The rates of childhood sexual assault are staggering. One in every five women under the age of 18 have been the victim of a sexual assault. The rate is lower, but still unimaginably high for boys: one out of twenty. The state legislature is finally catching up with changing social norms and cultural developments surrounding sexual assault. Until the recent passing of California Assembly Bill 218, many perpetrators of sexual assault hid behind the years of silence imposed on their victims through fear, embarrassment, disbelief, and intimidation. Now, however, the laws surrounding sexual assault are changing, allowing child victims that did not bring claims in the previously prescribed 8-year window to seek justice in a civil court until he or she reaches the age of 40. In this regard, California follows New York, New Jersey, and several other states enacting similar legislation.
Individuals who were victimized and are still within the former statute of limitations period will be able to bring a claim up and until the day before they turn 40 years old. Individuals for which the statute of limitations has already run will be granted a 3-year window to file a lawsuit. For those individuals, claims that were already time-barred will be able to file their claim anytime between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2022.
The new law also includes a provision that drew heavy opposition, and a deluge of lobbying dollars, from the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, and the California public school system. Where a survivor of sexual assault can show that an organization covered up previous sexual assaults, and the survivor was subsequently assaulted—making the coverup its cause—the survivor can recover treble damages. The most publicized examples of such behavior regard the Catholic church, where leaders were aware of predatory clergy, but purposefully and systematically covered up the assaults and allowed the predators to have continued access to children. Some 800 lawsuits were filed in the weeks following the opening of the revival window. Between June 2017 and June 2018, prior to enactment of the law, the Catholic Church is estimated to have paid $301.6 million nationwide in relation to sexual abuse claims. That massive figure is poised to grow exponentially as more adults seek compensation for decades old sexual assaults.