ITHACA, N.Y. (WENY) -- On Monday, May 23rd, New York took a monumental step towards providing victims of sexual abuse with an avenue to seek legal recourse against their aggressors

The State Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Adult Survivors Act, an bill that enables adult victims who were 18 and older at the time of their alleged abuse, a one-time opportunity to file civil lawsuits in New York. The bill had previously been unanimously approved by the State Senate on April 26th. On May 24th, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the bill into law, which will give adult survivors a one-year window to file a suit, even if the statute of limitations had passed.

The one-year window will begin in November 2022 and end in November 2023, giving the state a six-month window to spread awareness to sexual abuse survivors throughout New York. Prior to the passing of the Adult Survivors Act, the statute of limitations on sexual assault required victims to report the crime to law enforcement within three years after its occurrence. 

Assemblywoman Dr. Anna Kelles, who is also a sexual assault survivor, said one of the main problems with the statute of limitations on sexual assault is the three-year requirement. 

“Anyone who has experienced sexual assault should not be told that there is a window at which they need to get their emotional and mental health together from the experience in order to prosecute or bring a legal case forward,” said Kelles.

Kelles said after she was sexually assaulted, she struggled to accept that it had even happened because if she did, she felt it would mean that she was weak. 

“To not feel or believe myself as weak, I couldn't be a victim and if I cannot be a victim in my mind I could not see it as rape,” said Kelles. 

Kelles said the Adult Survivors Act legislation does two things:

  1.  It gives survivors a choice to come forward against their abusers in civil court.
  2.  It gives survivors time to process exactly what they went through and decide if they want to move forward with legal action.

“Even if someone does not want to bring their case forward, just to know the state has their back, that's what this says and I think that people need to know that,” said Kelles. 

Kelles said even though some may have come to terms with what they have gone through, going through the legal process has the ability to retraumatize survivors. 

“Do you see the conundrum that survivors have to process through, that they can both be strong, they can both continue forward with their identity and grow and foster their self-love and to fight for their rights to bring forward a case against someone who violated their body,” said Kelles. 

The Child Victims Act, which was passed in 2019, similarly created a lookback window for people who were under the age of 18 at the time of their alleged abuse, no matter how long ago the abuse happened. When the window closed, than 10,000 lawsuits were filed, according to the Office of Court Administration.