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The New York Adult Survivors Act is ending next week

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There's a big deadline coming up on Thanksgiving in the state of New York. November 23 - that's next Thursday - is the last day of a one-year window when adult survivors of sexual assault may sue their alleged abusers, regardless of when the abuse allegedly occurred. Earlier this year, that window allowed E. Jean Carroll to bring and win damages in a lawsuit against Donald Trump which was related to an incident in the mid-1990s. The window also just allowed the R&B singer Cassie to sue her former long-term partner, the music mogul Sean Combs, also known as Diddy. Her lawsuit alleges rape and a pattern of abuse.

A state law in New York known as the Adult Survivors Act, which was signed just last year, makes all of this possible. And here to talk more about that law is attorney Mariann Wang. She's represented many clients seeking justice for sexual abuse before and after this law was passed. And she's with us now. Welcome.

MARIANN WANG: Thank you so much for having me, Ailsa.

CHANG: Well, thanks for being with us. So I am curious - how much are you and other lawyers seeing an uptick in clients bringing lawsuits under this law as this deadline is quickly approaching?

WANG: There's definitely been a significant increase and a lot of people just calling and trying to find out what their rights are and, you know, deciding for themselves whether or not they want to pursue something. But it has been, really, a remarkable period of time.

CHANG: And do you have a sense of how much of a difference this law has made in terms of how many more lawsuits have been filed the last year compared to previous years, when statutes of limitations could not be circumvented?

WANG: There's definitely been a very significant increase in filings during this year. Many others are empowered to confront and threaten either their abuser or sometimes institutions behind that abuser to try to resolve the matter even before filing. So there are also a number of cases against institutions. So, for example, there was a recent filing against Columbia University because there's a doctor who was employed by their health care system for years who engaged in abuse. For instance, under the Adult Survivors Act, many of those survivors were able to file cases against Columbia.

CHANG: Can we talk about why this law was passed in the first place? What were the shortcomings that people saw and wanted to address by opening up this additional one-year window?

WANG: The answer is really that it was - it's a recognition that victims of sexual assault and survivors of sexual trauma were gaslit or told that they should let bygones be bygones. So for so long, the law had draconian limits on how women could pursue justice. And so even though that has changed over time and there has been an extension of the statute of limitations over time, this is a recognition that women from decades ago who may not have had the wherewithal or the understanding or were still so wrapped up in their own grief and shame...

CHANG: And trauma.

WANG: ...From the assault - that they can now examine it and ponder it and consider bringing their perpetrators to justice and give them that power of that choice.

CHANG: Exactly. But is an additional just one-year window enough? You raise many, many important reasons why survivors of sexual assault struggle with coming forward. So is just adding on a one-year window enough to address that larger challenge?

WANG: I don't think it is enough. I think that lawmakers do understand that there are a lot more considerations than just immediately requiring somebody to meet a deadline. And I do think that going forward, I'm hopeful that both New York and other states will be more understanding and either open more windows or change statutes of limitations going forward.

CHANG: Mariann Wang of the law firm Cuti Hecker Wang, thank you so much for joining us today.

WANG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Megan Lim
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.