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Home  »  Sexual Assault & Abuse   »   How California’s Statute of Limitations on Sex Crimes Impacts Survivors in Civil and Criminal Lawsuits

How California’s Statute of Limitations on Sex Crimes Impacts Survivors in Civil and Criminal Lawsuits

For survivors of sexual abuse, the process of seeking justice through the California Court System can be difficult to navigate. Sex crime laws in California vary from those in other states, as well as the Federal Court System. Additionally, the statute of limitations on a sex crime in California differs according to whether the victim was a child or an adult when said crime was committed. Due to the variances within California’s laws, which impact whether a civil or criminal lawsuit for sexual abuse crimes can be filed, it’s important for survivors to be aware of their options and understand that each statute of limitations is a strict deadline that must be met.

What is the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions for sexual abuse crimes in California?

On January 1, 2019, California law AB1619 went into effect. The new sex crime law extends the allowable timeframe for survivors to file a sexual abuse civil lawsuit in California. Hence, victims of sexual assault must identify whether the crime committed against them took place before or after January 1, 2019, as the new law affects these cases differently. For example:

California statute of limitations for adult sexual abuse crimes occurring after 1/1/2019:

For cases occurring after 2019, if the victim is an adult at the time of the crime the statute of limitations — under the Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) 340.16 — allows for a lawsuit to be filed up to ten years from the date of the last act or attempted act, or within three years from the date the survivor discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) that an injury resulted from that act. 

The ten-year statute is pretty self-explanatory, simply requiring survivors to identify when the last instance of sexual abuse occurred or was attempted. When considering the three-year aspect of the statute, however, survivors should consider when they first identified an injury (physical or psychological) sustained due to an act of sexual abuse, and understand that they only have three years from the realization of that injury to file a lawsuit. 

California statute of limitations for adult sexual abuse crimes occurring before 1/1/2019:

For cases that occurred before 1/1/19, the typical two-year statute of limitations applies (as is the case with regular personal injury incidents), and the common law doctrines of delayed discovery allows filing a lawsuit within two years of “discovery” that an injury was caused by the abuse. 

To clarify, the number in question in both instances is two-years. What needs to be considered by the survivor is whether they are filing a lawsuit as a result of a sexual abuse act which occurred less than two years ago from the date of filing, or whether said lawsuit is the result of discovering an injury resulting from a sexual abuse act, and that discovery was made within two years of the date of filing (keeping in mind, of course, that this isn’t necessarily an either/or situation for some survivors). 

The California statute of limitations for sexual abuse crimes of children, however, differs from that which applies to adult cases. For instance:

California statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes:

Sexual abuse cases which occurred while the child survivor was under the age of 18 fall within the California law Code of Civil Procedure 340.1. This particular statute permits victims to file a lawsuit within eight years of reaching majority (known as the age at which a person, formerly a minor or infant, is recognized by law to be an adult capable of managing his or her own affairs, and responsible for any legal obligations created by his or her actions). Alternatively, the statute permits a lawsuit to be filed within three years after the survivor discovers that any psychological or physiological injury, occurring after they turned 18, was caused by the sexual abuse.  

So, again, if a lawsuit is being filed as a result of the sexual abuse act itself being committed, the survivor has eight years to do so. But in terms of discovering any physiological or psychological injury on the part of the survivor, a lawsuit can be filed within three years of that realization (even if it takes place outside of the eight-year statute for when the act was committed).

Nevertheless, as former Los Angeles Deputy Attorney, Sam Dordulian, notes, there are some additional details that sexual abuse survivors should be made aware of. 

“If we try and sue a third party (like an employer or institution), the legal standard is simple negligence if the survivor is still under the age of 26,” according to Sam Dordulian. However, if the survivor is over 26, then there is a need to prove (1) that the entity knew or had reason to know the perpetrator engaged in unlawful sexual conduct and, (2) that they failed to take reasonable steps and implement reasonable safeguards to avoid unlawful sexual conduct in the future. One particular and potentially widespread detail that could prohibit a sexual abuse survivors’ ability to file a lawsuit, as Sam Dordulian confirms, is that “counseling alone is insufficient and not considered a reasonable safeguard.” In other words, if you are considering filing a lawsuit against your abuser, simply seeking and undergoing counseling is not considered sufficient proof in the eyes of the law. 

Rather, if you are over 26 years of age, you must also file a certificate of merit, which in effect requires an attorney to 1) declare that they have consulted with at least one mental health practitioner, and 2) formally indicate that they believe there is reasonable and meritorious cause to file the lawsuit on behalf of the victim.  Moreover, the mental health practitioner must also confirm that they spoke with the survivor personally, reviewed the relevant facts and issues pertaining to the crime, and have concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the survivor had been subject to childhood sexual abuse. 

The intricacies within the varying statutes can often seem daunting to survivors looking to pursue a lawsuit. In a perfect world, all sexual abuse crimes affecting both children and adults would be subject to a universal and easy to define statute of limitations. But, as you can see from the unique parameters above, which are applied differently to adult cases versus child cases (not to mention the consideration of when the crime in question occurred), that is not the current state of California’s legal system (though it should be noted that California bill AB218, which was written to clear up the dichotomy between child and adult sex abuse cases, is currently pending in the California Legislature). 

If passed, AB218 would increase the statute of limitations on child cases to 22 years after the age of majority, or 5 years from discovery of the psychological injury to the sexual abuse, which could certainly prove to aid many survivors who, as is often the case, require extended time to process and heal from their abuse before endeavoring to pursue a lawsuit. Sam Dordulian and the Dordulian Law Group team are hopeful that AB218 will pass, as Dordulian has noted the irony in the current law having “a steeper burden for kids than adults.” 

Whether or not the AB218 bill is ratified through the legislative process remains to be seen. Consequently, survivors would be wise to seek the counsel of a competent and qualified California sexual abuse lawyer.

How to find an experienced and capable California sexual abuse lawyer who is an advocate for victims:

At Dordulian Law Group, we believe it is paramount for sexual abuse survivors to be represented by experienced attorneys who will serve as advocates and fight for their clients’ rights. This requires, first and foremost, empathy for you, the victim, and an appreciation of the difficulty involved in taking the first step towards filing a lawsuit against your abuser. Additionally, given the sensitive nature of sex abuse crimes and the physical, emotional, and psychological toll it can have on victims, you require and are entitled to utmost discretion on the part of your attorney. 

At Dordulian Law Group, our team of experienced expert attorneys values each and every inherent sensitive aspect within the process of seeking justice for survivors. To arrange a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case with a Dordulian Law Group attorney specializing in sexual abuse litigation, please visit our contact us page. 

Additionally, we have summarized some important (albeit troubling) statistics that may be of interest for sexual abuse survivors and supporters below:

How pervasive is the scourge of sexual abuse and sex crimes in the United States?

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, sexual assault affects more victims than many of us may realize. 

The impact on adults:

  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives
  • In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime
  • 51.1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance 
  • 52.4% of male victims report being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger 
  • Almost half (49.5%) of multiracial women and over 45% of American Indian/Alaska Native women were subjected to some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime 
  • 91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are female 
  • In eight out of ten cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator 
  • Eight percent of rapes occur while the victim is at work

The impact on children:

  • One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18
  • 30% of women were between the ages of 11 and 17 at the time of their first rape 
  • 12.3% of women were age ten or younger at the time of their first completed rape victimization 
  • 27.8% of men were age ten or younger at the time of their first completed rape victimization 
  • More than one third of women who report being raped before age 18 also experience rape as an adult 
  • 96% of people who sexually abuse children are male, and 76.8% of people who sexually abuse children are adults 
  • 34% of people who sexually abuse a child are family members of the child 
  • It is estimated that 325,000 children per year are currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial child sexual exploitation 
  • The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12-14 years old, and the average age at which boys first become victims of prostitution is 11-13 years old 
  • Only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the authorities 

Additionally, the cost and impact on the lives of survivors is staggering:

  • The lifetime cost of rape per victim is $122,461 
  • Annually, rape costs the U.S. more than any other crime ($127 billion), followed by assault ($93 billion), murder ($71 billion), and drunk driving, including fatalities ($61 billion)  
  • 81% of women and 35% of men report significant short or long-term impacts such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  
  • Health care is 16% higher for women who were sexually abused as children and 36% higher for women who were physically and sexually abused as children 

What is perhaps even more distressing is that, despite the prevalence of false reporting being extremely low (estimated at between 2% and 10%), the majority of sexual abuse crimes actually go unreported to law enforcement officials.

  • Rape is the most under-reported crime, with 63% of sexual assaults having never been reported to police

Some final considerations for sexual abuse survivors and their support network:

The Dordulian Law Group team has over 18 years of experience representing a disparate mix of sexual abuse survivors, both adults and children. We are experts at navigating the law for the benefit of our clients and are keenly aware of how new legislation will impact you and influence the legal strategy we present in court on your behalf. For additional information regarding our experience and success in representing sexual abuse survivors, please visit our contact us page or call us at (866)-730-1799. We are here for you as a legal representative, an advocate, and a resource for support.