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California Extends Childhood Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Effective January 1, 2020

This year, California gave many survivors of childhood sexual assault the opportunity to seek justice. As of January 1, 2020, survivors of abuse have a three-year window to file civil claims that could not be filed under previous laws. The new laws do not impact the criminal process or deadlines.

Extending the statute of limitations

Previously, with limited exceptions, childhood sexual assault victims could only file claims against their perpetrators until the age of 26. Under the new law, victims can file civil claims until the age of 40.

Those over 40 may also be able to file a civil claim. To be eligible, survivors must file their claim within five years of discovering that their abuse caused long lasting psychological harm. (Or from the date when they should have made this connection.)

The new law should encourage more individuals to come forward. It can take many years for assault survivors to report the abuse. This trend is especially true for young boys. A longer reporting time allows victims the opportunity to process their abuse and to report it on their own terms.

Claims against organizations and individuals

Child sexual assault victims can file civil suits against the individual who harmed them and relevant third parties whose actions contributed or permitted the abuse to take place. To hold these third parties (typically organizations) responsible, victims must generally show that the organization "owed a duty of care" to protect them, and that the organization's negligence or wrongdoing ultimately resulted in the sexual abuse.

Third parties could be organizations, such as the Boy Scouts, USA Gymnastics, or the Catholic Church, or private employers, such as private schools or companies, or public entities such as the Counties and local school districts, or individuals who knew about the abuse but failed to stop it. Victims can also file claims against organizations, public entities, or individuals who covered up the abuse.

What can we expect from these changes?

California's new laws allow extends the time for victims of childhood sexual abuse to present their civil case to the courts. We can expect an influx of new child sexual assault charges over the next three years. Along with this, organizations, employers, school districts, counties, etc. may face added scrutiny as additional reports of wrongdoing surface.

This is an important step in recognizing that victims of childhood sexual abuse may need time to process what happened and to speak up. California's extension of its statute of limitations for these types of cases empowers a segment of the population that was formerly unable to hold their abusers accountable.

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