Opening the Courts to Victims of Sexual Abuse: Remove the Statute of Limitations

February 8, 2018

Statutes of limitations have never been intended as a means of preventing victims of sexual abuse from seeing their abusers punished by the courts or from recovering compensation for the psychological or physical injuries they suffered. Sadly, this is what has been happening in too many cases. The conviction of a former congressional member for violating banking laws drew national attention, but the primary reason for that attention, his admissions to sexually abusing young boys because almost forty years earlier, went unprosecuted. Prosecutors were barred by the statute of limitations from pursuing justice for the victims. Removing the statute of limitations would prevent this from happening in California.

Purpose of statutes of limitations

Placing limitations on the time given an injured party to sue for damages or how long the state has to compel someone to answer for violating the criminal statutes is accomplished through the statute of limitations. The principle behind setting of deadlines is that time causes memories to fade and evidence to be lost, so it benefits all parties to have matters brought before a court, whether in the context of a criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit for damages, as soon after the events giving rise to them have happened.

As a general rule, prosecutors have 10 years within which to prosecute someone accused of what would be a felony sex offense. The statute of limitations is extended in cases where the victim was a child under 18 years of age at the time of the offense. Prosecutors may file criminal charges until the victim reaches his or her 40th birthday. However, a change to the law effectively removes the time limitation for prosecution in cases involving the following offenses provided they were not barred as of January 1, 2017 by the former statute of limitations:

  • Rape
  • Continuous sexual abuse of a child
  • Oral copulation
  • Sexual penetration
  • Sodomy
  • Lewd and lascivious acts

This does not affect civil actions where the statute of limitations continues to prevent some victims of childhood sexual abuse from recovering compensation from their abusers or the organizations that employed them.

Current statute of limitations in civil cases

Under California law, victims of sexual abuse have two years from when the wrongful acts are committed to file a lawsuit for compensation. To its credit, the state enacted a longer statute of limitations if the victim suffered psychological or physical harm from childhood sexual abuse. Victims in those types of situations have up to eight years after reaching their 18th birthday within which to sue for damages. It could be longer when psychological harm or illness is involved. In those situations, the victim has three years from discovery of the harm to sue.

The current state of the law creates unequal treatment for victims of sexual abuse. Victims suffering the most serious mental trauma could recognize what happened to them, but their condition could prevent them from speaking about it with anyone, including an attorney. The legislature can do something about this by removing the statute of limitations. It did it in 2002 when it passed a bill that was signed into law removing the statute of limitations on sexual abuse lawsuits for one year.

Childhood sexual abuse victims need experienced legal counsel

Cifarelli Law Firm, LLP, focuses its practice on personal injury and pursuing claims for compensation by the victims of childhood sexual abuse. Its attorneys have an unsurpassed record of success fighting for the past 25 years on behalf of the victims of sexual abuse, harassment and sexual misconduct. Contact us today by calling (949) 502-8600 or use the form on our website to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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