If you live in the Los Angeles area, you are probably aware of recent local sexual abuse and sexual assault cases. The USC Sexual Abuse scandal even made national headlines. What’s so striking about this and many other cases of sexual assault is that the victims are finally starting to be heard and believed.
At The Dominguez Firm, our Los Angeles sexual assault attorneys are focused on holding the perpetrators of sexual assault accountable. If you or a loved one have been a victim of sexual assault, call us immediately for a free and confidential consultation at 800-818-1818. We’re ready to fight for your rights and make sure justice is served.
What is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the victim’s consent. Legally, it has a slightly different definition: The term “sexual assault” means any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, Tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent. This is taken directly from the U.S. Department of Justice’s website.
Several sex crimes fall under the category of sexual abuse. They are:
- Statutory Rape
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual harassment in the workplace
- Groping and unwanted touching
While other sex crimes are considered sexual assault as well, these are among the most commonly reported.
What is California Doing Legally to Help Sexual Assault Victims?
A lot. California leads the nation in the push to update sexual assault laws to better protect victims. For example, the notorious 2015 Brock Turner rape case resulted in Assembly Bill 2888, which was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown only six months later. Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting and raping an unconscious woman was given only six months in prison and three years’ probation due to a major legal loophole.
The new law expands the definition of rape and eliminates probation as an option for offenders like Turner who attack intoxicated or unconscious victims. Previously, anyone convicted of sexual assault only faced certain jail time if the victim was conscious and attempting to defend themselves.
Another important update to California’s criminal code was the elimination of the statute of limitations for rapes and other sexual assault crimes. Senate Bill 813, adopted in 2016, removed the 10-year (or when the victim turns 40 years of age) time limit for the prosecution of sex crimes.
This new law came about for several reasons, but the Bill Cosby sexual assault scandal was certainly near the top. As far back as the mid-1960’s dozens of women had been coming forward with similar accounts of being drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby. But because the time limit (statute of limitations) for pressing charges had passed, none of the women had been able to obtain justice. Even worse, this allowed Cosby to continue assaulting women.
It was not until 2018 that he was finally found guilty of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. Senate Bill 813 aims to stop this from happening again. Going forward, sexual assault victims in California will not have their voices silenced by a deadline.
And in the aftermath of the #metoo movement and Harvey Weinstein scandal, Jerry Brown also signed Senate Bill 820 into law in 2018. That law went into effect on January 1st, 2019 and bans secret settlements and non-disclosure agreements between victims and their attackers for sexual assault and abuse cases. The aim of this new law is to stop forcing victims to remain silent while protecting perpetrators who are free to continue their behavior.
What is Institutional Sexual Abuse?
Institutional sexual abuse refers to institutions or organizations that repeatedly enable or ignore sexual abuse by people in their ranks towards those in their care. Often the abuser will use their position of authority over the victim to continue their behavior undetected. A clear example would be the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal.
Certain employees, such as teachers, doctors and coaches are considered “Mandatory Reporters”. Unfortunately, they may not be aware of what is happening within an institution or even worse, purposely turn a blind eye. Either way, Mandatory Reporters have a legal obligation to report any suspicion of abuse of a child, be it sexual or physical in nature. If they do not, they face criminal charges themselves. They can also be named in a civil lawsuit for failing to perform their duties.
According to the California Department of Justice’s Megan’s Law page, over 90% of child victims know their attacker. And for those 12 years of age or older, 80% of victims know their attacker. Some of the most common settings where institutional sexual abuse can occur are:
- Religious organizations
- Sports organizations, as it relates to coaches or team doctors
Institutional sexual abuse can occur to adults as well:
- Adults in need of institutional care
- Young people over the age of 18, such as in a college setting
- Elderly patients in a nursing home
- Employees in vulnerable positions, such as an undocumented immigrant afraid of being deported
These are just some examples of how adults can also suffer sexual abuse at the hands of those in positions of authority over them.
What Should I Do If I Believe My Child Has Been Sexually Abused?
The first thing you should do is report the crime to the proper authorities, including the police and Child Protective Services. If the child is in any danger, call 911 immediately. The child will need medical attention as well as access to mental health professionals. If there is enough evidence, criminal charges will be pressed against the child’s attacker.
Parents or guardians also have the right to apply for financial support from the California Victim Compensation Board during this incredibly difficult time. These funds, while limited, can help with medical bills, both physical and mental, lost income and any other expenses incurred due to the abuse.
The child’s parent or legal guardian can and should present a civil claim against the attacker and any institutions that may also be liable for allowing the abuse to occur. Civil lawsuits are always separate from criminal lawsuits.
Here at The Dominguez Firm, we are ready to hold those responsible for this horrible behavior accountable. Obtaining justice in the name of the child can help with the healing process. It also sends a clear signal to all those implicated that this pattern of abuse must be stopped and those liable will pay for their actions. Call us at 800-818-1818 for a free and confidential consultation.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Sexual Assault Claim in California?
As noted previously, there is no longer a statute of limitations for reporting felony sex crimes. Until 2017, California had a 10-year statute of limitations. If the victim was under the age of 18, they had until their 40th birthday to come forward. The new law ends these time limits. However, it is not retroactive. That means it only applies to crimes committed after January 1st, 2017. Sex crimes committed before this date fall under the old statute of limitations.
What Can I Achieve by Filing a Civil Lawsuit as Well?
A civil lawsuit allows you to bring a claim for monetary damages against the person who attacked you or your loved one. Keep in mind, you can sue the attacker, even if they were found not guilty on criminal charges.
Among the damages you may be compensated for are:
- Any medical expenses related to the attack – This includes ongoing mental health treatments
- Lost wages now and in the future – Many victims are unable to return to work for extended periods of time or may feel a need to leave their jobs completely. This is especially true if the sexual assault occurred at work.
- Pain and suffering – Victims can sue for mental anguish, physical pain and emotional distress.
- Punitive damages – Given the particularly heinous nature of sexual assault, courts are known to award punitive damages for harmful and negligent behavior. This is done in an effort to deter this type of behavior in the future.
If the attacker was employed by an institution or company with a history of ignoring or covering up sexual assault or abuse, they can also be named in a civil lawsuit. For example, Uber and Lyft have been named as defendants in multiple civil lawsuits by women who claim both rideshare companies did not do enough to ensure the safety of female passengers.
Do I Need an Attorney?
Yes. The state of California will handle any criminal proceedings but will not be involved with a civil case against the defendant(s). The experienced sexual assault attorneys at The Dominguez Firm are here to help. We will treat you or your loved one with compassion and care while aggressively seeking justice against those responsible. Call us at 800-818-1818 for a free and confidential consultation today. And if you’re concerned about the cost of hiring an attorney, know that at The Dominguez Firm, you don’t pay unless we win. You incur no upfront or out of pocket expenses, so call us today.