California Eliminates the Civil Statutes of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse Claims
One year after President Joe Biden signed the Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act, Governor Newsom signed California’s Assembly Bill 452 (AB 452) and Senate Bill 558 (SB 558), changing how survivors of child sexual abuse can seek justice. Learn more about this legislation and some available resources to support your organization.
Signed in October 2023, AB 452 eliminates the civil statute of limitations for damages suffered from childhood sexual abuse. This new law will apply to future cases of alleged abuse that take place on and after January 1, 2024, while the existing statute of limitations for alleged abuse occurring before this date will still apply.
Also signed in October 2023, SB 558 further specifies the timeframe for seeking actions for recovery of damages as a result of childhood sexual assaults that occurred before January 1, 2024. Survivors of child sexual abuse can file a claim within 22 years of the date the plaintiff turns 18 years old or within five years of the individual incurring an illness or injury that resulted from the abuse. SB 558 will also broaden the definition of childhood sexual assault to include claims of “acts involving a child being depicted in obscene matter, as specified.” This would consist of the creation, distribution, and possession of child sexual abuse materials as defined by California Penal Code 311.4.
What does this mean for organizations?
Offenders need access to youth or vulnerable populations to perpetrate sexual abuse. We know offenders often seek employment or volunteer opportunities with youth-serving organizations to obtain this access. Over the last couple of decades, we have seen changes in the legal requirements and responsibilities for organizations to implement prevention systems to keep the youth they serve safe from harm. In Praesidium’s experience, when a child or vulnerable adult is abused while in the care of an organization, parents, families, and the community almost always want to know how and why the abuse happened and what the organization could have done differently to prevent the abuse. Parents, caregivers, and guardians often want to hold the organization accountable for the gaps that led to the abuse of their loved one(s).
This accountability can take many forms, including but not limited to monetary remedies, assistance with survivor care, and changes to how the organization operates. For example, organizations are often called upon to provide financial aid to survivors seeking therapeutic services, and survivors and their families may take legal action against an organization for the devastating abuse the survivor experienced.
Organizations have a unique responsibility to foster a safe environment for those they serve. Prevention requires being proactive and implementing a culture of safety to ensure ongoing protection. Most organizations want to create a culture of safety for their consumers, staff, and volunteers. Still, many need help to define practical steps to create and sustain that culture. Through research, Praesidium has found that for an organization to maintain a culture of safety, every employee should understand that they have a clearly defined role to play in preventing abuse, employee engagement should be high, and everyone should report their concerns.
When organizations are faced with the need to create a plan for responding to allegations or incidents of abuse, they should consider asking themselves the following questions to guide their thinking and develop an effective procedure:
- What measures are in place to ensure the immediate prevention of harm to consumers following an allegation of abuse?
- What are the specific steps to be taken in accordance with mandatory reporting procedures? How does the organization establish clear communication channels with local authorities?
- How does the organization determine which stakeholders must be informed about the allegation? What criteria are used to decide when and how to report the incident to governing bodies, legal counsel, licensing bodies, insurance carriers, parents/guardians, and the community?
- Is there a defined progressive discipline process in case of abuse allegations? What actions, such as suspension, are taken during an ongoing investigation? How are fairness and objectivity maintained in the disciplinary process?
- How is the organization planning to conduct a comprehensive incident review or investigation? What specific protocols are in place to ensure thoroughness while not interfering with the local authorities’ investigation?
- Who within the organization is responsible for each step of the response process? How is accountability assigned, and what training or resources are provided to these individuals to fulfill their roles effectively?
By contemplating these questions, organizations can establish a framework tailored to their specific context, fostering a proactive approach to handling abuse allegations and ensuring a swift, fair, and comprehensive response.
It is imperative to educate all employees and volunteers on what to do if someone alleges current or historical abuse involving a consumer, employee, or volunteer of the organization, including how to fulfill their duties as mandated reporters*.
If a survivor comes forward with an allegation, Praesidium can offer valuable resources, starting with guidance on providing a compassionate response. Organizations can access Praesidium’s Whitepaper: “Providing a Compassionate Response to Sexual Abuse,” to gain in-depth insights and practical strategies for handling such sensitive situations. This resource shares valuable guidance to aid organizations in approaching survivor disclosures with empathy and care, reinforcing Praesidium’s commitment to empowering organizations to create safer environments.
Praesidium’s comprehensive approach supports organizations in navigating the complexities of abuse prevention, crisis management, and survivor support. By leveraging Praesidium’s expertise and resources, organizations can establish a proactive and robust framework, ensuring a safe environment for all stakeholders. Praesidium’s Crisis Management Toolkit is central to this approach, a vital resource that guides organizations through the critical moments following an allegation, shaping emotional responses, public opinions, and long-term exposures that may endure for years. This Crisis Management Toolkit includes diverse resources and guidance to navigate crisis response comprehensively, both before and after an allegation surfaces. This toolkit offers detailed guidelines for assembling a crisis response team, considerations for the crucial first days and weeks, strategies for crafting a transparent, victim-centered response, sample media holding statements, and community communications tailored for participants and families, among other essential response considerations.
With Praesidium’s holistic approach, organizations can confidently address abuse prevention, manage crises effectively, and provide unwavering support to survivors. By adopting these comprehensive strategies, organizations can uphold their commitment to safety, fostering an environment of trust and security for everyone involved.
If you are interested in additional resources and discussing how Praesidium can assist you further, please email us at email@example.com.
*To learn more about your specific state’s mandated reporter laws please visit: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/state/