Sexual assault leaves scars that never heal. Even though the physical injuries sustained from sexual assault may heal, the emotional and mental injuries caused by sexual assault can last a lifetime. California has taken an important step in ensuring sexual assault victims can hold their abusers accountable for their actions. A new law in 2019 increases the time victims of sexual abuse or assault have to file civil lawsuits.

Topics Covered in this Article Include:

  • New Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault Lawsuits
  • How Does California Define Sexual Assault?
  • Recognizing Signs of Childhood Sexual Abuse
  • Long-term Consequences of Sexual Assault
  • Steps to Take After Being Sexually Assaulted

New Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault Lawsuits

It can take years for a person to come to terms with an incident of sexual assault. For the victim, reporting the assault immediately after the incident may not be possible. Intense emotion, including shame, doubt, fear, and denial can prevent a victim from speaking up. It is not a victim’s fault that he or she does not speak up immediately. Unfortunately, in many cases, when a victim was ready to speak up, the time to file a lawsuit against the abuser had passed.

AB 1619 went into effect on January 1, 2019. The bill extends the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit related to sexual assault or sexual abuse for victims who were assaulted as an adult. The new statute of limitations runs from the later of 10 years from the date of the last act of sexual assault, attempted act of sexual assault, or sexual assault with the intent to commit an act OR three (3) years from the date the victim discovers or should have reasonably discovered that the victims suffered an injury or illness from the sexual assault.

The extension of the statute of limitations means that mean adult victims of sexual assault will have the additional time they need to file a civil lawsuit for damages. The statute of limitations only applies to civil matters. The new law does not change the laws related to criminal charges.

For minor victims, the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit for sexual assault remains the same. A victim under the age of 18 years at the time of the assault has until eight years from the victim’s 18th birthday to file a lawsuit for sexual abuse or sexual assault. If a victim is filing a lawsuit for psychological trauma or abuse that could not be discovered before the victim turns 26 years of age, the victim has three years from the date of discovery to file a claim. This deadline can be very important for minors who may have suppressed memories of the abuse as a child.

While the extension of the statute of limitations allows many more victims of sexual assault to file claims against their attackers and abusers, victims should not attempt to determine if the deadline to file a lawsuit has expired.

It is best to consult a trained California sexual assault attorney as soon as possible to discuss the specifics of your claim. A personal injury attorney with The Thompson Law Office can perform a free legal review to determine the deadline for filing claims.

How Does California Define Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is defined broadly in California to allow victims of sexual crimes to seek compensation for damages from their abusers and attackers. In broad terms, sexual assault includes any actions intended to engage in sexual conduct with another individual who is either unable to consent to the sexual conduct or who is unwilling to participate in the sexual conduct.

Some individuals assume that sexual assault involves intercourse. While sexual assault does include intercourse, it also includes fondling, forcible sodomy, incest, attempted rape, molestation, date rape, and other forms of sexual conduct that are performed without the other person’s consent.

Recognizing Signs of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse or sexual assault of a child is often unreported because the child does not tell a parent or other adult of the attack. Children may be threatened or manipulated to prevent them from speaking of the sexual assault. In other cases, a child may be too young to understand what is happening to him or her.

Even though a child may not speak of the abuse, there may be signs that parents or other adults may notice that could indicate a child has been the victim of sexual abuse. Some of the indications that a child might be the victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse include:

  • Changes in personality, mood, and behavior
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Sudden bedwetting or wetting pants later in childhood
  • Creating an imaginary friend
  • Unexplained irritability, acting out, or other unexplained behaviors
  • Symptoms of stress, anxiety, or trauma
  • Trying to run away or wanting to run away
  • Talking about suicide or wanting to die
  • Night terrors or nightmares
  • Sudden changes in grades
  • Loss of interest in sports or other activities
  • Withdrawal from others or clinging to certain people
  • Physical signs of sexual abuse or sexual assault

Parents who notice signs or symptoms that might indicate abuse or sexual assault can seek assistance from a physician or other professional. Dealing with sexual assault can be extremely difficult for adults, but it can be even more difficult for children who do not comprehend fully what has happened to them.

Long-term Consequences of Sexual Assault

The short-term consequences of sexual assault can be paralyzing for a victim. However, the long-term consequences of sex crimes can have severe negative impacts on victims. Because each victim and the victim’s experience are unique, the consequences of a sexual assault vary.

Some of the ways a victim may be impacted after a sexual assault include:

  • Denial – Victims often deny what happened to them as a way of avoiding other emotions.
  • Shame – A victim may blame herself or himself for the assault and feel unwarranted shame because of the assault.
  • Guilt – Guilt is often closely associated with shame as some victim blame themselves for the sexual assault.
  • Trust – Victims may have difficulty trusting others, even persons whom they may have trusted in the past or who are close to them.
  • Isolation – Some victims isolate themselves because of the sexual assault. They may withdraw from family and friends and become increasingly isolated from their community in general.
  • Emotional Disorders or Issues – Victims of sexual assault may develop one or more emotional disorders or experience strong emotions that could impair their ability to function normally, including PTSD, anxiety, anger, dissociation, amnesia, phobias, paranoia, flashbacks, depression, and panic attacks.
  • Physical Conditions – Some survivors of sexual assault may develop physical disorders, such as insomnia, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, and ulcers.

It is estimated that 81 percent of women will be the victims of some form of sexual assault or harassment during their lifetimes. Approximately one in five women will be the victims of rape during their lifetimes, and one in three women will be the victims of some type of sexual violence.

As victims of sexual assault come forward, it is important that resources are available to help these individuals seek justice. Extending the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits related to sexual assault in California is a good step in the right direction.

Steps to Take After Being Sexually Assaulted

It is impossible to tell someone what to do after being sexually assaulted. Sexual assault is a physical and emotional violation that no one except a victim can begin to understand. Additionally, each experience is unique, and each victim of sexual assault is unique. Medical and mental health professionals are trained to help survivors deal with the consequences of sexual assault.

Seeking treatment and reporting the sexual assault are two steps a victim can take to protect themselves from further harm. It can be extremely difficult to seek help and to talk about what happened, but the first step in healing is to get help. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) helps victims of sexual violence find providers in their area that can help. You can get information 24/7 on Rainn’s website or by calling 800-656-4673.

Reporting the assault to law enforcement officials is also important. Sexual assault is a crime. Your attacker deserves to be charged and face criminal penalties for his or her actions. In Burlingame, you can report a crime by calling 911, calling 650-777-4100, or by going to the police station located at 501 Primrose Road. Information for other law enforcement agencies in California can be found here.

Another step you can take is to learn about your legal options for filing a civil claim for sexual assault. By filing a civil claim, you can hold your attacker responsible for the damages and harm caused by the sexual assault. California personal injury laws allow victims to seek compensation for the injuries, financial losses, pain, and suffering caused by another party. While a monetary judgment will not erase the harm caused by sexual abuse or sexual assault, it can help the victim gain a measure of justice and pay for continued treatment. A civil lawsuit can also shed light on the attacker’s actions.

Contact The Thompson Law Office for More

Take back control over what happened to you. You might not be able to undo what happened, but you can control what happens going forward. Taking steps to hold the attacker responsible for the assault can be an important step phase in your recovery process. Our experienced California sexual assault attorneys can help you explore your legal options for filing a claim against your attacker. We strongly believe in victims’ rights, and we aggressively advocate for our clients and the rights of victims throughout California.

Please contact our office to speak with one of our experienced injury lawyers. Call 1-650-513-6111 to speak with a California sexual assault lawsuit attorney.