California Latest State to Consider “Look Back” Legislation in Abuse Cases

The climate for change and reform of existing laws regarding the sexual abuse of minors has never been hotter than it is right now.  In the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and the Cardinal McCarrick debacle, state legislators across the country are feeling pressure to introduce bills that will allow survivors of sexual abuse to come forward and seek justice.

In California, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has reintroduced a bill that would create a new three-year lookback window for victims who were unable to take advantage of the one-year window in 2003. Then-Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Gonzalez’ measure last year. She is hopeful that Governor Gavin Newsom, sworn in this month, will be more receptive.

“The idea that someone who is assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to report that abuse is outrageous,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “More and more, we’re hearing about people who were victims years ago but were not ready to come forward to tell their story until now. We shouldn’t be telling victims their time is up when in reality we need them to come forward to protect the community from future abuse.”

Under existing law, a survivor must file a lawsuit within eight years of reaching adulthood or within three years of the date a survivor who has reached adulthood “discovers or reasonably should have discovered” they suffered damages as a result of the assault, whichever comes later.

Assembly Bill 218 would expand both the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual assault, from age 26 to age 40, and the period for delayed reasonable discovery, from three to five years. After enactment, the measure would also allow for a window of three years for the revival of past claims that might have expired due to the statute of limitations.

In cases where a child becomes a victim of sexual assault as the result of an effort to cover up past assaults, AB 218 will allow a court to award recovery of up to treble damages from the defendant who engaged in the cover up.

States are beginning to understand the inequity in outdated statutes of limitations regarding sexual abuse of minors as well as the well-known fact that those who’ve been injured often can’t come forward right away. This is a good and necessary step in the right direction for survivors of childhood sex abuse.



Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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