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New law extends statute of limitations for sexual assault victims

Victims now allowed up to a decade to seek civil damages

Adult sexual assault victims in California now have up to 10 years to seek civil damages under a new bill, authored by Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday.

Assembly Bill 1619 is a marked difference from the state's previous three-year statute of limitations. Under the new law, people over 18 years old who have been sexually assaulted will have 10 years from the date of the assault or three years from the date of discovery of an illness or injury that resulted from the assault, whichever is later, to start a civil case.

In the press release, Berman cited physical and emotional trauma, expenses due to health care costs, loss of wages and legal fees as some of the obstacles that a victim faces while they seek justice in court.

"As women and men across the country share their experiences of sexual assault -- often years later -- it is clear that significant time is needed to recover and overcome the many practical obstacles that prevent sexual assault survivors from civil recourse," Berman said in the press release.

Extending the statute of limitations will help victims who might not know what legal options are available, are waiting for evidence to be processed or waiting for the outcome of a criminal investigation or trial, according to Berman. The previous statute of limitations was not a "realistic" timeframe for the victims, he said.

Critics of the bill, however, have said waiting for 10 years to file a civil suit could result in unavailable or less reliable witnesses, as memory deteriorates over time.

The Association of California Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners, which represents the doctors, nurses, and physician assistants who conduct forensic medical examinations for survivors of sexual assault, sponsored the bill.

Kim Walker, a representative of the association, said in the release that sexual assault victims "experience deep emotional trauma that can manifest as suicide attempts, drug addiction, reckless driving, dropping out of school, school problems from lack of focus and concentration, job performance issues, lack of support from family and friends, and much more. They may not have the personal strength to pursue civil remedies, and sometimes their criminal cases are still pending.​"

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