll, Ormond, Dixon, Tarshis and Cassie did have done.
Many other lawsuits allege assaults by relatively unknown people in everyday places. A woman claimed in a lawsuit against a spa that she was fondled by a masseuse. Another woman checking in airline passengers sued her employer alleging abuse by a manager.
The flood of lawsuits alleging assaults behind bars highlights what attorney Adam Slater called a “widespread and systemic” problem of assaults on inmates. His firm said it has filed more than 1,200 claims alleging abuse in state prisons and more than 470 cases alleging abuse at New York’s Rikers Island complex.
Anna Kull, who represents Johnson, expects up to 600 cases to be filed related to assaults in prisons and jails.
“Just a shocking number of cases where male correctional officers sexually abused female inmates,” Kull said.
Johnson’s lawsuit against New York City says she was raped in her Rikers Island cell by four correctional officers in 2014 while she was being held for violating her probation on a drug charge. A separate lawsuit against the state said she was raped several times by a guard while she was pregnant in 2015 at a state prison north of the city. The lawsuit says the latest attack resulted in premature rupture of her membranes and the loss of her baby.
Johnson said she is still dealing with the trauma.
“I had big dreams, the hope that we would go to kindergarten and that I would get out and raise my son and get my life together,” she said. “They took that away from me.”
Lawyers for the state and city have denied the allegations in court filings and asked that the two lawsuits be dismissed. City and state corrections departments each said they have a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual abuse.
Dozens of other people have sued medical providers over the past year alleging mistreatment by doctors.
Attorney Mallory Allen represents more than 100 men who say they were taken by Dr. Darius Paduch, a New York-area urologist who specializes in men’s reproductive health. Paduch is also accused of abusing patients.
A former patient, James O’Connell, said he sued a hospital system over alleged abuse by Paduch after seeing an early morning television commercial from a law firm seeking potential plaintiffs. He hopes his action will help bring about change.
“I have nephews. I have a son. If there’s something I can do to make sure that there’s far less chance of something like this ever happening to them, then I’ll do whatever it takes,” O’Connell said.