In praise of the law Bill Cosby’s newest accuser used to sue him for child sexual abuse – 40 years later

Opinion, Crime, NakedLaw

By my count, 20 women have now come forward to say that Bill Cosby raped or sexually assaulted them. A story that was shocking even a few weeks ago has become routine in the morning’s headlines, as woman after woman publicly tells her story. What’s different this week is that one woman has actually filed a lawsuit, alleging that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted her 40 years ago, when she was 15 years old and he was in his thirties.

How can she sue him decades later? Doesn’t the statute of limitations bar her claim?

No, it doesn’t. Under California law, a victim of child sexual abuse has either until age 26 or until three years after she connects her psychological injuries to the abuse, whichever is later.

Is this fair?

Absolutely. Indeed, it is vital to the ability of molestation victims to seek justice.

RELATED: In the rape accusations against Bill Cosby, no justice

I have represented many women and a few men bringing lawsuits under California’s expanded statute of limitations. That law came about because victims told legislators that child molestation is different than other civil wrongs, and indeed it is. If you are hit by a car, God forbid, you’ll understand immediately that your broken leg was caused by the accident. You’ll hopefully go to a lawyer, learn your rights and seek redress promptly.

But child molestation doesn’t work that way. A mountain of psychological research substantiates that victims suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, eating disorders and many other effects. But most blame themselves, or think that’s just the way they are, and don’t understand until many years later, usually after extensive psychotherapy, that their emotional injuries are rooted in the molestation they suffered as children.

Statutes of limitations favor the wrongdoer. They allow people or institutions that have hurt others to walk away entirely from liability based only on the passage of time. The California legislature has said that child molesters do not get a free pass merely by running down the clock. Many states have similar laws granting child molestation victims their day in court if they connect the dots between the abuse and their injuries later in life.

How can she prove her case decades later?

Of course, victims suing years after the fact, such as Cosby’s accuser, must still prove every element of their cases in court. Plaintiff Judy Huth says in her lawsuit that a friend was with her during much of the day with Cosby. If that friend is a corroborating witness now, that will certainly help her case. But even if she’s not, Huth’s testimony is evidence, and she’s entitled to her day in court on her very serious charges that Cosby sexually assaulted her and caused her lifelong emotional injuries. Physical evidence or Huth’s statements to others years ago that Cosby abused her are not legally required.

Any other rule would ignore the body of knowledge we have about the insidiousness of child molestation and would bar victims from seeking justice against their perpetrators.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.

Photo: Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock

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