The Adult Survivors Act Allowed More People to File Sex-Abuse Suits. Here’s 1 Woman’s Story.

Fitness

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Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.

In May 2022, New York passed the Adult Survivors Act, which created a one-year window for survivors of sexual assault to file suit against their alleged abusers — even after the statute of limitations had expired. Among more than 3,000 civil suits filed during the period, which expired on Nov. 24, 2023, photographer and cinematographer Jackie R. filed a summons with notice against Marc Baptiste under the Adult Survivors Act, after the Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute in 2018. For one incident she reported, the statute of limitations had passed, and a second wasn’t in the district’s jurisdiction because it had allegedly occurred out of the state.

A few weeks after filing her summons, Jackie underscored the importance of this legislation in a conversation with POPSUGAR. Her next step is filing a formal complaint, after which Baptiste will have a chance to respond to her allegations. In a response to POPSUGAR’s request for comment, Baptiste shared the following statement: “At this time, issuing a statement might interfere with the legal process.”

Jackie spoke about why she pursued this path, as well as why she’s hopeful for other survivors. Read it all, in her own words, below.

On Nov. 22, 2023, I filed a summons with notice through the Adult Survivors Act against photographer Marc Baptiste. For many reasons, but mainly because it was a time-sensitive chance to protect myself from being silenced about what I experienced.

The Past

I worked for Baptiste from 2013 to 2016, as a photo assistant at first, and then as a documentary photographer for a nonprofit he was on the board of. Things escalated the second time we worked together, when he groped me and tried to force drugs in my hands. Afterwards, I endured verbal harassment and unwanted touching for years, until 2016, on my 32nd birthday, when I realized I was afraid for my life. I woke up that morning in a hotel room in Washington DC with his arm over me, and I kept repeating, “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me.” I contemplated calling the police, but felt too intimidated. I would be stuck there with no money or ride home.

When I arrived back in New York, I spoke immediately with my therapist, and I had a moment of clarity that I had to get out of that situation. Eleven days after the trip, in April 2016, I wrote a detailed email to him that had my reasons for quitting. Sexual harassment and assault were in the subject line.

However, asserting myself in a strongly worded email and hoping for restorative justice was ultimately not enough to make me feel safe. In 2018, during the #MeToo movement, I was moved by the abundance of similar stories. I developed an essential tremor, and other PTSD symptoms worsened. I realized there were parts of the incident in 2016 that I repressed because I was in survival mode and wanted to block it all out. I knew that it would be difficult to prosecute, but I attempted to report it to the Manhattan District Attorney anyway.

Working as a documentary photographer prepared me for the fact that I would need to retain a lot of evidence. Along the way, I documented everything, from exactly what mile marker we were at on the highway when he started groping me, to pictures of exactly where we were seated before things got fuzzy and I became ill in DC. I recognize how much privilege I have being a photographer and keeping as much evidence as I did to preserve my claims.

Image Source: Jackie R.

A selfie Jackie took on April 7, 2016, in DC to document what she was wearing at the time of the alleged assault.

The office ultimately chose not to prosecute. Part of the reason was because the earliest incident of harassment was too long ago such that the statute of limitations expired, and the more recent incident, on my 32nd birthday, was not in the district’s jurisdiction because it happened in DC and in the car in New Jersey.

The DA’s office told me that there was nothing they could do, but they pointed me toward the Adult Survivors Act, which was going to be brought to the state Senate, and one of its authors, Linda Rosenthal. That’s how I was connected to the advocates at Safe Horizon, C.A. Goldberg, and Model Alliance, who have all shown incredible leadership on the issue. I made my way up to Albany, NY, with a coalition of survivors to speak with lawmakers about what I had experienced in reporting. And now here we are, with the vote having been passed unanimously in 2022.

There’s no telling how long it’ll take for me to heal, so it’s impossible to assign a dollar amount.

The Present

There will never be a sum of money great enough to cover what I’ve lost while I was healing. The worst part for me, as a photographer, was the shaky hands. That was extremely detrimental to my career and my ability to enjoy my work and do it without fear. PTSD symptoms cannot easily be measured, not in the time immediately after an assault or even years later. There’s no telling how long it’ll take for me to heal, so it’s impossible to assign a dollar amount. But I recognize how civil law works and that we can move through procedurally to try to find accountability in some way.

It’s a privilege to be able to access the court system using this law, and I know that holding him accountable and preserving the claim is an important step toward healing for myself and others who are unable to come forward.

After reporting, I learned there was a complaint against Baptiste from 2007 in which he was alleged to have published nude photos of a minor (the case ultimately settled). Had I known about this, maybe I would’ve come forward after the first time, or maybe I wouldn’t have worked for him at all. I feel that having this complaint available through public record might help someone needing validation of their experience or someone finding the courage to come forward because they thought it was too late before or didn’t have the resources. It’s just a small step in the right direction.

As a photographer, I also felt a responsibility to be compassionate toward humanity.

Having the option of a civil action highlights how sexual assault in the workplace actually translates to financial loss. I believe this harassment overall has kept a lot of women and nonbinary people at a lower level of income than they should be.

The Future

Today, I’m feeling hopeful. Even though the Adult Survivors Act offered only a one-year window, I really believe that it has made a huge impact, and it’s just the beginning. It’s the kind of thing that will have ripple effects generationally.

I hope there will be an extension of the window similar to what we saw with the Child Victims Act, and reform overall, for the way that sexual assault is reported and addressed.

It’s time for the attitudes around misogyny in the photo and film industry to shift. Hopefully, the people who enabled him think twice about how they’re reinforcing a cycle of violence against women. Ultimately, we need a democratization of opportunities for women and nonbinary people in the workplace, and for them to feel safe while they’re reaching for their dreams.

Image Sources: Jackie R. and Photo Illustration: Aly Lim

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