Child sexual assault is a tragic reality affecting our society. In recent years, many states have enacted legislation to address the injustices that childhood sexual assault victims face due to the rigid restrictions of sex abuse statutes of limitations. These newfound laws are changing previous time limits to allow more child sexual abuse victims to bring both civil and criminal lawsuits at any age, no matter when the abuse happened, to finally get justice and recover compensation for their physical injuries and ongoing emotional harm.
California Child Victims Act: Justice for Survivors
In 2019, legislators passed the California Child Victims Act (CA AB-218) in California, which took effect on January 1, 2020. This important legislative Act extends the statute of limitations for California child sexual abuse survivors reaching adulthood to initiate a claim against their abusers.
Before January 2020, the law required a survivor of childhood sexual assault to file a lawsuit within three years from the date they discovered or reasonably should have discovered that the sexual abuse resulted in their subsequent psychological injury or illness. The primary restrictive factor linked to the state’s statute of limitations on sex abuse claims barred a child sex abuse survivor from initiating a suit after their 26th birthday.
Studies show that most survivors only begin to reveal their experience with childhood sexual abuse when they reach the age of 52, more than two and a half decades after the arbitrary cutoff of 26. This research shows that many child sexual abuse victims in California could not previously seek justice against both their abusers and the complicit organizations that allowed their abuse to happen.
A combination of egregious injustices against children, including the Larry Nassar imprisonment, the Boy Scouts of America sex abuse scandal, and the numerous sexual assault allegations against the Catholic Church, California legislators recognized that California sexual assault laws needed to change. When California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 131, legislators realized the grave disparity in the former law, essentially requiring victims to bring a lawsuit before they reasonably knew about or could acknowledge their harm.
Perceiving these injustices, the California Legislature adopted AB 218 to encourage child sex abuse survivors to come forward and speak up about their abuse despite the same taking place several years ago. Advocates pushing for these necessary legal changes celebrate, as victims can finally seek compensation and justice against their abusers and the organizations that allowed the abuse to happen to not only themselves but the hundreds of thousands of victims living in the State of California.
What is the California Child Victims Act?
The California Child Victims Act widens the definition of childhood sexual abuse, compared to the previous law, to include sexual assault. This more broad definition increases the scope of sexual offenses against a minor that are actionable, ultimately helping a child sexual abuse victim.
The Act also extends the time limit to the later of twenty-two years after the minor’s 18th birthday, or within five years of the date the child sex abuse victim discovered their psychological injury that took place after adulthood resulting from the childhood sexual assault.
Most victims of childhood sexual assault may now file a civil suit, or a prosecutor may bring criminal charges against their abuser or a responsible entity. These responsible entities can include organizations where the abuse happened, such as the Catholic Church, a foster care home, the Boy Scouts, a school, a daycare center, or any other organization allowing abusers access to children.
The child sex abuse victim needs to initiate their claim within five years of discovering the causal link between the childhood assault and their resulting psychological illness continuing into adulthood or before the victim turns 40. This change increases the time to file a lawsuit by fourteen years, up from the previously held law indicating the victim only had until they turned 26 to bring a claim.
Additionally, the California AB 218 provides a noteworthy three-year look back window starting January 1, 2020, and ending December 31, 2022. During this time, all childhood sexual assault victims in California can start a civil action for money damages no matter how long ago their abuse occurred.
After the expiry of the look back window, and if the plaintiff files a civil lawsuit at or after the age of 40, the law requires the plaintiff’s therapist and attorney to file certificates of merit stating: “the attorney has reviewed the facts of the case, consulted with at least one mental health practitioner who the attorney reasonably believes is knowledgeable of the relevant facts and issues involved in the particular action, and concluded on the basis of that review and consultation that there is reasonable and meritorious cause for the filing of the action.”
For example, a 52-year-old survivor now has until December 2022 to file suit against their abuser. This look back window and related legislation is an incredible win for child sexual assault victims in California. If someone experienced abuse decades ago, they can now file a civil lawsuit and work toward achieving closure. This new prolonged time limit runs out on December 31, 2022, so it’s essential to speak with a law firm knowledgeable about sexual assault cases to learn how you can pursue legal action.
The Act also provides for situations potentially entitling a victim to obtain up to triple the number of damages (also known as “treble damages”) against a defendant and an entity or the organizations or supervisors aware of the abuse and participating in a cover-up of a minor’s sexual assault. By definition, a cover-up is “a concerted effort to hide evidence related to child sexual assault.”
You can access the full text of the California Child Victims Act AB 218 here.
Why do victims wait to come forward about their sexual abuse?
The previous statute of limitations failed to recognize the short- and long-term mental and emotional trauma that child sexual abuse victims endure from the abuse. This trauma often prevents the victim from being able to come forward to talk about or report the abuse. The previous law thereby failed to provide the victims with a reasonable opportunity to press charges or file civil lawsuits against their abusers and the institutions that allowed the abuse.
There are several reasons why survivors are reluctant to reveal information about their abuse. The previous sexual assault statute of limitations made it extremely difficult for victims to introduce their claims because they often don’t realize the psychological effects of their abuse until much later. Reasons why victims wait so long to come forward include:
- Ninety percent of victims are abused by a person they or their family know, making it difficult for the child to come forward, as they either don’t realize that the abuse is wrong or they fear what will happen if they tell someone. They might also be embarrassed or believe it’s their fault.
- The abuser usually gives the child special attention or gifts to gain the child’s trust.
- They believe it’s their fault, and they could’ve done something to stop the abuse or fought harder.
- They feel shame or do not want to relive the abuse.
- They fear they will get in trouble.
- They do not tell anyone to protect their loved ones, attempting to avoid inflicting pain on their parents or other family members.
- They fear no one will believe them.
- If the perpetrator is an admired community member, the child sexual abuse victim fears no one will believe them, or people will be angry with them.
- The shock of the experience may stun them into silence, and they do everything they can just to carry on
- The perpetrator is likely to make threats of blackmail or violence or instruct the victim not to tell anyone else.
- They don’t understand that the abuse was wrong.
Shame and self-blame often accompany each of these reasons for a child sex abuse victim’s silence. It is never the victim’s fault, but this tendency to blame themselves or feel guilty is all too common. Studies show that alongside the stigma, shame, and guilt, family loyalty is a significant factor that deters victims from speaking up when the offender is someone attached to a family member.
Herman Law Discusses the Reason Many Victims Wait To Come Forward
The reason why children wait to come forward is very complicated. There is no one answer. All we know for sure is that it usually takes many years for child sexual abuse victims to come forward to discuss their abuse and be able to comprehend the effects it’s had on them, often lasting into adulthood.
What constitutes child sexual assault? Do I have a valid claim?
Child sexual assault consists of sexual activities involving a minor for the sexual gratification of an adult. Various organizations have differing definitions, but the consensus is that child sexual abuse includes both sexual contact and non-contact with a child. Sexual contact includes touching, while non-contact abuse is still considered abuse but does not involve physically touching the child.
Contact abuse includes:
- Fondling of private parts, including touching a child’s genitalia, breasts, anus, or other parts of the body, either clothed or unclothed
- Oral contact, including placing lips against lips, having the child put his or her mouth on the adult’s genitalia or body parts, or putting one’s own mouth on the child’s genitalia or other body parts
- Penetration with an object or body part, including penile penetration of the child’s anus, vulva, or vagina, or using an object to penetrate the child
- Female genital mutilation, involving surgical removal or cutting of the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, or vulva, performed for nonmedical purposes and knowing parental consent to such mutilation
Non-contact abuse includes:
- Showing a child pornography
- Indecent exposure or flashing one’s body parts to a child
- Using sexually suggestive language
- Masturbating in front of a child
- Forcing a child to masturbate in front of the adult
- Violating the privacy of a child or teen (such as watching them while bathing, dressing, etc.)
- Making the child participate in sexual acts through the phone
Regardless of whether the contact was physical, both physical and non-physical abuse is punishable by law.
According to California law, the person filing a lawsuit must meet the following requirements when filing a child sexual assault claim:
- The abuse must have taken place when the victim was under the age of 18.
- The abuse must have occurred in California.
- The victim did not receive legal compensation for the alleged offense.
- The victim is able to receive therapist certification if over 40 and filing after December 31st, 2022, based on delayed discovery, within five years of discovery, as mentioned above.
Right now is a rare opportunity to file your claim regardless of when the abuse happened, so long as you can meet the factors described above.
What does the California Child Victims Act mean for me if I'm a survivor?
Before introducing the California Child Victims Act, unless the victim came forward immediately, the state’s statute of limitations barred them from seeking justice against their abuser and the organizations that had a duty to safeguard them against the abuse. Whether the abuse happened at the hands of the Clergy, youth group leaders, foster care, or camp counselors and employees, systemic cultures of secrecy have allowed sexual abuse to occur for decades.
Legislators now recognize the inhibiting and damaging effects the previous statute of limitations laws had on child sex abuse survivors. Now, child sexual abuse victims have five years after discovering their psychological injury resulting from their abuse and persisting into adulthood to file a lawsuit.
This change in the law makes it easier for California survivors to seek justice and damages. Specifically, the three-year look back window revives sexual assault claims barred by the previous statute of limitations by eliminating a time limit to initiate a lawsuit. Now, these victims can bring both criminal charges and civil claims against their abusers and third parties that allowed the abuse to happen.
Child sexual assault can have long-term effects on individuals that persist well into adulthood, including:
- Dissociative disorders
- Addiction or substance abuse problems
- Dysfunctional relationships
- Lingering feelings of anger, shame, shock, fear, and mistrust of other people
Survivors must begin recovery and healing to resolve negative feelings related to their abuse. Starting a lawsuit against the sexual offender is hugely beneficial to this process. It helps empower survivors and gives them a platform to voice their experiences. Holding their abuser accountable also brings the identities of the offenders to the public’s attention and prevents other children from getting abused.
Not only are the abusers exposed, but allowing these victims to seek retribution also brings awareness and justice against the organizations that allowed the abuse to happen. Many of the organizations employ individuals with mandated reporting obligations requiring them to report any suspicions or knowledge of abuse. These mandated reporters fail individual victims and overall organizations when they allow abuse to go unpunished or persist.
Discussing child sexual abuse openly diminishes its secrecy and stigma, inspiring other survivors to speak up. Bringing the perpetrators to justice can help individuals and their families attain closure and a sense of peace.
No sum of money can reverse the suffering experienced due to child sexual abuse, but compensation can help survivors combat the chronic effects of abuse by getting the professional care and treatment they need to recover. Compensation achieved via a civil lawsuit can pay for:
- Mental health counseling and psychiatric treatment
- Rehabilitation and therapy costs
- Medical expenses
- Emotional distress
- Lost wages from missed work resulting due to the emotional distress caused by the sexual assault
Victims are in a unique position right now to seek compensation from institutions protecting their abusers by attempting to cover up the abuse by concealing evidence. In these situations, child sexual assault survivors may recover up to three times the amount of damages available to them previously. Pursuing legal action is not only beneficial financially but can yield incredible healing potential for child sexual abuse victims.
Who can I charge or sue through the California Child Victims Act?
Various reports have uncovered the incredibly shocking system abuse in both public and private organizations throughout the last couple of decades. This abuse was so prevalent that victims sometimes referred to it as a “rite of passage,” such as the abuse in the Boy Scouts scandal. The leadership that knew about the abuse created an environment of secrecy. Rather than exposing the abusers, they simply transferred them to another branch of the organization, where the abuser would continue to abuse children. These organizations failed to protect these children, as did the individuals who covered up the abuse.
There are several types of sexual offenders associated with entities who share liability, including:
- Clergy members
- Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
- Youth group leaders and volunteers
- Coaches, teachers, or fellow students
- Daycare employees and children
- Foster parents
- Camp counselors and employees
It’s now easier for survivors in California to file suit against the organizations or the state responsible (i.e., in the case of foster parents) because the California Child Victims Act exempts survivors from showing claim presentations against public entities normally required under the Government Tort Claims Act.
The California Child Victims Act provides that if the private or public entity had actual notice or “reason to know of misconduct that creates a risk of childhood sexual assault by an employee, volunteer, representative, or agent,” or “failed to take reasonable steps and implement safeguards to prevent acts of childhood sexual assault,” then the entity is liable.
Also, child abuse mandatory reporting requirements extend to teachers, coaches, public school systems, therapists, daycare employees, foster care employees, camp counselors and employees, social workers, pastors, youth group volunteers, and medical examiners. Other mandated reporters include:
- Classified employees of all public schools
- Administrators of schools and day camps
- Licensed workers, such as social workers
- Physicians, surgeons, psychiatrists
- Medical examiners
A failure to report as required by law makes the individual liable for criminal prosecution.
Since ninety percent of perpetrators are people known to the child, other potential perpetrators of sexual offenses not affiliated with such previously mentioned organizations are likely to be family friends or acquaintances, family members, or babysitters. Some states even say that parents are liable for child sexual abuse if they fail to protect their child and knew or should have known that their child was subject to abuse.
What penalties can my abuser face?
Only the state can bring criminal charges and aim to punish the wrongdoer by imposing jail time, fines, probation, or community service. Federal laws usually are inapplicable to child sexual abuse matters. If the abuse happened on federal land, then the offense can be prosecuted under federal law. Regardless of whether state or federal law applies, abusers convicted of child sexual abuse will face fines and imprisonment.
To file criminal charges in California, you need to report the abuse to the authorities, and they start the lawsuit and handle the ensuing litigation to convict the abuser. A person convicted of sex crimes against a child is also required to register as a sex offender. Some abusers face up to life in prison, depending on the level of the abuse.
You can initiate a civil lawsuit against both your abuser and potential third parties liable for the abuse. You are the plaintiff in a civil case. Individuals file civil suits to obtain monetary compensation for their injuries or harm, and it is often a vital part of the healing process. Civil lawsuits are essential because they provide an avenue for accountability against the person who wronged you. This person may have hurt you directly, failed to fulfill an obligation to report or protect you, or enabled the abuse.
The California Child Victims Act permits survivors to recover three times the base damages award (i.e., “treble” damages) from defendants who have covered up or attempted to cover up a minor’s sexual assault.
Civil lawsuits are crucial and extremely valuable to bring justice to victims and prevent future abuse. These lawsuits help expose those that abuse children, those that fail to report child sexual abuse, and those unwilling to protect children. These failures have actively enabled sexual predators, and such actions or inactions are punishable.
How long after an assault do I have to file in California? Is it too late for me to file?
It’s not too late to file a claim. Previously, a restrictive statute of limitations barred many childhood sexual abuse survivors from coming forward to confront their abusers, but that’s no longer the case until December 31, 2022. California AB 218 went into effect on January 1, 2020, providing a three-year look back window until December 31, 2022. Right now and until December 31st, 2022, you can file a child sexual assault civil lawsuit to get the compensation you deserve for your trauma and continued healing and recovery.
If you were a victim of childhood sexual assault, you may bring a civil action for money damages no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. After the look back window expires, you have until your 40th birthday to bring your claim.
It’s ideal to file a claim as soon as possible because waiting any longer can make it harder to find convincing evidence to prove the necessary elements of your lawsuit. You must contact a law firm with extensive knowledge about child sexual assault lawsuits to ensure you’re correctly filing a claim supported by evidence, even if the abuse happened decades ago, to provide you with a chance at the best possible outcome.
How do I file a claim as a child sexual assault survivor?
To file your child sexual assault claim, you need proper evidence to prove all the requirements for eligibility, including showing the abuse happened when you were under the age of 18. Additionally, the abuse must have occurred in California, you must not have received legal compensation for the alleged offense, and you must be able to receive a therapist’s certification (if you are over 40).
To have the best possible chance to obtain a positive result at trial, it’s vital to hire a law firm with knowledge of child sex abuse lawsuits. Herman Law helps thousands of child sexual abuse victims receive the compensation they deserve to assist in their healing. Herman Law’s team can file civil lawsuits on behalf of its clients and help you report your case to the authorities to start a criminal case. We focus on empathy and a compassionate approach when communicating and working closely with our clients. Get in touch with us for a free-of-charge consultation to learn about your rights and possible next steps.
Herman Law Provides a Voice for Victims
At Herman Law, we position ourselves uniquely to advocate for the best interests of survivors. Herman Law’s exclusive representation of child sexual abuse victims is rare. Herman Law employs its own investigative unit composed of expert law enforcement professionals, and all our employees receive specialized training in forensic interviewing techniques to put victims at ease.
We have handled over 1,000 sexual abuse cases and are well-informed about the types of claims and remedies available to victims under both federal and state law.
The California Child Victims Act has permitted a fantastic opportunity for victims to obtain a fair judgment in an attempt to right the wrongs committed against them. Child sexual assault survivors must make good use of this opportunity by filing their case before the look back window expires on December 31, 2022.
Herman Law zealously advocates for each of its clients by gathering necessary evidence, formulating an effective case strategy, and communicating with our clients at every step throughout the litigation process. We prioritize our clients’ continued healing and assist them with obtaining mental health counseling and reporting their abuse to law enforcement.
You can still file a claim today even if your abuse occurred many years ago, but only until the end of next year. Schedule a free consultation with us today to learn how to proceed and acquire the justice you deserve!