A recent “Me Too” movement update to New Jersey’s Child Sexual Abuse Act (CSAA) significantly extends the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims, granting victims additional time to file lawsuits against their aggressors. First enacted in 1992, the CSAA originally allowed victims of sexual abuse to file lawsuits within two years of their eighteenth birthday, or the date when they reasonably discovered their injury. The updated law now extends this period to age 55 or seven years from the date the victim becomes aware of the abuse. It also grants otherwise ineligible past victims a two-year window to file claims that were previously barred by the statute of limitations.
Another change that benefits victims is the broadening of categories of abuse. The old law was limited to claims against a person acting in place of a parent “within the household.” The new law removes that provision, and now extends to any educational, religious, or civic organization that cares for children. Thus, victims may now bring claims against entities for negligence resulting in sexual abuse or even negligent hiring and supervision of an employee that led to sexual abuse against a minor.
Although the CSAA is significantly broader, a recent case illustrates how not all past claims will be viable. In A.Z. v. A.R.P., the plaintiff sued its alleged aggressor maintaining that, in 2001, she was sexually abused and assaulted at the age of sixteen by a seventeen-year-old defendant. She also claimed that the defendant’s father violated the CSAA because he had knowledge of his son’s activities. Under the CSAA, a person standing in place of a parent who permits or goes along with the sexual abuse engaged by another person commits an act of abuse. The court rejected plaintiff’s CSAA claim because even the new law’s definition of “sexual abuse” does not include sexual contact between minors. Instead, the CSAA’s goal of keeping children safe and identifying their abusers requires the act “of sexual contact or sexual penetration between a child under the age of 18 years and an adult.” In this case, the court found that the plaintiff’s claims referred only to a minor, i.e., the alleged seventeen-year-old aggressor. Because the allegations against the father rested on his son’s act of sexual abuse, the court determined that there was no actionable act of sexual abuse under the law.
The update to the law is rooted in the acknowledgment that child sexual abuse perpetrated by a trusted adult creates lasting shame, confusion, and self-doubt. Surviving victims feel self-blame and fear and are not able to confront their aggressors for many years, if at all. Clearly, New Jersey is seeking to establish a public policy that encourages institutions to establish safeguards for minors when they are at their most vulnerable. These institutions now have a strong incentive to conduct background checks, establish and follow child safety protocols, and vigorously investigate any sign of potential danger.
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