On Sept. 19, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Sexual Abuse And Cover-Up Accountability Act into law. The measure allows adult sexual assault survivors to file civil lawsuits for offenses that happened on or after Jan. 1, 2009.
The measure brings new hope for justice to survivors who were otherwise barred from taking legal action because the statute of limitations expired. In 2019, California extended the deadline, giving survivors 10 years from the date of the attack to file a lawsuit seeking financial compensation from abusers or a maximum of three years after discovering a related illness or injury.
The new law goes into effect in 2023
The new window begins on New Year’s Day and lasts until Dec. 31, 2026, for new claims dating back to the beginning of 2009. The legislation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, amends the current law, providing a rare opportunity for justice for survivors of rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and others impacted by other forms of sexual violence.
Most sexual assaults go unreported
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) says a sexual assault occurs every 68 seconds in the U.S. One out of every six women has been the victim of a completed or attempted rape. But RAINN says less than one-third of these attacks are reported to the police.
Even more disturbing is that 33% of women who are raped consider suicide, and more than one out of every 10 attempts to take their own lives. Many of the attackers are people they know and trust, and it can take years for them to consider what happened as sexual assault. Sadly, many more are embarrassed or blame themselves and take no action as a result.
The new law also targets employers who cover up sexual assault
Another provision of the law is a one-year lookback window enabling survivors to sue employers, along with directors, officers, agents and representatives who covered up or tried to cover up sexual assaults to protect their business, themselves as well as the perpetrators.
A cover-up is defined as “a concerted effort” to conceal evidence related to a sexual assault that “incentivizes individuals” to stay quiet or keep information pertaining to a sexual crime from becoming public or passed along to the victim. This includes the use of confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements.
Another significant result of the legislation is that it revives unresolved wrongful termination and sexual harassment claims where sexual assault is at the center of the complaint. This provision does not include claims that have already been settled or were litigated to finality in court.
Ensuring that you have a voice
The Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act presents an opportunity for thousands of sexual assault survivors to hold their attackers accountable, as well as others who enabled or protected them. If you are a survivor, you may be entitled to compensation for the immense physical and emotional consequences you have endured.
Taking action can help you hold your attacker and others accountable but hopefully it will greatly aid in your healing. To learn more about your options, it’s advisable to consult with an experienced lawyer who is committed to pursuing justice for sexual assault survivors.