Sexual abuse is often committed by someone close to the victim, someone they trust. This explains why many children who experience abuse from a family member, church leader, close friend, coach, or teacher take decades to come forward.
Sexual abuse offenses have caused great pain and injury to those who suffered childhood sexual abuse or any form of sexual abuse, and it is through no fault of their own that these victims suffer. Many states, including California, have statutes of limitations that provide victims with a period during which they have the right to file lawsuits against their abusers. Formerly, California’s statute of limitations did not give victims of childhood sexual abuse enough time to sort through their trauma, affording abusers of many innocent children a chance to escape justice.
Recent changes in the law have resulted in extending California’s statute of limitations, which means that abused children now have a greater period in which to file a lawsuit. These changes are discussed below.
California’s Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Abuse
The previous statute of limitations for California’s childhood sexual abuse victims stated that they must file a lawsuit either by age 26 or, if they were already adults, within three years of realizing their psychological injury was caused by childhood sexual abuse (whichever was later).
This changed in October 2019 following Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing of Assembly Bill 218 into law. Among the many provisions of this law, the State’s statute of limitations for civil claims of childhood sexual abuse was extended, giving survivors of abuse more time to bring their claims.
Now, the relevant statutes and time limits governing childhood sexual abuse claims in California include the following:
- Individuals who were sexually abused as children are required to file a lawsuit by their 40th birthday or within five years of discovering the abuse as adults.
- From January 2020, survivors of childhood sexual abuse will have a three-year window in which they can file claims previously barred by the statute of limitations.
- In cases where a layer of cover-up or attempted cover-up has occurred alongside sexual abuse, the court has the authority to triple the damages awarded.
This change in the law has helped solve a problem prevalent in childhood sexual abuse cases: as children, victims of sexual abuse require adequate time to understand that they have been abused and take the appropriate action. A child suffering from sexual abuse may suffer from memory loss as a result of the trauma, and it may take decades for them to remember or comprehend the trauma they have experienced.
What Constitutes Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse may take the following forms:
- Exhibitionism or exposing oneself
- Masturbating in the presence of a victim or forcing the victim to masturbate
- Calls or texts that are obscene or offensive
- Possessing or producing child pornography in any form
What Are the Signs of Sexual Abuse?
Identifying and understanding the warning signs of sexual abuse can be extremely helpful for family members, friends, and loved ones. It isn’t always easy to spot sexual abuse but there are common red flags that one should be aware of, such as:
- 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-harming behaviors
Who is More at Risk of Experiencing Sexual Abuse?
It is often the case that sexual abusers take advantage of trusting relationships to commit their heinous crimes. Abusers know that people who place their trust in them are less likely to recognize what they are experiencing as abuse and report it.
The following are some examples of relationships in which sexual abuse is known to occur:
- Parent, stepparent, or foster parent and child
- Coach and player
- Teacher and student
- Doctor and patient
- Religious authority figure and member of the church
Additionally, abusers often target people who are unlikely to report the abuse to the authorities, such as young children, the elderly, and the disabled. The abuser may use tactics to manipulate the victim into staying quiet about the abuse, including telling them that the activity is normal, that they are enjoying it, or that they will enjoy it. Offenders often use their power to make their victim tolerate sexual abuse. It is also possible for them to use threats or intimidation to scare their victims into silence.
Why Does Sexual Abuse Often Go Unanswered?
Considering that sexual abuse has been a taboo subject for so long, several institutions have developed a system of concealing the abuse or failing to deal with allegations properly.
It is common for clergy, universities, and other large institutions where reputations are at stake to engage in this type of concealment. Instead of responding to allegations appropriately, many institutions choose to shield themselves from negative publicity by attempting to hide the instances of abuse altogether.
Examples of this phenomenon include the following:
- Involvement of the Catholic Church in multiple cases of sexual abuse cover-up
- The University of Southern California’s refusal to remove gynecologist George Tyndall from its staff after allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse
- The failure by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics to protect students and gymnasts from the sexual abuse perpetrated by former staff physician Larry Nassar
Also, far too often children do not tell others about sexual abuse because they have been threatened with bodily harm, are in fear of being removed from their home, are in fear of not being believed, have shame or guilt, and/or fear of getting in trouble themselves.
Recovery Options and Resources for Childhood Sexual Abuse Victims
Children are resilient as are adults that have suffered childhood sexual abuse. With the right combination of support, counseling, resources, and medical and/or legal help, victims can seek out the care and the treatment they deserve.
How Childhood Sexual Abuse Victims Can Seek Justice
It is incredibly challenging to sort through childhood trauma and find the courage to come forward after having experienced sexual abuse as a child.
Thankfully, the extension of California’s childhood sexual abuse statute of limitations will allow survivors more time to pursue justice and compensation.
At the Law Offices of Mark Yablonovich, our trial attorneys are ready to listen to your story and help you navigate a sexual abuse lawsuit. We know how complicated this process can be, and we are here to make it easier for you.
You are not alone in this fight. Contact us today at (888) 306-4228 to schedule a free confidential consultation with our team of attorneys.