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UPDATE: time extension for child sex abuse lawsuits moves ahead

As we discussed on this blog on Aug. 15, a bill currently called SB 131, which would extend the statute of limitations for civil liability in sexual abuse cases against employers who fail to protect children from known child molesters, was being held up by the Assembly’s appropriations committee. In order to pass out of that committee and onto the Assembly floor, the bill needed nine votes from the committee. Unfortunately, even after an emotional hearing, four committee members opposed it and seven more abstained.

The bill would extend the time limit by a year for filing civil sexual abuse lawsuits against private or nonprofit employers who negligently allowed teachers, clergy members, coaches or other employees with a known history of child sexual abuse to continue working with children, thus creating a situation that would foreseeably lead to the plaintiffs’ being abused.

The reason the extension is needed is that child sexual abuse victims frequently face substantial barriers to revealing their victimization within the statutory period, including credible threats by their abusers, a belief that their abusers’ high places in society will mean the children won’t be believed, and a very common coping strategy among victims in which they strictly suppress thoughts of the abuse until they are emotionally ready to deal with them. Unfortunately, when abusers are successful enough at intimidating or emotionally crippling their victims, that time of emotional readiness can come too late.

While a number of special interest groups oppose the extension as unfairly targeting the employers of child molesters, the Catholic Church in particular has lobbied fiercely against the bill. At the Aug. 14 hearing, representatives of the church argued that any additional civil liability cases brought by sexual abuse victims could be economically crippling and force it to close its parochial schools. Opponents also argued that allowing the extension could flood the courts with new cases, which seems to admit there is an enormous problem with these organizations continuing negligence toward the children in their care.

Luckily, the appropriations committee agreed to rehear the issue and, on Aug. 21, the bill passed 12 to 4, with only one abstention. It will now move forward to the Assembly floor.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Bill to give sex-abuse victims more time to sue advances on second try,” Melanie Mason, Aug. 21, 2013

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