Being coerced or forced into unwanted sexual contact is never acceptable, and it can be utterly devastating when it involves the most vulnerable among us: children. As parents and caregivers, we do our best to ensure that our children are in safe environments. However, young children and teenagers remain at a heightened risk of becoming the target of sexual abuse. Children are especially exposed to the risk of sexual abuse in settings where they remain outside their parents’ supervision. The perpetrators can be babysitters or caregivers, serial sexual predators, trusted family members, coaches, physicians, instructors, teachers, clergy, or individuals in a position of power. No matter the identity or position of the perpetrator, your child has suffered a traumatic, life-altering event, and his/her innocence has been robbed. You may pursue justice by filing a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator.
Over the years, Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm has handled dozens of child abuse cases, helping families obtain the financial compensation that can help them in recovering and rebuilding. A caring, experienced sexual abuse attorney is available to review your case, provide more information, and answer your questions, so you are informed about your options. Contact our office today at (310) 359-9451 for a free, confidential consultation.
Overview of Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse refers to the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he/she doesn’t completely understand, is not able to give informed consent to, for which the child isn’t developmentally ready for, or that violates the laws or social taboos of the society. It involves persuading or forcing a child to take part in sexual activities. Child sexual abuse is intended to satisfy the needs of another individual, who can be an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of trust, power, or responsibility.
The dynamics of child sexual abuse are usually different from that of adult sexual abuse due to the unique nature of the abuser. As such, these two forms of sexual abuse cannot be dealt with in a similar manner. Some of the features that characterize child sexual abuse:
- The offender is usually a known and trusted person/caregiver.
- Violence or physical force is rarely used. Instead, the offender manipulates the child’s trust and hides the abuse.
- Child sexual abuse often occurs as repeated episodes that end up becoming more invasive over time. Usually, the perpetrator engages the child gradually and sexualizes the relationship over time. This is known as grooming.
- Child sexual abuse often happens over several weeks or years.
- Incest accounts for approximately 1/3 of all child abuse cases.
Individuals who prefer sexual contact with children to adults are referred to as Pedophiles. Typically, pedophiles are skilled at planning and executing strategies to get involved with children. They may also share information about children like child pornography. Moreover, through the use of the internet, such information can be shared at an international level.
Types of Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse can be (1) contact, where the offender makes physical contact with the child or (2) non-contact, where the child is abused without being touched by the perpetrator. It can also occur online or in person.
Contact sexual abuse can include:
- Forcing a child to participate in a sexual activity
- Sexually touching any part of a child’s body, whether they are dressed or not.
- Making a child undress or touch someone else
- Using an object or body part to penetrate or rape a child
Contact sexual abuse isn’t just penetrative; it can include kissing, touching, and oral sex.
Non-contact abuse includes:
- Showing pornography content to a child
- Exposing or flashing
- Exposing a child to sexual acts
- Coercing a child to participate in sexual conversations or activities online
- Forcing a child to make, share or view child abuse videos or images
- Making them masturbate
How and Where Child Sexual Abuse is Likely to Occur
In most cases, child sexual abuse is committed by individuals who have been entrusted to provide some form of care to a child. There are many places that provide sexual predators with the opportunity to gain unsupervised access to children. Sadly, these are usually places that we believe our children to be the safest. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), only 7 percent of child sexual abuse involves a stranger. Given that most abusers use positions of authority to have access and control over children, parents are encouraged to conduct comprehensive investigations of facilities or institutions they plan on entrusting their kids to their care.
However, since an investigation by a parent cannot be expected to eliminate every risk, the organizations or institutions themselves should implement hiring practices and reasonable safeguards to prevent child sexual abuse cases. However, even with these requirements, more than 60,000 children are sexually abused in the U.S. Some of the most common places where child sexual abuse can occur include:
- Churches or religious organizations
- Schools and daycare centers
- Medical Facilities
- Sports organizations
- Foster care and group homes
- Day or overnight camps
- Clubs, such as the Boys Scouts
- After-school clubs or any other extracurricular activities
- Businesses or large corporations
Common Signs that Your Child May Be a Victim of Sexual Abuse
Parents and caregivers should be keen if a child expresses a desire to avoid certain people or places. They should as well listen to your instincts. In addition to these, there are various behavioral signs that a child is being abused:
- Bedwetting for a kid who has already outgrown it
- Reluctance to be left alone with certain individuals
- Attempting to change clothing or bathe
- Excessive fearfulness and bad dreams
- Fear of being away from the caregiver, if this is a new behavior
- Age-inappropriate knowledge and conversation involving sexual topics
- Eating problems
- Nonparticipation in school and social activities
The circumstances of each victim are unique, so how they handle the situation significantly depends on the support system they have around them. Some victims exhibit immediate signs of emotional damage, while others may take years to display any symptoms of sexual abuse.
Why Children are Vulnerable to Sexual Abuse
Children trust people easily because they are innocent-minded with little or no malice. Young children trust the things they are told. Perpetrators usually go after children who are particularly trusting and work proactively to build a trusting relationship before sexually abusing them. They progressively employ inappropriate touches, behaviors, and comments so insidious that the abuse is already happening before the child recognizes the situation as inappropriate or sexual. Child molesters also use inducements such as attention, privileges, and material goods to gain trust. This also extends to developing a trusting relationship with the victim’s family so as to gain access to the child.
Children may lack a good understanding of social relationships, sexual awareness, protective behaviors, personal boundaries, and what abuse is all about. They may also find it difficult to let someone know that the abuse is taking place.
Abusers report that they look for passive, troubled, quiet, lonely children from broken or single-parent homes. Some perpetrators target kids who are being isolated or being abandoned by their parents or caregivers. When a family is experiencing a tough time, there is a likelihood that they may not be able to offer their child enough attention or even supervision, exposing them to unsafe conditions. Some kids are at high risk of sexual abuse. For instance, children with disabilities, particularly those who don’t understand that whatever is happening to them is abuse or are unable to share the information with someone. Perpetrators use the threat of violence to prevent children from disclosing the abuse and prevent detection.
Other factors that can contribute to child sexual abuse include:
- Age: Sexual acts that involve an adult and a minor are despicable. Most children are victimized simply because they are too young to fight back or resist abuse.
- Authority: Individuals holding a position of inherent power can take advantage of the authoritative dynamics to sexually abuse children. A good example of this would be a coach being sexually involved with a child in the team. The child may feel obligated to participate in the abuse simply because the coach holds a role of power.
- Coercion: Children can be susceptible to sexual assault because they trust everything they are told. Often, perpetrators concoct stories to explain their conduct and discourage reporting. For instance, a perpetrator may threaten to kill and child and his/her family if he/she reports the abuse. A child may believe that this will actually happen.
- Physical size: A large physical presence can be used as a form of influence. Individuals with smaller bodies may shy away from stopping sexual abuse out of fear of a physical conflict.
Lawsuits in the Media Regarding Child Sexual Abuse
A vast majority of sexual abuse lawsuits involve individuals and affiliated organizations with a means to pay a financial settlement. Lawsuits in the media stemming from childhood sexual abuse involve the following defendants:
Many coaches have been found to have abused children across the country. In 2018, the world watched in shock as the horrors of abuse caused by Larry Nassar (former USA Gymnastics Doctor) were uncovered. The Michigan State University agreed to a $500 million settlement to Larry Nassar victims. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against athletic coaches who violated the trust between them and their athletes.
Thousands of sexual abuse cases have been filed against a member of the Catholic Church. According to the church, 1% of its priest population is sexual predators. This translates to hundreds of thousands of offenders and millions of abused children. The church has paid out more than $ 2.5 billion in settlement for the abusive nature of its members.
- Youth Groups
Some of the largest youth groups in the U.S. have come under scrutiny for child sexual abuse or assault cases. One of such groups that has had to face negative attention is the Boy Scouts of America. The group has faced thousands of lawsuits and paid tens of millions in settlement to survivors including one case for $18.5 million and another $15 million.
At USC, a physician was found to have abused hundreds of innocent young women. This led to a large outcry, his conviction, and a comprehensive review of the minors in the hands of physicians. Physicians exercise such complete control over children that abuse can occur quite easily.
Teachers spend a significant part of the day with kids and exercise substantial control over them, which provides an opportunity for them to target their students. The Los Angeles school district, for instance, has had to pay compensation several times for abuse committed by their teachers. In 2016, the school district agreed to pay $88 million to settle sexual abuse cases involving 30 elementary school students. This came less than two years after a $140 million settlement was made to families of students who were sexually abused by a teacher who took their photos in bondage style.
- Foster Parents
Foster parents are entrusted with taking care of the most vulnerable members of society. It’s regrettable that some turn out to be the real danger. In most instances, individual offenders don’t have enough resources to pursue. Accordingly, many cases are filed against the foster care agencies for failing to thoroughly screen the parents or supervise the children under their care. In July 2019, an Antioch man and his adult son were charged with the sexual abuse of multiple children under the family’s care.
Steps to Take When Facing Sexual Abuse
Many parents and caregivers are tempted to privately handle a disclosure or discovery of sexual abuse, especially when the abuse involves friends or family. However, that could be a mistake that can further increase the isolation of those who really need support. It’s important to understand that all family members are disturbed affected when a child is sexually abused, and every one of them may require special help. Usually, these situations don’t get better without the help of an outside professional who can help with the healing process. It’s in the best interest of a parent, caregiver, or another adult to be the one to seek help first. By acting on time, you may play a critical role in reducing the risk of others from becoming victims of sexual abuse.
California criminalizes sexual abuse of children. The law, however, does not require a police report or criminal conviction for victims of child sexual abuse to sue for damages. Victims of sexual abuse or assault may be afraid to report the crime because they may fear that no one is going to believe them or they’ll be blamed for what happened to them. On the contrary, most law enforcement officers in California will handle a sexual abuse victim with dignity. Having an investigation conducted is always helpful, even when no criminal charges are filed. It can help uncover important evidence that might be useful in a civil lawsuit. Moreover, reporting the incident to law enforcement can help reinforce the credibility of the victim in a civil case.
Do not be discouraged from suing the perpetrator just because the D.A decides not to file charges or take the case to trial, or when the D.A reduces the charge. Also, having experienced the abuse too long ago does not disqualify you from making a good case. Contact a California child sexual abuse attorney to help you establish liability and pursue justice for your family.
Filing a Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
When a minor is the victim of sexual abuse, there are two types of court proceedings that can take place: civil lawsuits and criminal lawsuits. Criminal cases are filed by the government against the alleged perpetrator. If convicted, the abuser can be punished by fines, incarceration, mandatory counseling, probation, and other sanctions. Civil lawsuits, on the other hand, are brought by the victim, who may receive compensation if liability can be established.
In a civil lawsuit, the “standard of proof” is lower than in criminal prosecution. The civil court process only requires the victim to only establish liability, whereas the criminal prosecution process requires them to prove that the alleged abuser is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A detailed demonstration of the extent of harm suffered will be made, regardless of who the defendant is. The legal team at Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm is here to demonstrate the details that are significant to your case.
Statute of Limitations in California
In California, a victim of a childhood sexual abuse or assault may file a lawsuit until the later of his/her 26th birthday, or 3 years after the victim discovers or should have discovered that the sexual abuse or assault caused a psychological illness or injury which the victim acquired after turning 18 years old (delayed discovery). If the victim is over the age of 26, he/she will need to obtain certificates of merit from a mental health professional that hasn’t treated him/her as well as the plaintiff’s attorney. The certificates of merit from the mental health professional should state that there’s a candid reason why the plaintiff did not discover the harm sooner. The certificate from the attorney should state a claim is meritorious based on the review of the case and the findings of the mental heal professional.
Because of the processes involved, it may take some time to get the required certification. The 3-year “delayed discovery” isn’t suspended during this period. As such, potential plaintiffs who are, or will be turning 26 soon should consult with a California sexual abuse attorney as soon as possible to find out if they’re still eligible to file a lawsuit.
The California Civil Litigation Process
The civil litigation process is complex as it involves state-wide and local rules of procedure. Before you file a civil lawsuit, it’s important to know how your case will roll out.
- First Step: Pleadings
These are the initial step in a civil lawsuit. Each party will file paperwork with the appropriate court to explain their side of the story. The plaintiff will start off the case by filing a complaint, and the defendant will then file a response. The court you choose must have personal jurisdiction over the defendants, must be located in the appropriate venue, and have subject matter jurisdiction over your case-type. As such, it’s important to have an attorney who can ensure that your case is filed as per the defined criteria.
- Second Step: Discovery
Once all parties involved are done with the pleadings process, they will enter discovery. This is a process in which both parties start to acquire information to help fortify their arguments. Based on the theory of broad rights of discovery, each side will enter the trial with as much information as possible to make their case. This step also helps ensure that parties don’t conceal information from one another. Discovery is usually the longest stage of civil litigation.
- Third Step: Trial
If the dispute is not resolved out of court during the discover stage, the civil lawsuit will proceed to trial. Both parties will submit a brief to the judge before the trial commences. During the trial, both sides will present their arguments before a jury or judge. Usually, the plaintiff goes first, and the defense presents its case after. The plaintiff will then have one last opportunity to submit additional evidence (rebuttal evidence). Both parties will present their cases using evidence, which may include expert testimony, documents, or exhibits that support their argument.
Types of Compensation for Child Sexual Abuse
Victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse may seek to recover damages for:
- Psychological counseling
- Medical bills
- Emotional distress or trauma
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Adult survivors of child sexual abuse may seek additional damages for lost wages, lost earning capacity, and inability to develop stable relationships. No amount of financial compensation can erase the dreadful experience your child has been subjected to, but money can pay for treatment that brings closure to your family and get you on the road to healing.
Find a Child Sexual Abuse Attorney Near Me
Child sexual abuse can leave deep emotional and physical scars. At Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm, we are dedicated to holding predators accountable for their heinous crimes and restoring a child’s trust. Through compassionate and zealous litigation, we give each victim hope, help them find closure, and protect other children from being victimized in the future. We have the expertise and resources necessary to uncover important details and evidence to establish liability and advocate for innocent victims.