Updated: Aug 29, 2019

It is unthinkable an adult could in any way sexually abuse a child. Unfortunately, child sexual abuse is prevalent; it is, quite frankly, more common than most of us could fathom. Although it is difficult to actually know the true extent of child sexual abuse (it is often not reported), 1 in 5 girls, and 1 in 20 boys, will be victim of sexual abuse nationwide.

It is also virtually certain that if you are sexually abused as a child your healthcare costs will be higher than the national average. In addition, the child victim will be more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and struggle with anxiety and depression. Residual effects run the gamut and include obsessive compulsive behaviors, inability to forge intimate relationships and post-traumatic stress disorders.

What is also quite common are the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse may last well into adulthood and not always be readily apparent. In fact, many victims do not recall the abuse or understand their mental and physical health problems are linked to the abuse they suffered as a child. Because of this, many years may pass before the victim even realizes she was abused as a child. This is why California, along with most other states, allow for extended periods of time within which victims may bring civil suits against the abusers.

The statute of limitations is a deadline by which a victim of the sexual abuse must file a civil lawsuit to recover compensation for the damages caused by the abuse. Ordinarily, the statute of limitations (there are many different ones which apply to various types of civil claims) is designed to ensure the case can be resolved timely and while the best evidence remains available and fresh. If too much time were to pass, evidence can get lost or compromised which could affect the legitimacy of the case. On the other hand, a statute of limitations too short could deny an actual victim of his rights to pursue recovery for the injuries.

When it comes to childhood sexual abuse, years could pass before the victim even recognizes she was abused. In most of these cases, the victim knows and is familiar with the abuser so understanding what happened was wrong may take years to fully comprehend. There is also a likelihood the abuse was buried until other, traumatic events trigger the memories. Many victims will seek mental health therapy for other reasons (obesity, alcohol or drug abuse, inability to find and keep intimate relationships, sexual addiction, etc.) and then, fortuitously, recall the abuse that was until then suppressed. In California the general rule is a victim has until she is 28 (within eight years of attaining the age of majority (18) within which to bring the claim). This deadline is nuanced, however, to allow a claim to be brought (even after age 26) within three years of the date the victim discovers some psychological injury was caused by the sexual abuse (California Civil Code Section 340). In addition, there are other exceptions to the limitations period that could apply (i.e., if the abuser threatened the victim to remain silent).

Many cases should also be brought against the abuser’s employer, such as a school, church, or organization. If the entity is a public body, the claim may have to be made within six months of learning of the abuse. This is another nuance with the statute of limitations that places even greater burden on the victim to bring the claim.

Although bringing a civil claim against a child abuser will not undue the unthinkable trauma it may help the victim to recover. If nothing else it could make public the despicable conduct and prevent further abuse. If you have been a victim of child sexual abuse, or know anyone who might have been abused, contact us for a free consultation.