Content warning: sexual abuse
The Justice for Survivors Act, or AB 452, seeks to permanently abolish the statute of limitations in California to open the doors to justice for childhood survivors of sexual abuse.
AB 452 was introduced by state Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and state Assemblymember Dawn Addis, D-Morro Bay. The bill is a byproduct of AB 218, which suspended the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse cases for three years while it was in effect, according to Founding President of Dordulian Law Group Samuel Dordulian. When AB 218 expired Dec. 31, the statute of limitations reverted to the age of 40.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, support coordinator Melanie Sakoda said the issue with the temporary opportunity presented by AB 218 is that people are not always ready to come forward or they simply miss the deadline.
“It takes an extremely long time for children to be able to process what happened to them to be able to come out and tell their story,” Dordulian said. “If you put an arbitrary age like 40 or 26, or whatever age you pick, you are still going to limit a lot of people who are not ready to come forward and tell their story from ever getting justice.”
Survivor and volunteer leader of SNAP Dorothy Small said there are several factors that prevent people from sharing their abuse with others until later in life. Children can get caught in trauma bonds with their abusers and feel protective of them, she added.
Children are not offered a safe place where they feel validated and are offered justice; instead they internalize shame, blame and guilt surrounding their experiences, according to Small.
“It was the abuse of my church that had me basically step out of my life at 61 and a half because I just couldn’t go any more,” Small said. “It just crushed me. I was decimated because it touched that core trauma that no one could get at.”
It was not until her early 60s — 20 years past the current statutory limit — that Small said she was offered a safe place where she felt supported and courageous enough to file a lawsuit against her abuser. She added that this is why AB 452 is so critical.
Justice is often a crucial piece missing from survivors’ stories, Dordulian said. Survivors may go their entire life wondering if their experience was their fault and feeling as though they did something wrong. It is the validation from a judge, holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes, that significantly helps survivors emotionally and psychologically.
“The healing really came beginning with the lawyer, who happened to be a psychologist and a former Catholic,” Small said. “He gave me a voice of justice that inspired me to not quit. That made me feel worthy. That made me feel valued. I didn’t get that as a child — you don’t get that from your abusers.”
Dordulian said AB 452 is a great first step toward helping and protecting survivors but added that there are still many misconceptions involving sexual abuse.
Survivor and executive director of Child USAdvocacy Kathryn Robb said further steps can be taken to protect survivors. Training and making courses to detect symptoms of trauma within children mandatory for teachers is one such step, Robb suggested.
“Perpetrators or bad-acting institutions or other bad actors should not benefit by the passage of time for the very silence they created in their victims. That is really bad policy,” Robb said. “The more we can identify bad actors and sexual predators, the safer our children will be.”