Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm is a group of experienced attorneys serving clients throughout the state of California. The firm specializes in personal injury law, with a specific focus on helping survivors of sexual abuse. We are equipped to provide you with resources and aggressive legal aid as you process the trauma you have endured and pursue justice through legal action. Our compassionate and competent team has successfully navigated cases of clergy sexual abuse in California, and we are ready to fight for you.
If you or a loved one have experienced sexual abuse from any member of the clergy, including a priest, rabbi, imam, pastor, or nun, the team at Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm is ready to represent you in a civil lawsuit. Our attorneys are practiced in serving victims of clergy sexual abuse, as well as those who have suffered any type of sexual misconduct or assault. In addition to financial compensation, filing charges against an abuser can provide a victim with closure, while also placing accountability on the perpetrator and helping prevent similar or ongoing abuse for other potential victims. Even if the abuse you suffered at the hands of a clergy member happened years or decades in the past, you may still have a case. You can talk to one of our legal representatives to determine the best course of action for you to pursue.
When you give us a call, we will schedule an initial consultation so we can listen and assess the circumstances of your situation. We understand that reporting an instance of sexual abuse by a trusted religious leader is a difficult and traumatic process, especially if this abuse occurred when you were a child, and we will connect you with the resources and support services you need as we build a civil case to prosecute the offender. Having a strong attorney and a solid case can have a significant impact on the outcome of a clergy sexual abuse case in California, and our legal team at Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm is dedicated to providing you with the best possible representation. Give us a call at 310-359-9451 to set up your consultation. Our team is ready to help you.
Institutionalized Sexual Abuse
Although most cases of sexual assault tend to happen in intimate situations between people who know each other, institutionalized sexual abuse occurs when any given institution, such as a corporation, school, or religious organization, contains a behavioral pattern that enables abuse or predatory practices. In situations of institutionalized sexual abuse, perpetrators often use power dynamics to their advantage by leveraging a position of authority in order to commit acts of abuse. For example, a teacher who coerces their student into giving sexual favors to receive a good grade is committing institutionalized sexual abuse.
The clergy is one example of an institution in which people in power frequently abuse their authority by committing sexual assault or by coercing others--especially minors--into participating in non-consensual sexual acts. In this instance, the clergy refers to any leader within an established religious organization such as a priest, deacon, bishop, pastor, minister, rabbi, imam, or nun. There has recently been a particular focus on ongoing sexual abuse of children (particularly young boys) within the Catholic Church, but this is a crime that can occur in any branch of Christianity and, beyond that, in any religion. Clergy sexual abuse can also happen to people of any age, although children are the most vulnerable. It can happen in a religious space or elsewhere.
Sexual abuse includes non-consensual sexual contact or sexual behavior. This might be sexual exploitation, groping, unwanted intimate touching, any kind of forced sexual act, any type of unwanted penetration, rape, and/or attempted rape. In the case of sexual abuse, coercion is not always strictly physical. A person who has been emotionally coerced, manipulated, intimidated, or otherwise psychologically forced into sexual contact is a victim of sexual abuse. Many cases involved in the recent and ongoing Catholic Church sex abuse scandal involved allegations made by adults or older youth years later, and many perpetrators have been accused of decades of continued abuse. It is very important to know the signs of this type of abuse so that you can recognize them in your loved ones. If you are suffering or have suffered from sexual abuse at the hands of a religious leader, you are not alone, and there are many resources available to survivors.
Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse in California
After experiencing sexual abuse, especially at the hands of a trusted or respected clergy member, it can be difficult to know how to react--particularly if the assault happened when you were a child. Whether you are currently suffering or recently suffered sexual abuse, or it happened years or decades ago, practicing self-care is important for survivors coping with the effects of trauma, both in the short-term and the long-term. Seeking counseling, especially from a therapist specializing in trauma or sexual assault, can help you process through what happened in a safe environment. If you decide to report the sexual abuse to law enforcement, you can contact or visit your local police department, visit a health facility, or speak with an attorney. If you are in immediate danger, always call 911.
The Independent Victims Compensation Program is a compensation program being created by Catholic dioceses in Los Angeles, Fresno, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, and San Diego. The purpose of this program is to facilitate compensation for victims of clergy sexual abuse that occurred years or decades in the past and for those afraid to take their charges to court. This is an attempt to make up for the failure of the Church to protect those abused by priests, and it provides financial compensation for the suffering experienced due to this abuse. The program will be run by lawyers in Washington, DC, and survivors of priest sexual abuse in the six participating dioceses will be able to file claims, no matter when the abuse was suffered, on the website of the program (which will be released soon).
Investigations of Sexual Abuse Within the California Clergy
If you are experiencing or have experienced sexual abuse of any kind at the hands of a clergy member, you are not alone. This is a crime that has received a lot of media attention recently as cases of abuse, both recent and years in the past, have come to light. Unfortunately, this type of abuse is frequent and widespread. Although religious organizations have historically attempted to cover up sexual assault scandals in order to maintain religious power, which has resulted in ongoing abuse within these organizations, there has been a recent surge in reports by victims of clergy members--specifically of instances of sexual abuse toward young boys in the Catholic Church.
Recently, the office of California’s attorney general looked into the Catholic Archdiocese in Los Angeles (and possibly other dioceses in the state), particularly investigating decades worth of allegations of sexual abuse and the way the archdiocese has handled them. The state’s Department of Justice cited California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act as it reviewed the archdiocese’s reporting of and response to sexual misconduct allegations involving children. This investigation marked a big step for prosecutors because it put the entire institution of the clergy under scrutiny rather than focusing on individual cases. The church has made ongoing efforts to maintain the secrecy of files about clergy abuse, and the accusation is that the church has made a habit of transferring priests accused of molestation instead of removing them and reporting them to the police. In LA alone, the archdiocese has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to victims in financial settlements and has promised that it will better protect members of the congregation.
In this particular moment, members of the clergy--especially in the Catholic church, but in other religious institutions as well--are under scrutiny as decades of sexual misconduct have been recently publicly uncovered. Because of this, there are legal precedents in California to protect the victims of clergy sexual abuse, as well as many resources for its survivors. This applies to members of any organized religion experiencing abuse at the hands of a leader. If you are a victim of sexual abuse by any member of the clergy, either now or in the past, you deserve to be believed and to be accurately represented in court by a strong attorney as you recover from the trauma of your experience.
What To Do if You Are Experiencing Sexual Abuse
The trauma of sexual assault can leave its victims uncertain of what to do or whom to turn to, overwhelmed by physical, psychological, or emotional wounds. Often, in situations of ongoing abuse, an offender will try to make their victim feel alone and helpless. Members of the clergy perpetuating sexual violence might leverage their religious power to intimidate victims into silence, capitalizing on fear of spiritual consequences or of possible retribution from other members of the religion. However, no one should live in fear or silence while enduring sexual abuse. There are many ways to safely seek support from family and friends, legal counsel, and mental health services.
First, make sure that you feel safe. Safety is the priority. Do not take any action that compromises your well-being. When you have a sense of personal safety, you can reach out to others for support. This might be family members, close friends, other survivors of sexual abuse, or anyone else in your community whom you feel able to open up to. If you would prefer to remain anonymous, you can also call a hotline specifically for survivors of sexual abuse like the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which will put you in touch with a staff member at a sexual assault service provider near you who can listen, give support, and provide mental health resources. Another consideration after a sexual assault is deciding whether to seek medical attention at a hospital or medical rape center, where medical professionals can assess your physical and psychological health as well as treat any bodily harm. If you feel able to opt for a rape kit, you can also get one of these in a medical facility. In California, a victim has 96 hours after an assault to use a rape kit to collect bodily forensic evidence, which you can use in a lawsuit.
Survivors of sexual abuse have many legal options. It can be difficult to file a report against an offender you know--especially a trusted religious leader--, but it can help survivors recover from trauma and prevent future instances of abuse. Although abusive clergy members may leverage their connection with a higher power, the victim’s fear of exile from their religious community, or the threat of spiritual retribution in this life or the afterlife as a means of scaring a victim into silence, an attorney can help a survivor build a strong case while also providing support services and resources for ongoing mental or psychological trauma.
Reporting Clergy Sexual Abuse in California
Because children are the most vulnerable demographic to abuse by a religious leader, charges of clergy sexual misconduct often remain unreported for years, or even decades. Members of the clergy can intimidate victims into silence, using shame, guilt, and intimidation as tools of manipulation, making it difficult or seemingly impossible for survivors to come forward. This becomes even more complicated if the victim was abused as a child and remained silent until adulthood when the years that have passed make it seem impossible to bring an abuser to justice or not worth the public rehashing of past trauma through confrontation with an abuser. However, it is never too late for a survivor to seek legal recourse, and anyone who comes forward to report clergy sexual abuse from years prior will not stand alone.
Statutes of limitations are the period of time in which a victim initiates a lawsuit; typically, the statute of limitations starts on the date on which the crime occurred, leaving a victim a certain window within which they are able to report the crime. However, most states--including California--have special extensions of the statute of limitations for cases that involve the sexual abuse of minors. This permits civil lawsuits within three years of the victim’s discovery that childhood sexual abuse caused psychological damage occurring as an adult. This rule’s purpose is to address the issue of pursuing a case of childhood sexual abuse as an adult when the normal statute of limitations has already passed because these repressed memories can arise later, with potential repercussions for the victim that last far longer than the statute of limitations. For criminal cases of aggravated rape in California, which involves a weapon, multiple perpetrators, or serious injury to the victim, the statute of limitations does not apply.
Whether you are a current victim of clergy sexual abuse or your trauma happened years in the past, you have the right to report that abuse and to file either a civil or criminal case. This is a moment in which the state of California is highly focused on pursuing justice for cases of sexual abuse in the clergy that were previously hidden or ignored. An attorney with a strong knowledge of laws surrounding sexual misconduct and abuse can help you navigate the legal process for filing a clergy sexual abuse charge.
What is the Process for Filing a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?
Depending on the circumstances, a sexual abuse lawsuit can be either a criminal case or a civil case. Only the state government can file a criminal lawsuit following a sexual abuse allegation if the district attorney decides that a sexual assault reported to the state’s authorities will have enough evidence to prove guilt. However, even if a survivor reports an assault to law enforcement, the district attorney might decide against pressing charges due to insufficient evidence or an unidentifiable perpetrator. In many instances when a sexual abuse case does move through the criminal justice system, it often results in a plea bargain that reduces the penalty for the offender in exchange for a guilty plea before the case reaches trial.
However, cases of clergy sexual assault that are brought to court years after the time of the abuse often do not result in action on the part of the state. In this case, the survivor can file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. Whereas a criminal conviction seeks to punish an offender with time in jail or prison, probation, and/or community service, a civil conviction seeks financial compensation for a victim’s medical bills, counseling, lost income, anxiety, and/or trauma resulting from sexual abuse. In California, a person filing a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse does not need to have filed a report to law enforcement, although having a police report can bolster a survivor’s credibility in civil proceedings.
If you do file a police report and the state decides not to pursue a criminal conviction, do not be discouraged. The burden of proof for the prosecution is lower in a civil case, in which the prosecutor must prove it is likely that the assault happened, compared to a criminal case, in which the prosecutor must definitively prove guilt. According to the statute of limitations in the California penal code, a person who was an adult when sexual abuse occurred has two years after the time of the incident to file a civil lawsuit, and a person who was a child when sexual abuse occurred has three years following their discovery that childhood sexual abuse caused psychological damage as an adult to file a civil lawsuit. When suing for sexual abuse, especially in a case of childhood sexual abuse, it is important to have a strong and experienced attorney who can make sure you receive the maximum compensation possible in a civil case.
Contacting a Personal Injury Lawyer Specializing in Clergy Sexual Abuse Near Me
Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm is committed to ending sexual abuse and helping its survivors seek justice. Our team of professional, highly-experienced attorneys specializes in personal injury law, with extensive experience serving survivors of clergy sexual abuse. If you have suffered sexual abuse from a member of the clergy, whether they are a priest, pastor, rabbi, nun, imam, minister, or other religious leaders, we are prepared to handle your case as you seek financial compensation for your trauma. We understand that coming forward with a sexual abuse allegation is difficult in any context, and especially when involving a religious leader. You can trust us to represent you with compassion and to connect you with the right resources for recovery. Our team of legal experts is available to listen to you, connect you with support services, and help you build a strong civil case. We are here for you.
If you or a loved one are experiencing or have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a clergy member, the attorneys of Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm are here to listen and help. Call us at 310-359-9451 to speak with a legal expert with extensive knowledge of the California penal code regarding sexual abuse. We are ready to serve and assist anyone in California who has suffered clergy sexual abuse, and we are prepared to make sure you receive the compensation and justice you deserve.