Updated California Sexual Assault Laws 2023

Sexual assault is the crime of touching another person’s private parts without that person’s consent, either with or without the use of force. Sexual assault is a heinous offense that can have long-lasting physical, mental and emotional consequences for a survivor. In California, the sexual assault laws were recently changed to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits against their perpetrators.

Eliminated Statute of Limitations on Child Sexual Abuse Claims

On October 10, 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law that will effectively eliminate the statute of limitations on child sexual assault civil lawsuits in California. A statute of limitations is a filing deadline put in place by state law. If a claimant misses the statute of limitations to bring a claim, he or she will most likely lose the right to seek a financial recovery through the civil justice system. 

Assembly Bill (AB) 452 will take effect on January 1, 2024. After this, there will be no statute of limitations on a child sexual abuse or assault lawsuit in California. A survivor will be able to sue a child sexual predator no matter how many years have passed from the date of the crime. While it will not retroactively apply to cases prior to 2024, it will apply to all civil child sexual abuse allegations moving forward.

Prior to the signing of the new law, California’s deadline on child sexual abuse cases was the victim’s 40th birthday (22 years from reaching the age of majority) or five years from the date that a connection between a mental health disorder and child sexual abuse was discovered – whichever is later. This law, AB 218, extended the prior statute of limitations, which was age 26 (eight years from reaching the age of majority). The new law is the most favorable for child sexual assault survivors in California’s history.

Expanded Definition of Child Sexual Assault

On October 13, 2023, Senate Bill (SB) 558 was passed to expand California’s definition of childhood sexual assault. This law amended Sections 311.1 and Section 311.2 of the California Penal Code to broaden the state’s definition of child sexual assault and abuse. 

Under the new law, child sexual assault now includes “acts involving depictions of a child involved in obscene sexual conduct in a variety of materials.” This includes knowingly possessing, producing, publishing or distributing any materials – digital or physical – depicting an individual under the age of 18 engaging in or simulating sexual acts.

The Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act

AB 2777 was another bill, passed in 2022, that updated California’s sexual assault laws for 2023 and beyond. Named the “Sexual Abuse and Cover Up Accountability Act,” it amended the existing statute of limitations (Section 340.16 of the Code of Civil Procedure) to state that the 10-year deadline on adult sexual assault and abuse cases will apply retroactively to incidents that occurred prior to January 1, 2019. 

It also provided a three-year window, which ends on December 31, 2025, when survivors can file claims for sexual assaults that occurred on or after January 1, 2009. In addition, AB 2777 holds institutions and entities accountable for attempting to cover up known occurrences of sexual assault, meaning to actively hide evidence to keep these crimes a secret.  

This aspect of the bill was in direct response to the #MeToo movement. It provided a one-year window, which ended on December 1, 2023, where survivors could file claims that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations if the sexual assault was covered up by an entity. This amendment gave survivors an opportunity to seek institutional accountability for suffering caused by its attempt to cover up known sexual abuse incidents.

California’s laws are constantly evolving. For up-to-date information about the sexual assault laws that may apply to your individual case, request a free, confidential consultation with a Los Angeles sexual abuse attorney at Manly, Stewart & Finaldi.