How AB 218 Impacts Reporting Sexual Assault in California

For many survivors of sexual assault in California, the passage of Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) grants a second chance. AB 218 amends Sections 340.1 and 1002 of the Code of Civil Procedure and Section 905 of the Government Code relating to childhood sexual assault. These changes are set to go into effect on January 1, 2020. Here, we discuss the history of similar legislation, how AB 218 extends the deadlines for reporting sexual assault in California, and other notable changes to existing law.

The History of Legislation Impacting Reporting Sexual Assault in California

The components of AB 218 that impact the ways in which one reports sexual assault have been in the works for over a decade.

2002:

SB 1779 passed, allowing a one-year lookback window to revive previously time-barred complaints of childhood sexual abuse and allowing adults a three-year “discovery of harm” extension on top of the age 26 statute of limitations that existed prior. 
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2008:

Senator Joe Simitian proposed a bill, SB 640, that was signed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger that would allow victims to sue public institutions until age 48 (or within five years of the date of discovery).

2013:

The proposed SB 131 would lift the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims affected after January 1, 2014 from age 26 to age 48 (or five years from the date of discovery). It would also provide a one-year lookback window to reinstate old claims. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, stating that it still did not correct the disparity between suing private vs. public entities.

2014:

Senator Jim Beall introduced SB 924 to reform both criminal and civil statute of limitations, increasing the filing age to 40. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill “as a matter of fundamental fairness,” adding that he “did not see a compelling reason” to increase the statute for civil claims against third parties.
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2016:

SB 813 abolished the previous 10-year statute of limitations for pressing criminal charges against child molesters in California. The law was not retroactive, but anyone abused after the bill’s passage has an unlimited amount of time to seek jail time, fines, probation, and sex offender registration for a perpetrator of child sexual assault.

2018:

Lorena Gonzalez sponsored AB 3120, which passed in the State Assembly and Senate, but was ultimately vetoed by Governor Brown. The bill would have expanded the definition of child sexual abuse to include sexual assault, increased the civil filing deadline to age 40 (or five years from the date of discovery), and allowed plaintiffs the ability to recover treble damages in cases of coverup.
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2019:

Emboldened by the election of a new governor—Gavin Newsom—legislators essentially pushed the same bill forward. This time, it passed as AB 218 with overwhelming support.

AB 218 Changes the Timeline for Filing Sexual Assault Claims

One of the key provisions of AB 218 is that it gives childhood sexual assault survivors more time to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages against private and public institutions.

  • Instead of having six months to file against a public institution, you have until age 40.
  • Instead of having until age 26 to file against a private institution, you have until age 40.
  • Instead of having three years from the discovery of harm to file, you have five years.

This part of the law is permanently enforced unless a new law changes it.

Other Notable Changes to Existing Law by AB 218

AB 218 Clarifies That Sexual Assault Is Sexual Abuse

Instead of referring to acts as “childhood sexual abuse,” the language of the bill expands the definition of abuse to include “childhood sexual assault.”

At Lewis & Llewellyn, our concern is not only with children who are groomed, exploited, and molested continuously over time but also with children who are violated even once. No matter how invasive or how often it happens, sexual contact between adults and children is expressly prohibited by law. Changing the terminology makes it easier for victims to bring a claim.

AB 218 Allows Treble Damages to Punish Concealment

Courts can compel the defendant to pay the plaintiff up to three times the amount of actual damages if an attempted cover-up was involved.

AB 218 makes it plain: If an institution fails in its duties as a mandated reporter, the punishments will be severe. One can expect attorneys to dig deep in their investigations to turn up evidence of institutional wrongdoing in pursuit of maximum compensation for their clients.

AB 218 Creates a Three-Year Lookback Window for Previously Time-Barred Claims

Beginning January 1, 2020, anyone sexually abused as a child may bring a claim in civil court to seek financial restitution. This lookback window lasts for three years and can apply to previously time-barred claims. 

In the past, adults over 26 who wanted to come forward with claims of childhood sexual assault would be told their time had run out, they were too late, and their ability to pursue compensation had passed. In New York, where a similar lookback window passed, additional steps were taken with judges assigned to tackle these cases exclusively on an expedited timeline to ensure the onslaught of claims were resolved efficiently.

With the rise of older claims, some may wonder, “What if the person who abused me is deceased?” There will still be an opportunity to extract redress from aiding and abetting institutions, as well as the estate of the deceased.

What Does the Passing of AB 218 Mean for Survivors of Sexual Assault?

AB 218 puts powerful institutions on notice that they cannot allow deviants and predators to sexually assault children in California, cover up knowledge of the assault, and continue to dodge responsibility. Everyone who has contact with a child has an important role to play in the protection of that child. Trust and authority are oftentimes placed in the hands of adults who care for children and that trust and authority should not be abused.

As Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, author of the bill put it: “The idea that someone who is assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to report that abuse is outrageous. More and more, we’re hearing about people who were victims years ago, but were not ready to come forward to tell their story until now.”

After January 1, 2020, survivors of childhood sexual assault can be 100 years old (or older) and still have a valid claim in civil court. The passage of AB 218 allows for the years of suffering that one may have endured to be addressed in civil court. Individuals who have had to miss time from work due to emotional pain and suffering related to the abuse or those who’ve had to cover expenses for medication or therapy will be able to seek financial recovery.

Work With Experienced Sexual Assault Attorneys in the Bay Area

The changes made to reporting sexual assault in California by AB 218 may be overwhelming for survivors and difficult to understand. If you are uncertain about the specifics and how AB 218 may impact your case, it’s best to seek guidance from an experienced sexual assault attorney—one who has extensive knowledge of the laws in California.

Whether you’re advocating for your child or are an adult seeking closure for sexual violence suffered years ago, Lewis & Llewellyn has the experience, grit, and compassion to help you obtain justice and maximum compensation when reporting sexual assault in California. Contact our team online for support and guidance to see you through this emotional time, or call +1 (415) 800-0590 to schedule an appointment with an advocate today.

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