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The Impact of the Adult Survivors Act Goes Beyond E. Jean Carroll’s Win

Formerly incarcerated women are also using the ASA to demand a measure of justice.

E. Jean Carroll in a burgundy suit on a Manhattan sidewalk.

(Ruperto Miller / Flickr)

In January 2022, E. Jean Carroll voiced her support for New York state's Adult Survivors Act, a bill that would create a year-long period of time in which sexual assault and rape survivors could sue their abusers in civil court, long after the statute of limitations for criminal cases had passed. "Even the DOJ will not be able to save Trump when the Adult Survivors Act passes the New York State Assembly," she wrote. "The very moment it passes I am suing Donald Trump for rape."

First proposed in 2019, the Adult Survivors Act finally passed the Assembly in May 2022, and was signed into law a day later by Governor Kathy Hochul, who as we all recall became governor after her predecessor was forced to resign in disgrace amid a slew of sexual harassment allegations. A few months later, Carroll made good on her promise, filing her lawsuit the day the ASA went into effect. 

On Tuesday, Carroll received a measure of justice, after a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming her, and awarded her $5 million in damages. "I filed this lawsuit against Donald Trump to clear my name and to get my life back," Carroll wrote in a statement after the verdict. "Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed."

That one of the world's most powerful and odious men was found liable in court for sexual abuse, a verdict that was made possible at least in part because another odious man had been forced to resign due to numerous credible sexual harassment allegations, is the kind of deeply, viscerally satisfying result that champions of the ASA likely hoped for. 

But the arguably more significant potential impact of the ASA is on the rampant sexual abuse that occurs in New York's jails and prisons.

According to the most updated numbers provided to Hell Gate by the Office of Court Administration, 106 cases have been filed under the ASA statewide; of that number, 80 have been filed in New York City courts, with half of those in the Bronx. And the majority of those cases have been filed by formerly incarcerated women, who are using the ASA to shine a spotlight on longstanding sexual abuse committed by correction officers and other staff in our state's jails and prisons. 

One of those women who has brought an ASA civil suit is 58-year-old Jacqueline Wiggins, who was profiled last November by the New York Times:

Jacqueline Wiggins, 58, has accused a guard of raping her at Bayview about 30 years ago when she was serving time for trying to sell a controlled substance. She says she still remembers his haircut, his body odor, his teeth.

Ms. Wiggins, a nurse, said she has tried to push his face out of her mind for years. But in early November, she was lying in bed watching television at her Long Island home when a Slater Slater and Schulman advertisement appeared on the screen. It said: If you have ever been incarcerated at Bayview Correctional Facility, and have been sexually abused, please contact us.

Ms. Wiggins sat up and stared at the television. "No," she said to herself. "This is not right. I'm seeing things. This can’t be happening." She waited for the commercial to air again just to make sure it was real.

She had never told anyone about what she says she endured—not her best friend, not her siblings, not her three sons and not even her mother. By mid-November, she had told about 10 confidants, and had decided to forge ahead with a lawsuit.

"I tried to leave that behind 30 years ago. And now here it is, all coming back," Ms. Wiggins said during a recent interview at the law firm’s Midtown office. "I suppressed it. I kept it down in my gut. I didn't think I was worthy. I didn’t think anyone would care."

As Kim Brown, who was incarcerated at New York's Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in the '90s, where she was sexually abused by a prison official, recently told the Appeal, "The #MeToo movement didn't exist here. And now it does." Brown added, "Yeah, 'Me too.' Because, you know, we’ve been hearing about people having legal recourse for abuse that they sustained at the hands of X, Y and Z. But that branch has never been extended to us here."

(Photo credit: Ruperto Miller / Flickr)

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