A woman who says she was sexually assaulted 25 years ago by a prison guard can finally sue under a new law
- A new NY law gives sexual-assault survivors one year to sue beyond the statute of limitations.
- The Adult Survivors Act went into effect Thursday and is likely to bring an onslaught of cases.
A prison guard walked into the women's dormitory at the now-shuttered Bayview Correctional Facility in Manhattan and tapped B.V., who had been asleep in a bunk bed, on the shoulder.
"I need you to go clean the bathroom." he told her, according to B.V.'s recollection of the 1997 exchange.
B.V. asked if she could do it in the morning, but the guard insisted. So she went to the bathroom, got down on her knees, and began cleaning the toilet. A few moments later, the guard entered the bathroom, undid his zipper, and forced B.V. to give him oral sex, she said in an interview with Insider, 25 years after the alleged assault.
"I was gagging and I was crying," B.V. said. She said she considered screaming to wake up the other women, but didn't.
Now, for the first time since the assault, she's gearing up to hold her alleged attacker accountable.
The New York Adult Survivors Act gives women a one-year window starting Thursday to file a complaint against an alleged attacker and other responsible parties for incidents of sexual assault perpetrated at any point in their adult lives, starting at 18, within the state of New York.
One notable lawsuit already filed under the new law is against former President Donald Trump.
A lawyer representing former Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll said she plans to sue Trump for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress under the ASA.
Carroll accused Trump in 2019 of sexually assaulting her in a dressing room in the mid 1990s but up until now has only sued for defamation based on his response to her allegation.
Claims like Carroll's are normally off limits because they fall outside the statute of limitations, which in New York was raised in 2019 to 20 years for civil lawsuits involving some sex crimes. That barrier has now been temporarily lifted, and there is no cap on the damages.
B.V. , who asked to be identified by her initials for privacy reasons, never reported her sexual assault, she said, because she was traumatized and didn't think she had any options.
The guard who she said sexually assaulted her told her at the time that if she told anyone, he would revoke her weekend privileges, which allowed her to leave the facility to visit her family.
"Most women just want to move on with their lives," said Anna Kull, a partner at Levy Konigsberg who is representing B.V. "And that's why it's important to have longer statutes of limitations, because by the time a sex-assault survivor is ready to face what happened to her and is ready to bring this to the attention of the legal system and initiate a legal proceeding, it may be too late."
No institution is safe
Kull said she is expecting hundreds of women who were previously incarcerated to come forward under the new law.
Each year from 2015 to 2019, there were hundreds of reports of alleged sexual misconduct or abuse within New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision facilities, according to data published by the agency.
"You really just wouldn't believe how many women have been victims of sex assault within the New York State prison system," Kull said.
But she added that her firm is also expecting cases against medical providers, institutions, and individual doctors. And Lawrence Pearson, partner at Wigdor LLP, told Insider some of the lawsuits he is expecting will be filed against teachers and educational institutions, hospitals, and religious centers.
"Those cases absolutely not only name and hold accountable the individuals who engaged in the sexual assault or other sexually abusive conduct, but also names the organizations, whether they are employers or other organizations that enabled or gave cover to the generally men who engaged in the abusive conduct," Pearson said.
In a statement to Insider, DOCCS said it has "zero tolerance for sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and unauthorized relationships" and "thoroughly investigates all reports of sexual victimization."
The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, the organization that represents security services personnel across the state, declined to comment.
A limited window
The one-year window under the ASA means there's a limited period to file lawsuits.
A similar law, the Child Victims Act, was passed in 2019 and allowed survivors of childhood sexual abuse in New York one year to file claims that otherwise would have gone beyond the statute of limitations.
Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the window another year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing for thousands of additional lawsuits. Nearly 11,000 lawsuits were filed during the two-year span the Child Victims Act was in effect.
The CVA might give insight into how many lawsuits will be filed in response to the ASA this year, Pearson said.
"Under the ASA, the Adult Survivors Act, which covers people who were not minors when they were abused or sexually assaulted, you are clearly talking about a much larger population of potential plaintiffs, and people who were assaulted or abused," he said. "And therefore, it is very possible that the volume of claims [will be] multiples what the Child Victims Act was, even over two years, in the one year that the look-back period under the ASA will last."
Imani's Safehouse, a New York-based organization that supports incarcerated women, has been working on educating survivors of sexual assault about the ASA.
Founder Jennifer Fecu told Insider some women have said they don't remember their abuser's name or expressed hesitation about reliving the trauma of their abuse. Others were in disbelief that the ASA really exists, Fecu said.
"I don't care how many cases any firm has — it's a small percentage of the actual number of women who experience sex assault," Kull said.
Still, the ASA still offers some hope for many, including B.V.
"I can't believe they're actually trying to show respect for the things that were done to us," B.V. said.
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