ALBANY, NY – Drew Dixon hasn’t spoken about what happened to her for 22 years.
But in 2017, she joined a chorus of women who, for the first time, gave voice to some of the worst experiences of their lives. For Ms. Dixon, that meant going to the DailyExpertNews with a long-suppressed claim that media mogul Russell Simmons had raped her.
The response was swift and seismic: broad media coverage, conversations on Twitter, a documentary. There was solidarity, resistance and ultimately a sense of peace.
But there would be no criminal case or trial against Mr. Simmons: the statute of limitations for both had long passed in the two decades that Mrs. Dixon kept her silence.
But Mrs. Dixon will soon have the opportunity to pursue her case again.
The State Assembly passed by an overwhelming majority on Monday the Adult Survivors Act, which provides adult victims, who were 18 years of age or older at the time of the alleged abuse, such as Ms. Dixon, a one-time opportunity to file civil lawsuits in New York, even if there are any. statute of limitations has expired. The bill, expected to be signed by Governor Kathy Hochul, mirrors New York’s Child Victims Act and gives adult survivors a one-year window to file a lawsuit.
Proponents described the measure as an act of “restorative justice” that would provide victims with a measure of responsibility and compensation, while discouraging individuals and institutions from turning a blind eye in the future.
The passage of the bill goes against the sexist reputation of the State Capitol, where stories of sexual harassment and assault have long haunted the halls, leading to the formation of a sexual harassment working group made up of former lawmakers who say sexual harassment. experienced or reported harassment. harassment in Albania. And with high-profile political figures, such as former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, resigning over sexual misconduct allegations, it seems possible the New York government itself will see some legal liability, if the bill passes law. is becoming.
The Adult Survivors Act passed through the state Senate last year but stalled in the Assembly, a fate proponents hoped to avoid this year. To that end, they campaigned fervently in favor of the measure, calling and writing to lawmakers, and repeatedly flocking to Albany for press conferences.
In April, the bill passed unanimously in the state Senate, and it passed on Monday by a vote of 140 to 3.
The Child Victims Act, passed in 2019, created a similar retrospective for people who were under 18 at the time of the alleged abuse. It resulted in more than 10,000 lawsuits being filed, according to the Office of Court Administration, which administers the state court system.
Proponents fought for 13 years to pass that legislation, battling institutional opposition from the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church, among others, who feared legal exposure. They were right to be concerned: Both sought bankruptcy protection, in part because of the financial burden of lawsuits.
The bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, Linda B. Rosenthal of the Upper West Side, said the current laws are a holdover from a time when sexual abuse laws were written to protect abusers.
“It’s no secret why many survivors don’t come forward,” Ms Rosenthal said. “They are afraid of reprisals. They harbor shame. They worry about the consequences for themselves and their loved ones. Or they feel that no one will believe them.”
Some, like Ms. Dixon, may have felt they had to choose between coming forward and building a career.
“There was no way I could have survived my career if I had proclaimed the king of hip-hop,” Ms. Dixon, a music producer, said of Mr. Simmons, who denies the charges. “It would be over. And I wanted to do what I liked because I was good at it.”
Ms. Dixon has not yet decided whether she will file a lawsuit. But she welcomed the prospect of other survivors finding in the civil court a measure of justice she had found in the court of public opinion. She added: “All survivors deserve the chance to be heard and examined with the rigor this would make available so that it’s not just ‘he said, she said’.”
She believes the bill will give older survivors, especially those who have achieved a measure of success and stability, a reason to make their voices heard — helping them bear some of the burden currently borne by more recent victims. , whose wounds are furthest and may be more vulnerable.
Despite a fervent campaign to pass the measure with bipartisan support, a lack of progress in the middle of the legislative session suggested the bill was likely to be delayed for another year.
Several lawmakers spoke of concerns that had been quietly surfacing from a small cohort in the Assembly, several of whom were attorneys, that the bill’s language was too broad.
Westchester County Councilman Thomas J. Abinanti, who supports the bill, said some lawmakers questioned whether public employers, such as schools, should be held accountable for mistakes committed decades earlier under the auspices of their predecessors.
“Should today’s taxpayers be held accountable for actions that took place many, many years ago when the current government has since changed policy?” said Mr Abinanti.
Some in the Assembly questioned whether the look back should be limited to 20 years, to avoid problems arising from outdated evidence, deceased witnesses and erroneous memories.
“Insurance companies say, ‘We represented you not long ago.’ You can’t even find the records to find out who the insurance company was then,” Mr. Abinanti said. “That’s the whole point of the statute of limitations.”
Proponents of the bill say the same questions were asked and answered during the negotiations on the Child Victims Act in 2019.
“It remains that the survivors will have to prove their case,” said Liz Roberts, the chief executive officer of Safe Horizon, a victim services company that pushed for both legislations. “So they’re dealing with the same, you know, challenges of the time that has passed, whatever organization or person is defending the case against.”
“The bill does not allow them to win their case,” she said. “It just allows them to present their case.”
Proponents gathered Monday afternoon for an emotional press conference before the bill was passed, where multiple lawmakers spoke about their own experiences of abuse — some for the first time.
“Legislators, thank you all,” said Mary Ellen O’Loughlin, a survivor who leads the Foundation for Survivors of Abuse. “And for predators and abusers — you should be concerned.”