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Push is on for court access for sexual assault survivors in New York

Attorney Gloria Allred showing a photo of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo kissing Sherry Vill without her permission.
Screenshot of press conference
Attorney Gloria Allred showing a photo of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo kissing Sherry Vill without her permission.

Survivors of sexual harassment, including one of the accusers of “Sex and the City” star Chris Noth, held a virtual news conference on Thursday to urge legislators to pass a bill that would give victims the right to their day in court against their alleged abusers.

Known as the Adult Survivors Act, the measure would extend to adults the same rights that the state’s Child Victims Act gives to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Victims in cases where the statute of limitations has ended would have a one-year lookback window to bring a civil suit against their alleged abuser.

Attorney Gloria Allred urged state lawmakers to approve the measure this year.

“New York’s laws were badly out of synch with the experiences of so many sexual assault survivors,” said Allred. “Outdated statutes of limitations mean that their opportunity to file a civil lawsuit has expired before they are ready or able to come forward.”

Allred represents numerous sexual assault survivors, including Lisa Gentile, who says she was assaulted by “Sex and the City” and “Law and Order” star Chris Noth. Gentile says Noth forcibly kissed and groped her in her New York apartment in 1998, then warned her to keep quiet.

She says it’s taken her decades to overcome her fears of calling out a “powerful celebrity.”

“I do regret not seeking justice,” said Gentile. “But I was young, I was traumatized, and I was afraid.”

Noth denies the allegations, as well as accusations from three other women.

The Senate and Assembly sponsors of the bill also joined the news conference. Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman says the bill is moving through the Judiciary Committee and is on track to be approved for a second year in a row.

But the measure has stalled in the Assembly. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said earlier this year that the chamber’s sexual harassment working group is looking at the bill, as well as other proposed anti-sexual harassment legislation.

Assembly Sponsor Linda Rosenthal says she is lobbying her colleagues, and the measure now has 50 sponsors.

“We are discussing it,” Rosenthal said. “And hopefully soon, we will have some good news.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has not actively pushed for the measure, though Hochul has spoken out against sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior in the workplace, saying it will not be tolerated in her administration. Hochul replaced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal.

Meanwhile, Cuomo’s lawyer continued to attack the credibility of three of the former governor’s accusers, saying there were inconsistencies in some of their stories.

Rita Glavin says Attorney General Tish James’ report that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women did not follow up on those discrepancies.

“The Attorney General’s report was shoddy,“ Glavin said. “It was one-sided and there was a pre-determined outcome.”

Glavin says Cuomo is looking at “legal options.”

Cuomo denies that he sexually harassed anyone. The women have said they stand by their accounts. The attorney general has said previously that her report, conducted by a former acting United States Attorney and an employment lawyer, speaks for itself.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.