California Senate Bill 131, otherwise known as the The Child Victims Act, was passed by the state Legislature earlier this year–but it’s still sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. He has until October 13 to sign the bill, veto it or let it pass into law without signing.
The governor, a former Jesuit seminarian, is under pressure to veto the bill from Catholic dioceses and other Church officials, as well as from organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and USA Swimming–all entities that could face lawsuits if the bill is passed into law.
The Child Victims Act would expand the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse to seek monetary damages in civil courts. If the bill becomes law, victims would be able to sue institutions that failed to adequately protect them from sexual predators.
According to Irwin Zalkin, a clergy abuse lawyer in San Diego, many victims only realize later in life the psychological damage that their childhood abuse has had on them. Oftentimes, when they are ready to come forward, the statute of limitations has run out, their perpetrators are “either judgment-proof or dead” and the institutions who covered up the crimes continue to find ways to escape culpability.
Representing sexual abuse survivors for the past decade, Zalkin has seen firsthand how devastating it is to a victim to be told they have no recourse when they finally muster the courage to confront what happened to them. In an interview with Ms., Zalkin stressed the importance of constituents speaking up:
I urge everyone to please contact Gov. Jerry Brown and voice your support for SB 131. The easiest way to do that is to go to the governor’s website and let him know that he should sign The Child Victims Act into law.
Catholic churches across California have mobilized their followers in the opposite direction, urging them to call and write the Governor’s office and ask that he veto SB 131, claiming it “unduly impacts the Church” by exposing them to “unlimited liability.”
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and a clergy sexual-abuse survivor herself, told Ms:
This bill will immediately make children in California safer. It will expose the identities of those who enable the predators and cover up the crimes. The secrecy and silence is what enables the sexual violence to spread, that’s why it’s important. It’ll protect kids and make California a safer place for children.
Photo of Catholic priest praying from Flickr user Ghazilee165 under license from Creative Commons 2.0
Melissa McGlensey recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.A. in English and Spanish with a minor in creative writing; she is currently interning at Ms.