Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors Could Benefit From California Court Ruling
David MittlemanJanuary 06, 2012 1:03 PM
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The California Supreme Court is now considering the case of six brothers, now in their 40s and 50s, who claim they suffered sexual abuse by a priest the area diocese knew to be a predator. The court is being asked to determine which of two apparently conflicting laws to apply. California has been expanding its statute of limitations in the last 15 years in an effort to make it easier for survivors of sexual abuse to hold perpetrators – and those who knew of their actions but failed to intervene – accountable for their actions. Recent amendments to the California law have abolished a hard age limit of 26, provided for a one-year window to pursue previously barred claims, permitted claims where the victim only recently connected the abuse to his current condition, and made it easier to hold employers responsible for acts they covered up or failed to stop.
Over the last twenty years, it has become increasingly clear that survivors of sexual abuse, and particularly minors, rarely come forward at the time the abuse occurred. This can be for any number of reasons, but most commonly the victims are ashamed or do not fully understand the ramifications of the abuse. In some cases, the victims are not believed or, in the case of the recent Penn State scandal, nothing is done.
Many states have recognized this fact in sex abuse cases, and have altered their statutes of limitations accordingly. Just yesterday, a committee in the New Jersey Assembly approved a bill that would eliminate the state’s two-year limit on bringing lawsuits based on sexual abuse. California’s increasingly progressive stance is another example of a state taking reasonable measures to help survivors seek legal recourse.
Unfortunately, Michigan’s law remains among the worst in the country. It’s time for our legislature to join those states that have put survivors’ rights ahead of the perpetrators’.