Why So Many Powerful Men Were Just Sued for Sexual Assault

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Sean “Diddy” Combs. Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose. Jamie Foxx. Former New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Eric Adams. The holiday weekend saw headline after headline declare that a different famous man had been accused of sexual assault (and swiftly denied all allegations). That timing is due to the Adult Survivors Act, a special New York State law that granted victims a one-time one-year window in which to sue alleged sexual abusers and the institutions survivors say enabled them.

More than 3,000 civil lawsuits were filed thanks to the statute, which expired on November 24, according to the New York Times. While the last-minute celebrity lawsuits are getting a lot of play now, many of the lawsuits filed under the act were brought against private citizens, employers, and institutions — such as prisons, the New York City Police Department, and hospitals — that victims claim failed to stop sexual abuse. More than 470 cases alleged abuse at Rikers Island alone.  Below, everything to know about the act and the powerful individuals now facing lawsuits.

How does the Adult Survivors Act work?

In 2022, the New York state Legislature passed the Adult Survivors Act, which gave victims who were 18 or older at the time they were allegedly abused a one-year window in which to file civil lawsuits even if the statute of limitations for their claims had expired. At the time, New York had recently extended the period in which people could seek justice for sex crimes, either in civil or criminal cases, to 20 years, but that law did not cover claims in the past.

The Adult Survivors Act, which was in effect between November 24, 2022, and November 24, 2023, sought to retroactively fill that gap for civil cases. In addition to allowing legal action against alleged abusers, it included an institutional-liability provision allowing survivors to file claims against institutions they say enabled abuse. The legislation was modeled after New York’s Child Victims Act, which gave survivors of child sexual abuse two years to file civil suits. Nearly 11,000 lawsuits were filed over that period, many against institutions such as the Catholic Church.

Who has been sued under the Adult Survivors Act?

Many prominent figures in Hollywood, the music industry, and politics have been sued under the statute. One of the first cases filed after the look-back window opened was against former president Donald Trump. Writer E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in 1996; in May, a jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation, awarding Carroll $5 million in damages. The former president has continued to deny the allegations. Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, both of whom have been accused of sexual violence by dozens of women in recent years, were also sued under the act, alongside institutions the plaintiffs claim did nothing to stop the abuse.

As the deadline to sue under the act approached in recent weeks, plaintiffs filed a flurry of cases against more entertainment industry heavyweights and politicians. Sean “Diddy” Combs was sued by his ex-partner Cassie (real name Cassie Ventura), who alleged a pattern of “abuse, violence, and sex trafficking” throughout the relationship. He quickly settled the case — and was then sued by two more women claiming that he sexually abused them. Combs’s spokesperson called their claims “fabricated” and accused the women of exploiting the Adult Survivors Act.

Harve Pierre, the former president of Combs’s Bad Boy Entertainment, was sued by an assistant, who alleged he sexually assaulted her several times between 2016 and 2017. Other music executives, such as Jimmy Iovine, L.A. Reid, and ex-Grammys CEO Neil Portnow, have also been sued by women alleging sexual abuse, while Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose was sued by a former model who claims he violently assaulted her in his New York hotel room in 1989. Rose says he has no recollection of ever meeting his accuser.

Photographer Terry Richardson was sued by a model alleging he assaulted her on set in 2004 and then sold photos of the incident. The woman also named Trump Model Management, the now-defunct agency founded by the former president, which represented her at the time, as a defendant. A second woman filed a similar lawsuit against Richardson for allegedly assaulting her in 2003. Richardson has previously called allegations of sexual misconduct against him a “witch hunt.”

Cuba Gooding Jr. was sued by two women who said he groped them in two separate incidents in 2018 and 2019, while actor Jamie Foxx was sued by a Jane Doe plaintiff who claims he sexually assaulted her at Catch NYC in 2015. (Gooding has not commented on the new lawsuits.) The restaurant and its employees are also named in the suit against Foxx, who claims the assault “never happened.”

New York City mayor Eric Adams was sued by a woman who claims he sexually assaulted her in 1993 while they were both working for the city. Adams claims he has never met his accuser. Former New York governor Andrew Cuomo was also sued by a former aide who accused him of “continuous sexual harassment,” including claims that he groped her and retaliated against her once she reported him. Cuomo has long denied the claims.

What happens now that the act has expired?

It may take years before most of the cases filed under the Adult Survivors Act make it to trial (if they ever get that far). And while the window to file new lawsuits has closed, advocates are working on legislative efforts to re-extend it or else find a permanent solution once the New York State Legislature comes back into session next year. Advocates argue the statutes of limitations on sex crimes are too restrictive and that new legislation would allow survivors to obtain closure, as well as let victims who didn’t know about the statute or were unable to file a case to come forward with their claims.

Why So Many Powerful Men Were Just Sued for Sexual Assault