Statute of Limitations Reform in California is Leading to Justice and Healing
A little more than a year ago, AB 218 was signed into law in California, opening a three-year “window to justice” that would revive claims that had been barred by the state’s archaic and predator-friendly statute of limitations laws. Since that bill went into effect, we have seen hundreds of new survivors come forward, exposing uncomfortable truths about hidden perpetrators and their enablers in California. To us, there is no question that this law is providing a path towards justice, healing, and prevention.
The United States Conference of Catholics Bishops created the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in 2002 in response to the Boston Globe’s exposure of widespread child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of that city. While the reforms aimed at in that charter – most notably zero-tolerance and open transparency from Church officials – have yet to be fully realized, exemplified by the fact that 19 years after its passage Catholic officials in Fresno and San Francisco still refuse to publish a list of accused clergy. However, empowered survivors have continued to come forward and press for more accountability from the institutions that enabled the abusers.
The window opened by AB 218 is the second such “look-back” provision in California. In 2003, during a short, one-year window, about 1,000 lawsuits were filed statewide. So far in 2021, about 600 lawsuits have been filed against half of California’s dioceses and this only 13 months into a three-year window. Based on these numbers and what we saw in 2003, this trend suggests to us that the number of abusive priests admitted to by Northern California bishops – which is currently about 300 abusers – will double as these lawsuits help remove the veil of secrecy that keeps most clergy abuse cases in the dark. Statewide, we expect over 2,000 abusers to be named, more than double the number of names currently known.
Given what we know about traumatology and how delayed disclosure affects survivors of sexual abuse, we expect a lot of new information to be revealed through this window. The 2003 window mostly brought forward victims from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. This is because it takes an average of 40 years for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to make a report according to research done by CHILD USA. What this means for today is that the current look-back provision will likely be bringing forward new victims who were not yet ready to come forward during the previous window.
Every time a survivor comes forward to tell their story, society becomes that much safer. We know that many Catholic abusers are alive and unmonitored, meaning they pose a current danger to the communities in which they live. Fortunately, AB 218 will help repair that problem, allowing survivors to come forward and creating safer, more informed communities.
In this sense, California has been a model for how secular government can and should get more involved in protecting the public, enabling remedies for victims where possible, and investigating the institutions that have enabled and covered up abuse. We are grateful to the California legislature for doggedly pursuing this remedy for victims of abuse, and we are grateful to former state Attorney General Xavier Becerra for opening an investigation to uncover hidden perpetrators and their enablers. We hope that California’s example will inspire legislators in other states to open their own windows and AG’s who have not yet done so to open their own probes. Together, we can find new ways to protect children and support survivors.
CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP Treasurer ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009, [email protected])
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)