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California Extends Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sex Abuse

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Sexual abuse is a heinous crime that far too many experience. Sexual abuse is predatory in nature, and often targets the most vulnerable groups in the community, including children, the elderly, students, those with disabilities, and more.

Often, sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone close to the victim. As such, there may be a degree of trust that makes instances of sexual abuse confusing. This can explain why many childhood victims who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a family member, close friend, coach, or teacher take decades to come forward.

In the past, this had been detrimental to childhood sexual abuse victims through no fault of their own. Many states, including California, have a statute of limitations that sets a timeframe for victims to file lawsuits against their abusers. Previously, California’s statute of limitations had not given childhood sexual abuse victims enough time to sort through their trauma and seek justice, allowing thousands of abusers to go unpunished.

With a recent change in the law, however, California’s statute of limitations has been extended and childhood sexual abuse victims now have more time to file a lawsuit.

Below, we discuss the recent law change and the process by which victims of childhood sexual abuse can seek justice.

California’s Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Abuse

Under California’s previous statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, survivors had to file a lawsuit either by age 26 or, if already an adult, within three years of having realized their psychological injury was caused by childhood sexual abuse (whichever came later).

The state’s statute of limitations changed in October 2019 when Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 into law. This law extended the state’s statute of limitations for civil childhood sexual abuse claims and gave survivors more time to file.

Now, the relevant statutes and time limits governing childhood sexual abuse claims in California include the following:

  • Childhood sexual abuse survivors must file a lawsuit by age 40 or within five years of discovering the abuse as an adult.

  • As of January 2020, childhood sexual abuse survivors now have a three-year window to file sexual abuse claims that have previously passed the statute of limitations.

  • Courts are empowered to triple the damage awards when sexual abuse happened alongside an attempted or successful cover-up.

This law change has helped solve a problem prevalent in childhood sexual abuse cases: as the victims are children, they need adequate time to understand they have been abused and to take appropriate action. Oftentimes, children may suffer from memory loss related to sexual violence, and it can take decades for them to remember the trauma or understand its nature.

What Constitutes Sexual Abuse?

Examples of sexual abuse may include:

  • Exhibitionism or exposing oneself

  • Fondling

  • Intercourse

  • Masturbating in the presence of a victim or forcing the victim to masturbate

  • Obscene phone calls or text messages

  • Producing or owning child pornography

What Are the Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse?

Everyone should be able to identify the warning signs of sexual abuse so they can help family members and friends. While sexual abuse isn’t always easy to spot, there are common red flags, including the following:

  • Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in the genital area

  • Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively

  • Exhibiting signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Experiencing sudden difficulties in school

  • Committing self-harm behaviors

Who is More at Risk of Experiencing Sexual Abuse?

Often, sexual abusers take advantage of trusting relationships to commit their heinous crimes. Abusers know that those who place their trust in them are less likely to understand what they experienced was abuse and report it.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), as many as 93% of victims under the age of 18 know their abuser.

Examples of relationships in which sexual abuse often occurs include:

  • Parent, step-parent, or foster parent and child

  • Coach and player

  • Teacher and student

  • Doctor and patient

  • Religious authority figure and member of the church

Abusers also often target people unlikely to report the abuse such as young children, the elderly, and the disabled. They may employ tactics to manipulate the victim into staying quiet about the abuse, including telling the victim that the activity is normal or that they enjoyed it. They may also use threats or intimidation to scare their victims into silence.

Why Does Sexual Abuse Often Go Unanswered?

Sexual abuse is one of the most heinous crimes to go unanswered. And, sadly, it happens far too often.

Since sexual abuse is so taboo, many institutions have implemented a systemic process of covering up the abuse or not responding to allegations appropriately.

This happens frequently in the clergy, in universities, and in other large institutions where reputations are at stake. Rather than responding to allegations responsibly, many institutions decide to protect themselves from negative press and attempt to hide instances of abuse altogether.

Notable examples of this phenomenon include the following:

  • Multiple sex abuse cover-ups involving the Catholic Church

  • University of Southern California’s failure to remove gynecologist George Tyndall from staff after several allegations of sexual abuse and assault

  • Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics’ failure to protect students and gymnasts from former staff physician Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse

How Childhood Sexual Abuse Victims Can Seek Justice

There is no doubt that sorting through trauma and gathering the courage to come forward after experiencing childhood sexual abuse is extremely difficult.

Luckily, the extension to California’s childhood sexual abuse statute of limitations provides survivors more time to do so.

At Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP, our nationally-recognized Los Angeles trial attorneys are prepared to stand by you and help you navigate a sexual abuse lawsuit. We know it was difficult enough to sort through your trauma; we’re here to make the rest of the process easier for you.

Don’t spend one more second in silence. Contact Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP today at (866) 634-4525 to schedule a consultation with our team.