California Enacts AB 218: Landmark Bill Protects Children from Sexual Assault

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On October 13, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218, to protect the rights of survivors of childhood sexual assault. The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.  Panish Shea & Boyle LLP helped support this bill through the legislative process.

The bill is a critical step forward for survivors of child sexual assault and is instrumental in the effort to protect California’s children.  AB 218 opens a three-year “lookback window” for previously time-barred claims.  This will enable adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse in California to file claims regardless of their current age.  It is anticipated that more than 1,000 claims will come forward in this lookback window.  The last time a “lookback window” in California allowed for time-barred claims was in 2004. For almost 16 years, the courthouse doors have been closed to California’s adult survivors of childhood sexual assault. The Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts did not start to meaningfully address their child sexual abuse problem until the early 1990s.  As such, there are several decades worth of potential claimants involving the two most notorious organizations who have spent decades covering up these crimes. The three-year lookback window created by AB 218 opens on January 1, 2020. During this time, survivors of childhood sexual assault can bring civil suits against their predators and the institutions that covered for them, regardless of how long ago the crime occurred.

The bill additionally extends the civil statute of limitations to age 40 or anytime thereafter within five years of discovering related psychological injury.  This statute of limitations was previously set at age 26, or within three years of discovery.  Data suggests that survivors of childhood sexual abuse typically do not tell anyone about the abuse until they are well into their adulthood. Survivors can finally help protect today’s children by ensuring that what happened to them does not happen to another child.

The bill also provides for added penalties against institutions that covered up childhood sexual abuse.  As has been well-documented with the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America, these institutions have been roundly criticized for moving predators around from place to place to avoid accountability.  It is anticipated that organizations such as churches and schools who have turned a blind eye to their employees abusing children will have to face accountability for their actions.  Panish Shea & Boyle LLP represents many brave survivors of childhood sexual assault and will be filing claims on their behalf on January 1, 2020.