Sexual abuse is undeniably an inexcusable act. It bears consequences that never really end and leaves behind wounds that may never fully heal. The physical, psychological, and emotional effects of these horrible acts can permanently change a victim’s personality, and most survivors lose their ability to feel secure, comfortable, and happy in their everyday lives. Sadly, many sexual abuse victims don’t feel safe enough to take legal action against the perpetrator.
Many sexual abuse experts agree that this type of crime is not just about sex, but an attempt to gain power over others. Predators expertly manipulate their victim’s emotions and in some instances threaten them with violence or other acts of reprisal. This cruel power dynamic is absolutely unacceptable. Victims of these atrocious acts have every right to seek justice for the horror they have been subjected to by their predators. The legal team at Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm is ready to help you and your loved ones fight for the closure you deserve. Contact us at any time 24/7 at (310) 359-9451 to schedule a free, confidential consultation with an experienced and compassionate California sexual abuse attorney.
Types of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is common and can span age, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. It affects people of all education levels and socioeconomic backgrounds. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds. Eight out of ten victims are abused by someone known to them. Of the sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement, 7% were committed by a stranger, 34% by a family member, and 59% by an acquaintance. One in every six women in the United States has been the victim of rape (2.8% attempted rape and 14.8% completed). 1 in 33 American men has experienced rape in their lifetime. One in every 20 boys and one in every 5 girls have experienced childhood sexual abuse. The crime can occur at home, school, club, hospital, religious facilities, workplace, or while the victim is engaged in other activities. Sadly, only 5 out of 1,000 abusers will end up in prison.
The state of California doesn’t have one specific sexual abuse designation. However, generally, sexual abuse refers to any act of unsolicited sexual contact without an individual’s consent and may include the use of force, coercion, or threats. It refers to several crimes, including:
- Child Molestation
This refers to any form of sexual contact with a child. Children are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse because they are too young to understand what is happening to them and may not be in a position to fight back. Children are usually groomed, and some predators use the child’s cooperation as ‘evidence’ that there was no harm. Examples of child sexual abuse include fondling and demanding sexual favors from a minor.
This refers to forceful sexual intercourse without a person’s consent. It can also include anal or oral penetration. Under Penal Code 261 PC, rape can be accomplished through physical force, duress, violence, menace, fear of retaliation, fear of bodily harm, or fraud. Also, lack of consent can mean that the victim was unable to give consent due to a physical disability or mental disorder, intoxication, unconscious about the nature of the act (because he/she was unconscious, asleep or fraudulently induced into engaging in sexual intercourse). Rape can also include forcibly penetrating a person with a foreign object. Date rape refers to sexual abuse that takes place between individuals who are or were dating or are voluntarily spending time together.
This defines sexual contact between closely related family members. Incestuous sexual acts may occur between consenting adults, but most of the reported cases usually involve adults and children. According to RAINN, over a third of the American sexual abuse survivors are abused by a family member. Nonetheless, incest is one of the most underreported crimes, which implies that the number of incest survivors might higher than what is reported.
- Non-contact sexual abuse
Not all forms of sexual abuse involve physical contact between the victim and the perpetrator. For example, parents or guardians who make sexually inappropriate comments to their children or have sex in front of them are engaging in sexual abuse. Another type of sexual abuse is the so-called revenge pornography sites that publish nude images of individuals without their consent. Forcing a person to undress, watch pornographic content, or watch an abuser masturbate is also sexual abuse.
- Non-consensual sexual contact
This form includes unsolicited sexual touching, like kissing, fondling, hugging or groping. Attempted rape can as well fall under this category.
Individuals Who Are Most Likely To Be Victimized
Any person can be sexually abused during his/her lifetime. Nevertheless, children and teenagers account for a greater percentage of victims of sexual abuse. Obtaining all the details and statistics about sexual abuse is difficult because the abuse is often not reported. Whether disabled or not, children remain to be the most susceptible and the predator is typically someone close to the child or someone within the family.
Distressing reports have shed some light on the growing prevalence of sexual assault committed against individuals with disabilities. According to data obtained by NPR, individuals with disabilities were 7 times more likely to be sexually abused than those who are not disabled. In most cases, the perpetrator of these crimes is someone well known to the victim at a personal level or as a paid caregiver. In fact, 90% of intellectually disabled people are victimized by a person they trust. Both adults and children with disabilities are susceptible to sexual abuse since they heavily depended on others for their care and typically lack self-defense skills or the ability to distance themselves from those who abuse them.
Elder sexual abuse is also common. Many cases involving sexual abuse of a senior citizen occurs while in the care of others. Elder sexual abuse offenders usually include home assistants, live-in nurses, friends, family members, or other health providers entrusted with the responsibility of providing care to the elderly patient while alone. In most incidents, a staff member is the sexual abuse perpetrator in a nursing home. Other times another nursing home resident commits sexual abuse, particularly when the victim is unable to fight back or communicate non-consent. Abuse by a stranger is also common.
Immigrants and low-wage workers are particularly susceptible to sexual abuse based on their language articulacy, immigration status, ability to access and navigate technology, and when other important areas of their lives for instance transportation, housing, or legal status are closely tied to their employment. Undocumented female immigrants are over-presented in low-wage work and are usually supervised or managed by or work for men. Home care aides, restaurant workers, domestic workers, and others in the service industry often endure abuse by managers and patrons. Sadly, they are forced to endure the abused because they have fewer employment opportunities available to them. Notably, women who work in these settings are usually isolated, rely on tips, and work for a subminimum wage, which forces them to please customers, even if it means tolerating sexual abuse or remaining silent, for them to make ends meet.
Individuals in the entertainment industry are also vulnerable to sexual abuse by the production team, managers, casting directors, producers, publicists, owners of the studio, security people, co-workers, and agencies. Since the story of movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, came to light, some of the country’s biggest music, television, and film stars have been called to account for sexually abusing or harassing those who worked under them. In 2017 a long list of writers, actors, athletes, and singers who were sexually abused as children was published by the AV Club. Behind the scenes of the entertainment industries are sexual abusers who use their power to take advantage of individuals who wouldn’t want to lose their job or damage their reputation.
Fighting Back With a Lawsuit
Anyone who has been sexually abused can sue for damages. Families of victims may sue as well if they witnessed the abuse, the assault of abuse resulted in the victim’s death, or the abuse resulted in the loss of companionship and/or loss of consortium. In California, a sexual abuse case can be criminal or civil, or both. However, the law does not require a criminal conviction for the victim to sue for damages. As such, you don’t need to file criminal charges first in order to file a civil lawsuit. Bringing a claim for damages against the attacker is different from a criminal case. It’s important to understand how these legal actions differ because they both relate to a victim of sexual abuse. At Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm, we handle civil claims on behalf of victims of sexual abuse throughout the state of California.
A criminal case in California is brought by the D.A’s office against the offender. The district attorney isn’t the counsel for the victim of sexual abuse but rather is the attorney for “the people.” Occasionally, what is in the best interests of the District Attorney is not really in the best interest of the victim.
A civil case, on the other hand, is one in which the plaintiff (victim) sues the offender and any related organization that was in one way or another responsible for the offender’s acts. In general civil cases depend on a preponderance of the evidence, which allows the plaintiff to prove that it’s more likely than not that the defendant committed the act. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof and must present evidence that is convincing to a judge or jury.
Here’s a summary of the differences between a criminal and civil case:
- Burden of proof
In a criminal case involving sexual abuse, the offender is considered to be innocent until proven guilty. The prosecutor bears the burden of proof and must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the alleged abuse. The abuser may not be found guilty if there’s even the slightest possibility that he/she did not actually commit the crime. Conversely, a civil lawsuit only requires the plaintiff to prove that it’s most likely not that the offender is responsible for the sustained injuries.
- The ultimate goal of the case
In criminal sexual abuse cases, the main objective of the law is to establish whether your abuser is innocent or guilty. If the abuser is found guilty in criminal court, he/she will be convicted and sentenced to jail time. Other penalties may apply. At times, financial compensations are awarded to the victim, but the amount is usually small and can only be collected from the offender, who normally has no significant assets. Criminal cases don’t penalize the offender’s employer who may have unreasonably or improperly employed or supervised the perpetrator.
In civil litigation, the primary goal is to establish if the offender in your case is liable for the injuries and damages resulting from the abuse. These injuries can be emotional, physical, or both. If the plaintiff wins the case, the defendant will be liable for any financial compensation.
- Control over the case
The state typically controls a criminal case, and the victim is only involved as a witness. If the abuser is found guilty, the judge or jury will impose a sentence. In a civil sexual abuse lawsuit, you’ll need to make critical decisions concerning whether or not to bring a claim, whom to name as the defendant in the lawsuit, whether to bring your case to trial or accept an out-of-court settlement offer. If the offender is found guilty, the court will ask him/her as well as the related entity to pay financial damages as compensation to the victim. Punitive damages may also be awarded to punish the perpetrator's employer or other third parties who allowed the abuse to happen or turned a blind eye when they knew about the abuse.
Why Should You Choose A Civil Lawsuit?
Perhaps you and your family are already familiar with the criminal system. You have reported to the law enforcement only to discover that the prosecution did not commence. You have cooperated with a police investigation and contacted the D.A’s office only to be taken by surprise when the state chooses not to pursue the charges or resorts to a plea bargain for a lesser charge. While this may be disappointing, you could receive an award of just compensation if you file a civil lawsuit.
With the standard of proof being lower, your attorney only needs to establish the liability of the abuser and third party by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that at least 9 out of 12 jury members and the judge must agree that it’s at least a 51% probability that the crime occurred. This is unlike a criminal case in which all 12 jurors must be convinced that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
How Long Do You Have to File a Sexual Abuse Claim?
Under the current California law, a sexual abuse survivor has a maximum of 10 years after the abuse to bring a claim or within 3 years of discovering that he/she sustained injuries as a result of the abuse. If you were sexually abused as a child, you must file a claim by the time you’re 26 years old, irrespective of when the abuse and injuries occurred.
Suing the Company a Perpetrator Was Associated With
Sexual abuse can occur anywhere. However, some organizations have greater access to individuals and hold positions of trust. Entities may be sued for sexual abuse stemming from a crime committed by their employees or affiliates. Some of the most common organizations associated with sex abuse cases in California include:
- Religious organizations
- Schools and daycare centers
- Sports organizations or gyms
- Real estate management
- Businesses and large corporations
- Colleges and universities
- Healthcare facilities
- Nursing homes
- Recreational Facilities
- Residential Care Facilities
- TV, music, and film production companies
If you or a loved one has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of someone working for or affiliated with a certain organization, you could file a claim against the predator and the organization itself. California law makes it possible for parties involved in causing injury or death to be jointly liable for the plaintiff’s expenses. As such, bringing a claim allows you to hold all at-fault parties accountable for the direct or indirect role they played in your sexual abuse, exploitation, assault, or neglect. You could receive the full amount of damages from multiple defendants. No matter how large or powerful the corporation is, it shouldn’t get away with contributing to your sexual abuse. You can hold the entity accountable for:
Improper hiring procedures: An employer has a duty to reasonably ensure the performance and safety of its employees. When hiring, an employer should conduct thorough background checks, personality tests, and character references, especially when the job involves the most vulnerable people in society. Hiring criminal, incapable, and incompetent individuals is an act of negligence.
Lack of proper supervision: A company could be partly liable for sexual abuse if it did not provide adequate supervision of its employee, or those under their care. For instance, allowing a worker to be alone with an elderly person when he/she does not have the clearance to do so could result in neglect or abuse.
Inadequate employee training: An entity also has a duty to properly train its employees. Lack of training for how to work with their clients or detect sexual abuse could result in preventable cases of sexual abuse. Also, a company could be held accountable if it promotes a culture of silence and tends to cover up sexual abuse cases.
In essence, bringing a claim against the individual sex abuser, his/her employer, and any affiliated party is within the victim’s rights.
Types of Damages That Can be recovered through a Civil Lawsuit Against a Sex Abuser
A successful civil lawsuit against a sex abuser could result in compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are meant to recompense the sexual abuse victim for the losses incurred. Punitive damages, on the other hand, serve to punish the defendant. Compensatory damages apply in all successful sex abuse claims, but it’s up to a judge to award punitive damages.
Below are forms of compensatory damages available:
Medical Expenses: Includes all related past and future medical expenses, including hospital stays, treatments, physical therapy, medications, ambulance, nursing care, medical devices, transportation, and domestic services.
Lost wages: Awarded if the sexual abuse forced you to take time off work for recovery, counseling, or to avoid your offender.
Pain and suffering: This covers the emotional trauma you’ve experienced and will continue to experience due to the abuse. This may include emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life. Your spouse or partner could as well obtain compensation for loss of companionship or loss of consortium.
There are two types of compensatory damages: actual and general. Actual damages refer to economic expenses or out-of-pocket costs. General damages are those that may not have a monetary value but are often significant in a sexual abuse case.
These types of damages are common in sexual abuse cases and are typically a form of punishment against the defendant. A judge may order the defendant(s) to pay punitive damages if the judge believes that the defendants’ actions were egregious, or the plaintiff has not been adequately compensated under the circumstances. Malice, intent to harm, gross negligence, or criminal acts may result in the award of punitive damages.
Sexual abuse can turn your life upside down and make it a nightmare. Bringing your abuser to book can help you get your life going in the right direction again. If you or someone close to you has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of another person, we want you to know that you are not alone. The legal team at Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm has successfully represented victims of sexual abuse in California for decades. We stand ready to help you tell your story and fight on your behalf. Please call us at (310) 359-9451 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.