California’s Open Window On Litigation Involving Childhood Sexual Assault

in Legislation

California Governor, Gavin Newsome, signed AB218 into law on October 13, 2019. The bill took effect on January 1, 2020, and allows for survivors of childhood sexual assault the ability to confront their aggressors legally. The last time that the state of California enacted a “lookback window” was in 2004. This means that for 16 years, the adult survivors of childhood sexual assault have been unable to do anything due to the statute of limitations. AB218 opens up the potential for survivors to come forward against two of the most notorious organizations – the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church.

What Is AB218?

AB218 is a bill that was authored by Asm. Lorena Gonzales (D-CA). The purpose of AB218 is to amend Sections 340.1 and 1002 of the Code of Civil Procedure. It also amends Section 905 of the Government Code for childhood sexual assault.

Other co-authors and sponsors of the bill include:

  • Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-CA)
  • Sen. Scott Wilk (R-CA)
  • Asm. Mark Stone (D-CA)
  • Asm. David Chiu (D-CA)
  • Asm. Kevin McCarty (D-CA)
  • Asm. Robert Rivas (D-CA)
  • Asm. Tom Lackey (R-CA)

With the signing of AB218 into law, Governor Newsome changed the previous statute of limitations regarding childhood sexual assault and the timeframe for reporting it. AB218 changes the statute of limitations in cases involving childhood sexual assault that were laid out within SB1779.

Statute of Limitations Outlined in SB1779 Regarding Childhood Sexual Assault

Before the passing of AB218, the limitations for filing a lawsuit for childhood sexual assault, as outlined in SB1779, had an eight-year statute of limitations from the age of maturity (18 years of age) in the state of California. The survivor of the sexual assault also had the ability to file a lawsuit within three years of the date they discovered any psychological damage caused by the assault or abuse.

The statute of limitations allowed for those adults up to age 26 to file a lawsuit regarding childhood sexual assault. For those adults 26 years of age and older at the time of the lawsuit, certification must be filed. The legal counsel can file certification for the plaintiff in the case. Still, it is required that a licensed mental health provider also certify the documentation.

The mental health provider consulted by legal counsel must be licensed and cannot be a party to the lawsuit. This professional cannot now or in the past treated the plaintiff. The basis of their observation is to verify that childhood sexual assault is the reason for the plaintiff’s psychological damage.

Governor Gray Davis approved SB1779 on July 10, 2002. It was filed with the Secretary of State on July 11, 2002. It would be over 17 years before any changes were made, advocating for the survivors of childhood sexual assault.

Statute of Limitation Changes Made By AB 218 Regarding Childhood Sexual Assault

On January 1, 2020, AB218 went into effect in the state of California. Signed into law on October 13, 2019, by Governor Newsome, AB218 changes the statute of limitations imposed by the state of California on childhood sexual assault cases.

Instead of the original eight-year statute of limitations from the age of maturity, AB218 increased the number of years to 22. Now, anyone under 40 can file a lawsuit for childhood sexual assault, regardless of when it happened. Anyone who is 40 years of age or older must provide the certification as laid out in the previous statute.

In addition to extending the timeline for California’s statute of limitations on childhood sexual assault cases, it also changes the way that the court handles cases involving cover-ups. In a case where a cover-up of the sexual assault has been proven, the court can compel the defendant to pay up to three times the amount of actual figured damages to the plaintiff.

The bill also introduces a three-year lookback window for cases that would have been ineligible due to the previous statute of limitations. The time limit of the lookback window can be three years from January 1, 2020, or the statute of limitations period established by the new law.

The Role Of The #MeToo Movement And Survivors Beginning To Speak Up

The original “MeToo” movement began in 2006 by Tarana Burke, with the intention of empowering women through empathy. However, in 2017, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged the movement differently, bringing light to the country’s sexual harassment and assault problems. It is Milano who is credited with adding the social media hashtag to the movement.

Since the exposure of sexual assault in a more open way, people have begun speaking up about their own experiences, including celebrities. Originally thought of as a female movement, the reality is that sexual assault does not discriminate, and more men are stepping forward as a result. These survivors have prompted for lawsuits that have brought light to the sexual assault happening, even within non-profits. The Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America are two major organizations that have been confronted with regard to childhood sexual assault and abuse allegations.

Every nine minutes, child protective services find evidence to substantiate a claim of child sexual abuse.

Many survivors of childhood sexual assault do not come forward, and some will even take the incident to their graves. The empowerment brought by this movement has brought some of these survivors out of hiding, sharing their stories. #MeToo helped many find a voice when they were too ashamed or felt powerless to stand up against their assailant, many after decades of hiding in the dark.

Catholic Church Sexual Assault/Abuse

The first mention of the Catholic Church and sexual abuse stems from the mid-1980s. Catholic clergymen were first accused of sexual abuse toward children and other vulnerable individuals. It wasn’t until 2002, through the reporting of The Boston Globe, that a wide-spread cover-up had been occurring by church officials regarding sexual abuse and a Boston area priest. Since then, the Catholic Church has implemented policies and procedures. If a sexual assault is reported, the accused priest is removed from the ministry immediately until the officials of the church can thoroughly investigate the accusations.

In a report that was released by a Pennsylvania grand jury in August 2018, it detailed the extensive nature of the cover-ups and sexual abuse. The report was concerning six dioceses that were investigated. This jury report prompted the resignation of top church officials, reportedly for their roles in the cover-up.

Due to the increased number of lawsuits that formed, and are still forming against the individual dioceses, many are resorting to filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When a company or organization is facing litigation concerning sexual assault or abuse, especially in reference to children, they will often file for bankruptcy as a way to stall the proceedings.

The Boy Scouts Of America Sexual Assault/Abuse

The Catholic Church is not the only one to use the strategy of filing bankruptcy to stall all civil lawsuits against them. The Boy Scouts of America have officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, creating a timeline for filing a lawsuit claim. Along with the bankruptcy, the names of perpetrators will also be kept confidential. For many, this means that their assailants’ identities will not be disclosed to the public, allowing them to keep their reputation intact.

The Boy Scouts of America have been in legal trouble in the past. Accusations of sexual assault and abuse within the organization have already paid out lawsuits totaling close to $20 million. With the passing of AB218 in California and lookback window statutes in other states, more of the assaulted boy scouts are coming forward.

Within the main headquarters is a set of files that have been labeled “The Perversion Files.” These are files of those individuals who have had claims made against them for sexual assault. The Boy Scouts of America hired a child abuse expert to review the data within these files. This expert estimated that from 1944 to 2016 that 12,254 members of the scouts were sexually assaulted or abused by 7,819 perpetrators, who were subsequently removed from the organization. Other experts believe that this number underestimates the number of victims.

Since the severity of the accusations has increased, the Boy Scouts of America have enacted a phone system for reporting sexual abuse, assault, or other types of violent acts within the organization. Some are skeptical of how well the system works.

Why You Need To Hire A Lawyer To Handle Civil Litigation And Childhood Sexual Assault Cases

With the change in California’s statute of limitations, courtrooms will likely see more cases involving childhood sexual assault cases. Many survivors of childhood sexual assault don’t want to hire legal counsel for their case, or they decide to remain quiet because they are ashamed or embarrassed. When you hire a lawyer for your childhood sexual assault case, you are strengthening your support system.

Nobody wants to recollect the circumstances and events of a sexual assault, especially when it happens to a child. Personal injury lawyers take a stand with you against the defendant, giving you the support you need to bring them to justice.

When confronted about childhood sexual assault, the perpetrator is likely to deny having been involved. This is the reason you need to hire experienced legal counsel. Your lawyer is going to be the one to help you find the evidence you need to seek the damages you deserve. Many of these perpetrators try to use the defense that it never happened, or that it wasn’t them, or even that the act was consensual.

Your lawyer will be investigating various avenues to help strengthen your case against your assailant. One of the best methods is impeachment by contradiction. When a suspect or witness changes their story after making a statement, it causes weakness in the defense’s case. If a sexual assault victim remembers something from the incident that they had previously blocked, this can also help strengthen their case and discredit the defendant.

Contingency Fee Legal Representation

Most personal injury lawyers work on the understanding of contingency fees. A contingency fee agreement is made, indicating that unless the law firm wins your case, the lawyer does not get paid. The expert legal professionals at TorkLaw also work on contingency fee agreements. They only get paid if your case is awarded a monetary amount or settlement.

Many survivors of childhood sexual assault and abuse have trouble trusting others. They may find that coming forward and obtaining a legal representative may be more than they can afford. Choosing a law firm like TorkLaw, who works on a contingency fee agreement, can make it a little easier for survivors to come forward in these cases.

Resource Available For Victims Of Childhood Sexual Assault And Abuse

TorkLaw wants to extend their knowledge of resources available to the survivors of childhood sexual assault and abuse. These organizations are available to help you understand and work through the trauma experienced as a child.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)-also available En Español

CALCASA (California Coalition Against Sexual Assault)

NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center)

After Silence (available in English and En Español)



1in6 and MaleSurvivor are both sites dedicated to the male survivors of sexual assault and abuse. The statistic is that 1 in 6 males are sexually assaulted during their lifetime. These are two resources that can be helpful to survivors filing lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America for childhood sexual assault and abuse. Many of these survivors have been hiding and dealing with their feelings for decades. Now there is a place where they can be safe to discuss it.

The TorkLaw Commitment To Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Assault And Abuse

Due to the statute of limitations changes enacted by the signing of AB218 into law, TorkLaw is available to review your childhood sexual assault and abuse cases. We understand the sensitivity of the subject and want you to know that we will take care of your concerns, questions, and help support you through the entire process.

Call our law offices today for a free legal consultation using our toll-free number 888.845.9696. Let our experienced legal team be your advocate and help you find closure and justice regarding your childhood sexual assault and abuse case.

Free Case Evaluation

Discover how we can help you..