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Advocates urge Assembly to act on sexual harassment, assault bills

New York NOW
The New York State Assembly.

The New York State Senate approved a measure this week to allow adult survivors of sexual harassment and assault to bring their abusers to court. Advocates hailed the action, but said they are increasingly frustrated and “alarmed” over the state Assembly's failure to act on the bill and on other anti-sexual harassment measures.

The Senate unanimously approved the Adult Survivors Act on June 3. Sponsor Brad Hoylman, speaking on the Senate floor, said the measure is modeled on the 2019 Child Victims Act, which gave survivors of childhood sexual abuse a one-year window of opportunity to take their abuser to court, even when the prior statute of limitations had expired. He said the same chance to seek justice would now be given to adults who survived sexual trauma. 

But Democrats who lead the state Assembly have failed so far to advance the bill.

The Assembly has also not yet acted on several other measures approved by the Senate that strengthen the state’s anti-sexual harassment laws. They include closing a loophole that left employees of the Legislature and the governor’s office exempt from protections. 

Elizabeth Crothers is a member of the Sexual Harassment Working Group, which is made up of current and former employees of the Legislature who say they were sexually harassed or assaulted. She praised the Senate for approving the Adult Survivors Act, but questioned why the Assembly seems to be stalling.

“The Senate passing it is fantastic,” Crothers said. “That the Assembly hasn’t passed it is mystifying, unless you look at it as part of a pattern.” 

Crothers in 2001 reported that she was raped by the then-counsel to former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. She said Silver, at the time, told her that his first priority was to protect the institution of the Assembly.

Counsel Michael Boxley was arrested and charged with raping another Assembly staffer two years later. He later pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct. Silver is in federal prison on a corruption conviction.

Crothers’ group, in a letter to current Speaker Carl Heastie, accuse him and other key lawmakers of continuing to protect the institution of the Assembly at the expense of those who may have been harmed by harassment.

“It’s alarming that it’s still protecting predators, and that protecting an institution at the expense of survivors is still something that is a value,” Crothers said. 

In the letter, the group writes, “We are very familiar with the patterns of this chamber to block, delay, and run out the clock on survivors and the legislation that would protect them as a means of providing cover for serial abusers."

The group also questions in the letter whether the Assembly is providing “cover” for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been accused by nearly a dozen women of sexual harassment, and, in one case, sexual assault. Cuomo denies the allegations.

Three months ago, the Assembly began what the group calls an “ill-conceived” and “unnecessary” impeachment inquiry at taxpayer expense. It’s running parallel to an investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James. The group said the Assembly has a poor record on sexual misconduct and is “uniquely unqualified” to carry out the investigation. 

The impeachment inquiry so far has reported little progress. 

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Assembly members are “being deliberative and thoughtful, like they are with every issue.”

Crothers said if the session ends on schedule in a few days, and the measures are not taken up, the speaker and Assembly Democrats would be sending a strong signal on how they view the legislation.

“If the speaker chooses to end session before some of the most important work is done, then that is a choice,” she said.

Crothers said there’s no law that says the session has to end in June. In past years, lawmakers have returned to the Capitol several times after it’s officially ended to act on key matters.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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