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New CA law allows survivors of child sexual assault more time to come forward

Posted at 10:40 PM, Oct 14, 2019

Victims of child sex abuse have more time to seek justice as part of a new bill AB 218, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom Sunday.

The bill changes the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit against an alleged abuser, allowing people who are up to 40 years old to file suits and provides a three-year window for survivors to file a lawsuit, regardless of when the abuse occurred and regardless of their current age.

San Luis Obispo attorney Taylor Ernst says the previous laws forced them to turn some people away.

"One of the things that victims of sexual assault have to deal with is that no one wants to believe them first off and then when they do and they are able to share their story sometimes we have to tell them, it's too late and they can no longer file their case," Ernst said.

Some question with this new legislation however, how much evidence may be left to make a compelling case as the years go by.

"The burden of proof is on the person who makes the claim so if you are going to bring a case, even if it's been a long time, the person who has to prove it isn't the defendant, it's the person saying: "Hey, you've done something wrong to me,"" Ernst explained.

RISE, a local organization that helps survivors of sexual assault says even if a lawsuit is filed and someone is not prosecuted, victims can still receive assistance from the state.

"Folks become eligible for resources like the Victims of Crime Compensation Board where they can seek monetary restitution and funds to support their healing process and pay for things like counseling or any medical expenses they may have incurred because of the incident," said Jane Pomeroy, Interim Executive Director of RISE.

Pomeroy says as part of the #MeToo movement, there's been a 220% increase in the number of calls made to their crisis line from sexual assault and abuse survivors and this new law could continue that increase.

The California School Boards Association says they're working to prevent inappropriate sexual conduct on school campuses but still disagree with the increase in statute of limitations.

"That creates problems because in all likelihood, there's an absence of evidence or at least a serious decrease in the amount of evidence that will be available at that date for decades later, many relevant witnesses if not all witnesses will be unavailable (and) you have staff turnover," explained California School Boards Association Spokesperson Troy Flint.

Flint says they're also concerned school districts could lose their insurance coverage over these claims and smaller districts could go bankrupt.

"This is something that is something that is very threatening to the financial viability of many school districts, particularly smaller school districts where one significant judgement could have a devastating impact on their budget," Flint explained.

As part of the new law, there's also extra penalties if there's accusations of covering up an assault, allowing for a victim to collect triple the amount of damages.

This is something the California School Boards Association says they oppose and attorneys say will allow them to pursue more litigation.

"This allows us to step to those corporations who generally have all the power and speak truth that power and basically try and make society safer by saying: "Hey corporations if you're gonna do that, that's gonna cost you financially," Ernst explained.

The new law goes into effect January 1st.

In the wake of this law being signed, two law firms announced Sunday they are jointly representing close to 100 "abuse survivors who plan to file lawsuits, including dozens of claims against the Catholic church and related entities across California."