California Lawmakers Seek to End Civil Statute of Limitations on Childhood Sexual Abuse Claims

The proposal, if passed, could have major financial ramifications for the Catholic Church and other institutions grappling with ongoing sexual abuse scandals

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Childhood victims of sexual abuse in California would no longer face deadlines to file civil claims against their alleged abusers under a new bill announced Monday by Assemblymember Dawn Addis (D-Morro Bay) and Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley).

The Justice for Survivors Act seeks to end the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, including claims against institutions that may have enabled or covered up abuse. Under the state’s current law, survivors are required to file claims in civil court by their 40th birthday, or in some cases, within five years after discovering their abuse as an adult.

“By eliminating the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, we are helping survivors come forward to seek the critical closure they need,” Addis said in a press release issued Monday. “It’s time to end this arbitrary and cruel time limit on justice.”

The bill could have major financial ramifications for prominent institutions such as the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts of America, currently grappling with widespread and ongoing sexual abuse scandals.

Skinner said the bill would help promote healing among victims, but also hold powerful organizations accountable.

“The benefit of lifting this statute of limitations is it can bring [the abuse] to light, hold the organizations accountable and hopefully end the practice,” Skinner said. “Sunshine is a great disinfectant.”

Investigative Reporter Candice Nguyen takes a deeper dive into a proposed change to state law that would allow child sex abuse victims to sue their alleged abusers no matter how long ago the crime occurred.

Attorneys representing Catholic dioceses across Northern California did not immediately respond to NBC Bay Area’s request for comment.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of San Francisco said they had no comment on the proposed legislation.

For the past two years, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has interviewed dozens of alleged Catholic clergy abuse victims across the state. A recent three-year “lookback window” passed by the California state legislature in 2019 allowed victims of childhood sexual abuse to file new civil claims in court, no matter when the alleged abuse occurred. But that window just closed at the end of 2022.

More than 1,500 lawsuits were filed against the Catholic Church in Northern California alone. In nearly every case, it took decades for the accuser to come forward.

Some told NBC Bay Area they couldn’t process their abuse at such a young age. Others say they were dissuaded from coming forward by their abusers, or even their own family.

Victim advocates applauded the announcement. “This bill introduction is a monumental step forward and brings much-needed awareness to reform the archaic laws that prevent survivors from coming forward and allows abusers to escape justice and hurt others,” said Mike McDonnell, a spokesperson for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

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