Post Updated: November 6, 2019 to reflect changes in current laws

Adult victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault often face enormous challenges as they deal with horrific acts inflicted upon them as children. One of those challenges is holding their abusers accountable for the acts of abuse and wrongdoing. California lawmakers have recently enacted new legislation aimed at helping childhood sexual abuse victims seek the justice they deserve from their abusers.

Our California sexual assault lawyer discusses several topics regarding sexual assault in California in this blog. Highlights include:

  • How does Assembly Bill 218 change the California statute of limitations for civil cases related to sexual assault?
  • Contact a California Sexual Abuse Attorney to Discuss Your Legal Rights and Options
  • What prompted the changes to the statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault lawsuits in California?
  • What should you do if you are a victim of childhood sexual assault in California?

How Does AB 218 Change California Statute of Limitations Regarding Childhood Sexual Assault?

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed California Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) into law on October 13, 2019. The changes to some California laws regarding sexual abuse and sexual assault of children is expected to have a significant impact on the legal rights of survivors of childhood sexual abuse and assault.

AB 218 expands the definition of childhood sexual abuse, which is referred to as childhood sexual assault. The legislation also extends the statute of limitations for child sexual assault civil actions.

Some of the key provisions of AB 218 for victims of childhood sexual abuse or assault include:

  • The deadline for filing civil lawsuits related to childhood sexual assault increases for 26 years of age to 40 years of age.
  • If a person discovers that an illness or a psychological injury that they are diagnosed with as an adult was the result of being sexually assaulted as a child, the person would have five years to file a civil lawsuit seeking compensation for damages. This provision extends the discovery period from three to five years for filing a claim from the time the victim realized or should have reasonably known the illness or condition was the result of childhood sexual abuse.
  • Courts would have the power to require a defendant to pay up to three times the total of actual damages to the victim if the defendant attempted to cover up or conceal what had happened.
  • AB 218 also allows survivors of childhood sexual assault to seek compensation from an organization that permitted the sexual abuse to occur. This provision is important because it can serve to strongly encourage organizations to take all necessary steps within their power to ensure that children in their care are not sexually assaulted.
  • The legislation also includes a three-year lookback window for claims that have previously expired under the current statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault claims in California. Under the lookback provision, beginning January 1, 2020, survivors of childhood sexual assault have three years to file a civil claim that will not be barred by the statute of limitations. This provision gives individuals who were sexually assaulted as children a voice that cannot be silenced on the grounds that the statute of limitations has expired.

In a letter to Assemblywoman Gonzalez on March 4, 2019, Child USA (a Think Tank for child protection), founder and CEO Marcia A. Hamilton noted that there were three compelling reasons for reforming statutes of limitations regarding child sex abuse allegations:

  • By reforming the statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases, the identities of previously unknown child predators can be made known to the public to protect other children;
  • The reform shifts the cost of abuse from the state and the victim to the party or parties responsible for the abuse; and,
  • Reform of current statutes of limitation gives us more opportunities to educate the public about the frequency of childhood sexual abuse and the harm that sexual abuse can do to the child thereby allowing the legal system and families to do more to protect children.

AB 218 was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his consideration on September 26, 2019. It was expected that Gov. Newsom would sign the legislation into law as the bill had substantial partisan support. The legislation passed the Assembly with a vote of 69 to 0 (NVR count was 10) and passed the Senate with a vote of 33 to 0 (NVR count was 7).

Contact a California Sexual Abuse Attorney to Discuss Your Legal Rights and Options

If you have questions about this legislation, please contact the California sexual assault attorneys of The Thompson Law Office for a free consultation by calling 1-650-513-6111.

Now is the time to contact an attorney about a sexual assault case. Even though the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit related to childhood sexual assault was extended by AB 218, your time to recover compensation from the individual or parties responsible for the sexual abuse is still subject to some restrictions.

The longer you wait to speak with an attorney, the higher chance your abuser may get away with the sexual assault. Your attorney needs sufficient time to investigate the allegations, gather evidence, build a case, and prepare the lawsuit for filing with the court.

A civil lawsuit against your abuser will not undo the abuse. No amount of money can ease the pain and suffering caused by childhood sexual assault. However, filing a lawsuit can help you move forward by facing your abuser and holding the abuser responsible for the abuser’s wrongdoing. A lawsuit can also provide compensation for ongoing therapy and counseling. For individuals who have suffered debilitating effects from childhood sexual abuse, a lawsuit can also compensate them for the loss of income if they have been unable to work as a result of the effects of the sexual abuse.

Lastly, but not least, filing a civil lawsuit against a child sex predator makes others aware of the person’s actions so that other children may not suffer the same harm that you suffered as a child.

What Prompted the Changes to The Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Assault Lawsuits in California?

Adults who were sexually assaulted as children often repress memories of the abuse for many years. In some cases, an individual may not recall the sexual assault for decades. In some cases, children were terrified to come forward or to say anything because the abuser threatened the child or the child’s family. Other victims may have felt an overwhelming sense of shame or fault for the act that prevented them from telling their parents, law enforcement officers, school administration, or others.

The previous laws in California required individuals who were sexually assaulted or sexually abused as a child to file a civil action for recovery of damages within eight years of reaching the age of majority (18). In other words, victims had until their 26th birthday to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages related to childhood sexual assault or abuse under the previous statute of limitations. The prior statute of limitations also allowed an individual to file a civil claim seeking compensation within three years from the date that the person discovered or should have reasonably discovered that an illness or injury was caused by childhood sexual abuse.

Even though the law allowed for the additional three years to realize that an illness or injury was related to sexual assault as a child, it was difficult to prove that the victim only realized that sexual abuse caused the illness or injury within the preceding three years before filing a civil lawsuit. Defense attorneys have a variety of legal strategies they use to argue that the victim would have known or should have known about the childhood sexual assault long before bringing a civil action seeking damages.

The idea that a person who was sexually abused or sexually assaulted as a child would run out of time to pursue legal action against the perpetrator of the abuse or the parties liable for the sexual assault is “outrageous,” according to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. Assemblywoman Gonzalez also stated that we should not tell victims that they have run out of time to file claims when we need them to come forward to protect others from suffering future abuse.

With several coauthors, including Assembly Members and Senators, Assemblywoman Gonzalez introduced Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218). The bill put an end to the silencing of survivors of childhood sexual assault and sexual abuse by allowing them ample opportunity to file civil lawsuits after coming to terms with the abuse or recalling the repressed memories of abuse as adults.

What Should You Do If You Were Sexually Assaulted as a Child?

If you are unsure what to do or you are having difficulty talking about the sexual assault, there is help. You can contact the National Sexual Assault hotline by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected to a sexual assault service provider in your area. You should also contact your physician to discuss treatment for illnesses and injuries related to childhood sexual assault.

Because there are different statutes of limitations regarding criminal charges related to childhood sexual crimes, you may also want to contact law enforcement officials immediately. The time to contact the police is as soon as suspect a crime was committed against you or another person.

A California sexual assault attorney can also help you with the steps you may need to take to protect yourself and others. Your attorney can provide legal advice, support, and guidance as you seek medical treatment, mental health treatment, work with law enforcement agencies, and pursue a civil action against your abuser. It may be difficult to come forward, but there is help available.

The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse can cause debilitating conditions for survivors. Some of the documented effects of being sexually abused as a child include:

  • Depression is one of the most common long-term symptoms among survivors of child sexual abuse.
  • Survivors experience shame, guilt, self-blame and often take responsibility for the abuse.
  • Eating disorders and body issues are also results of childhood sexual assault.
  • “Somatization symptoms among survivors are often related to pelvic pain, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, and difficulty swallowing.” (PDF link to article)
  • Anxiety and stress, including chronic anxiety, anxiety attacks, tension, and phobias.
  • “Dissociation for survivors of childhood sexual abuse may include feelings of confusion, feelings of disorientation, nightmares, flashbacks, and difficulty experiencing feelings.” (PDF link to article)
  • Difficulty establishing, growing, and maintaining interpersonal relationships.
  • Problems with sexual functions, including avoiding sexual relations, guilt regarding sex, and lack of interest in sexual relations.

The above list is not an inclusive list of all the long-term effects of childhood sexual assault. SexInfo Online, a website maintained by students from the University of California at Santa Barbara, provides additional information regarding the effects of childhood sexual trauma.

The Lawyers of The Thompson Law Office Fight for Survivors of Sexual Assault

We encourage you to speak out if you have been sexually assaulted. Your voice, added to other voices, brings light to a horrific crime that occurs more often than many people realize. We understand that it is painful and difficult to discuss what happened. Our law firm provides a safe, confident, and compassionate setting to discuss what happened and learn about your legal options for holding the party or parties responsible for the sexual assault accountable for their actions and wrongdoing.

Please contact our office to schedule a free consultation with a California sexual assault lawyer. Call 1-650-513-6111 to speak with a representative from our law firm. We are here to help you as you take the next step in seeking justice through the legal system.