Survivors of childhood sexual abuse empowered by new California law

Victims of childhood sexual abuse will now have more time to file civil suits against alleged suspects and the institutions that employ them after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed historic legislation in Sacramento. 

The end of the legislative season brings a new beginning for victims now that Assembly Bill 218, authored by Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has become law. 

"It expands the rights of sex abuse victims considerably. It gives them more time to present their claims," said Robert Allard, a child sex abuse legal expert. 

Allard said sex abuse victims often suffer intimidation, embarrassment, repressed memory and fear. 

That was the case for former USA swim team member Jancy Thompson, who filed suit against her swim coach for sexual assault in 2011. 

"I couldn't figure out what was causing the panic attacks. The triggers, the nightmares, the sweating; until I pieced it together and realized, 'Oh my gosh. This is related to the abuse I endured when I was younger," said Thompson. 

The new law goes into effect in January 2020 and opens a three-year window for sex abuse claims no matter where the alleged crime took place. Starting in 2022 it ups the statute of limitations from 26 years of age to 40. 

"There are people all over the state who have been aching for a chance to do something. A big part of healing is stopping the cycle," said Joelle Casteix with the Zero Abuse Project. 

Casteix successfully sued the Catholic Church in 2003. She said Newsom's signing shifts legal power and puts on notice institutions that knowingly capitulate illegal behavior. 

"Survivors of child sexual abuse, the balance of power has changed. And now they have the right to expose the people who hurt them as well as the institutions that covered up the abuse," Casteix said. 

"It helps all those victims out there who want to seek justice," Thompson said. "And they may not get that in the form of a criminal conviction, but they may get it now." 

The new law also allows victims to sue schools or religious institutions, found guilty of covering up sex abuse for triple the amount of damages.