On October 13, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsome signed Assembly Bill 218 into law. This groundbreaking legislation was introduced to combat widespread instances of adults sexually abusing minors while increasing the amount of time for victims to pursue damages. More notably, the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, as well as the U.S. Olympics team, have dealt with abhorrent claims of acts of sexual abuse perpetrated against minors in the custody of adults.
Before Assembly Bill 218 was signed into law, survivors had to file a lawsuit within eight years of becoming an adult (18) or within three years from the time that a sexual abuse survivor (that is over 18) “discovers or should have discovered” that they were negatively affected psychologically or physically as a result of being sexually abused in their youth. AB 218 extends the current statute of limitations as well as offers survivors more time to “reasonably discover” that they were victims of sexual assault. This historic bill allows victims of childhood sexual abuse to seek justice against victimizers as well as closure. The timeframe on pursuing damages is no longer so short that it doesn’t give victims the opportunity to mentally process the abuse and be prepared to confront those that perpetrated sexual violence against them while they were children.
What Assembly Bill 218 Accomplishes
In an overwhelmingly bipartisan effort, the legislative body within the state of California understood that advocating for the victims of past sexual abuse was in the best interest of mankind. AB 218 passed the California Assembly with a vote of 69 to 0. Further showing that no one wanted to be on the wrong side of history and everyone involved realized its importance. In the past, victims had to file a lawsuit alleging childhood sexual abuse by the time they were 26 or a maximum of three years after realizing the psychological or physical repercussions of the abuse (whichever came first). Advocates for childhood sexual abuse victims have long been in favor of more victim-centric laws that allowed victims the opportunity to appropriately process and then seek damages well into adulthood. Assembly Bill 218 accomplished just that. Learn more about the highlights of AB 218 below.
- Expands the definition of childhood sexual abuse, which will now be referred to as childhood sexual assault within Section 340.1 and 1002 of the Code of Civil Procedure. This was also amended within the Government Code.
- Increases the amount of time that a plaintiff is afforded to pursue damages after reaching adulthood from 8 years to 22 years (age of 40). Furthermore, the amount of “lookback time” is increased from three years to five years from the date that a plaintiff has reasonably discovered that physical or mental illness has occurred as the result of childhood sexual assault.
- Courts have the ability to award plaintiffs three times the amount of actual damages (to be paid by the defendant and/or organization) if they have made attempts at covering up or hiding that the sexual assault took place.
- Allows childhood sexual assault survivors to pursue damages against organizations that permitted sexual abuse to occur. This provision was included to encourage organizations to report abuse to legal authorities instead of potentially protecting those that have perpetrated the acts.
In addition to AB 218, Governor Newsom also gave approval for Assembly Bill 1510 earlier in October of 2019. This piece of legislation affords victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by George Tyndall (former gynecologist on the campus of USC) an additional year to file lawsuits against Tyndall who worked at USC for 27 years. As of now, there are more than 400 women that have made allegations against him.
Who is For the Bill and Who is Against it
In March of 2019, Marcia Hamilton, the founder and CEO of Child USA (think tank for child protection), sent Assemblywoman Lorena Gonalez, D-San Diego, a letter discussing the need to reform the current laws regarding the statute of limitations for pursuing damages against perpetrators of childhood sexual assault. Gonzalez recognized the need for a change and shortly thereafter authored AB 218. Child advocacy organizations, as well as groups that advocate for survivors, have heralded this piece of legislation as groundbreaking and much needed. While the support that AB 218 received has been overwhelmingly positive, there are still detractors.
In fact, Assemblywoman Gonzalez introduced a similar bill in 2018 that was vetoed by then-Governor Jerry Brown. He and others believed that “past acts are indeed in the past” and should not be prosecuted after an unreasonable amount in time. In addition, groups such as the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities as well as the Schools Excess Liability oppose Assembly Bill 218 in its current iteration. They believe that this bill unfairly puts public agencies in the position of having to defend themselves against claims of sexual assault that happened decades ago. Some individuals and organizations do not believe that this is fair because there will inherently be a lack of evidence, fewer witnesses, foggy memories, etc. Furthermore, many educational institutions argue that this bill will force entities to divert money otherwise intended for education, enrichment, and community service to legal costs (even if an invalid claim is made).
Are You a Victim of Childhood Sexual Assault?
Acts of childhood sexual assault perpetrated against you can be psychologically traumatic. They can be the nexus of problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety, symptoms of depression, etc. Signs can occur and or continue well after the abuse has taken place. In addition to the psychological effects, it can be physically harmful in a number of ways. For victims of childhood sexual assault, the acts cannot be undone. However, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your mental and/or physical injuries. If you were victimized by an abuser in your youth, consider the following steps (if you are considering the pursuit of damages).
- Seek the help of a mental health professional. This will allow you to begin healing as well as provide you with the evidence of documented mental harm caused.
- Understand the statute of limitations. Though the law has expanded the amount of time that you have to report and pursue damages, it is still finite.
- Collect evidence and identify potential witnesses.
- Consider if the perpetrator has the assets needed to satisfy a potential judgment made in your favor.
- Be prepared. When you choose to seek justice against your perpetrator you must be prepared for the backlash, negative emotions, and painful memories that will undoubtedly resurface during the trial.
Contact the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC
We understand the implications of taking your abuser to court and pursuing justice. The process can be long, complex, and mentally taxing. If you choose to file child sexual abuse allegations against your perpetrator, work with sexual abuse lawyers that you trust. Give the Law Offices of Vikas Bajaj APC a call to discuss the details of your case today.