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What is Assembly Bill 218: The CA Child Victims Act?

Apr 08, 2022
Last updated Dec 11, 2023
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Childhood sexual abuse is something no one likes to think about, but it profoundly affects millions of people every day. Sexual abuse can be extremely traumatic for anyone, but when it occurs in childhood it can leave mental, emotional, and physical scars that impact development and last into adulthood.

Children who are survivors of sexual abuse may repress their memories, sometimes even for years after the initial event. While repression of memories is a coping mechanism used by the brain to protect the child from what they have experienced, it can make prosecuting the abuser difficult due to California’s statute of limitations

Warning Signs of Childhood Sexual Trauma

Survivors of sexual abuse, especially children, often do not speak up for many reasons. An abuser may threaten or coerce a child in order to keep them quiet about what is happening to them. Feelings of fear, guilt, or shame may prevent them from disclosing the abuse. This is why knowing the signs of childhood sexual abuse is critical and may help get a child out of a dangerous situation.

Common warning signs include:

  • Sudden fear of being away from parents. 
  • Unwillingness to bathe or the opposite – bathing more often than necessary.
  • Age-inappropriate knowledge of sexuality.
  • Expressing discomfort about being around a particular person, even if they do not express why.

Prosecuting Childhood Sexual Abuse

When a childhood sexual abuse survivor files a lawsuit in California, the ultimate goal is to bring closure and some type of consequence to the perpetrator. The process of prosecuting sexual abuse can be difficult, so it is important for a survivor and their family to hire an experienced lawyer. Edwards Henderson is proud to stand by our clients in their fight for justice. 

The prosecution of an abuser may end with the perpetrator in prison if they are convicted of a crime. It may also end with the abuser having to pay restitution to their victim for the “full amount of economic loss” resulting from their crimes. Restitution may cover certain damages such as psychological treatment or lost wages if the survivor’s psychological symptoms were or are too severe for them to work. Restitution also encompasses all non-economic damages for losses that aren’t necessarily quantifiable. These damages can include the loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, and more. If the perpetrator is found guilty and ordered to pay restitution while the child is still a minor, the court may use a formula to estimate future losses. 

How Does the California Child Victims Act Help Survivors?

Assembly Bill 218 is a state law that took effect on January 1, 2020 after being signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in late 2019. It is also referred to as the California Child Victims Act and made significant changes to the existing laws and requirements around reporting childhood sexual abuse or assault in California. It also changed some legal terminology, referring to lewd acts with a minor as childhood sexual assault instead of childhood sexual abuse.

More Time to File a Lawsuit for Childhood Sexual Assault in California

A key component of the California Child Victims Act is the extension of the statute of limitations for the sexual abuse or assault of a child. A statute of limitations is a limit on the amount of time a person has to file a lawsuit.

Prior to the signing of Assembly Bill 218, survivors had either three years from the discovery of damages or until age 26 to file a lawsuit for a sexual assault that occurred during their childhood. “Discovery of damages” refers to when the damage from childhood sexual abuse becomes apparent. This can occur years after the initial assault.

Assembly Bill 218 changed these limits to allow more time for survivors to bring a claim. The law now states that survivors have five years from the discovery of damages or until age 40, whichever comes first, to file their sexual assault claims.

The Act also includes a three-year look-back window, allowing all survivors of child sex abuse to file a civil lawsuit, regardless of their age, through December 31, 2022.

Higher Penalties for Cover-Ups of Child Sex Abuse

The new law also imposes more severe penalties on those who attempt to cover up the sexual assault of a minor. If the survivor can prove that their assault was deliberately covered up, they may be entitled to treble damages. Treble damages refer to when a court increases the amount that a perpetrator owes the victim by up to three times the original compensatory award.

What Can a Survivor Expect When They Report Child Sex Abuse in California?

When a survivor of childhood sexual assault decides to report their experience, it can be a frightening prospect at first. Decades later, an abuser can still hold a kind of power over a formerly abused child, even if that child is now an adult. Knowing what to expect from the process of filing a childhood sexual assault lawsuit in California can help ease the anxiety. 

When pursuing criminal charges, the first step is to file the initial report, which can be done at your local police station or by calling the non-emergency line. It may be easiest to go directly to the police station, especially if you have any physical evidence. Though gathering evidence for a years-old assault may sound impossible, things like photos or journal entries can help prosecutors more than you might think. 

You should also retain a childhood sexual abuse lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you file a civil lawsuit against third parties, such as a youth organization or church, that may have allowed the abuse to happen. The process of getting justice can be grueling, and there is no reason you should have to navigate it on your own. 

Finding the Right Child Sex Abuse Lawyer

If you have decided that it is time to report your assault, Edwards Henderson is ready to move forward alongside you. Years of trial and litigation experience have helped us pursue justice for survivors of some of the most powerful entities and individuals, including Jeffery Epstein. We approach each case with the compassion and care sexual assault survivors deserve. Contact us today for a confidential consultation to learn more about how to pursue your case. We represent clients throughout California, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and beyond.

If you suspect that a child is being sexually abused, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway for a state-by-state guide on how to report child abuse.

Article Sources

  1. California: Senate Bill No. 756
  2. California: Assembly Bill No. 218
  3. State Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Numbers

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