Sexual abuse victims face extreme fear when it comes to sharing information about their abuse. Many have the fear that no one will believe them or they will be blamed for the abuse, especially when the perpetrator is a family member or a person who holds a position of power. For undocumented immigrants living in the United States, they have to deal with the fear of being deported, being labeled with cultural stigma, or losing their children. Individuals with precarious legal status are highly vulnerable to sexual abuse, and rather than reporting the crime; they choose what they believe is the best option: living and working in predatory environments.
Sexual abuse of undocumented immigrants is more widespread than many people realize. The immigrants are usually a large portion of the low-wage workforce exposed to poor working conditions and lack of job benefits. What’s more, much low-wage work is under-regulated, which makes it easier for employers to hire the “cheapest” workers whose status makes it difficult for them to contest sexual abuse, harassment, low wage, and other negative experiences of the job. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Law protects such people, they may not report abuse due to the fear of putting their immigration status at risk.
Regardless of your immigration status, you should not suffer in silence or feel too afraid to report your perpetrator. With decades of experience as sexual abuse attorneys, Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm can help you or another person close to you who has been sexually abused, assaulted, or molested. We help our clients with the process of gathering documentation, witnesses, physical evidence, and any other evidence necessary to support the case. We’ll then work relentlessly to hold the perpetrator responsible and secure compensation.
Contact us today at (310) 359-9451 or fill out our online contact form for a free, confidential consultation.
Understanding What Sexual Abuse Entails
Sexual abuse is sexual behavior by one person upon another without his/her consent. It usually involves the use of force or taking advantage of another person. Examples of sexual abuse include:
- Rape, including statutory rape
- Inserting a bodily organ or an object into the sex organ of another person
- Forcing someone to take part in a sexual act
- Any sexual contact with a child’s body
- Forcing someone to watch pornographic content
- Forcing to undress or touch another person
- Fondling, kissing, or oral sex
- Perpetrating sexual acts with someone unable to consent
- Sexual battery and aggravated sexual assault
- Indecent exposure of genitals to a child
- Inappropriate touching of another individual’s body
- Using alcohol and/or drug to sexually assault the person of another
Any form of sexual act or contact that happens without the full, capable consent of two adults is considered sexual assault. Moreover, though according to statistics, women are more at risk compared to men, it’s important to note that anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse or assault. And “anyone’ means the elderly, men, women, teenagers, and children.
Vulnerabilities of Undocumented Immigrants
Sexual abuse against women is common in the community as a result of culture, social context, and laws that frequently uphold male control of their female partners. These issues may increase susceptibility to a larger extent, particularly for immigrant women because they tend to live within two conflicting cultures and a context in which they live in isolation. Moreover, most of them have non-permanent immigrant status or an undocumented, which places legal limitations on them. Having an undocumented status is a clear sign that an immigrant has not yet acquired the required legal immigration status.
Reports show that abusers threaten and disrupt an immigrant’s job by undermining their capacity to remain employed in the U.S. and live in the U.S. According to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), all undocumented immigrants can be subjected to deportation for various crimes. This can be applied retroactively and utilized for detention. Therefore, a perpetrator who fully understands a person’s immigration status or who effectively involves an immigrant in criminal acts can utilize their history to intimidate or to have them deported.
As mentioned above, most immigrant women work in low-wage jobs, where they typically remain invisible and for a reason. These are the women picking our vegetables and fruits in the field, the women on night shift cleaning office buildings, taking care of our kids as domestic workers, and ensuring our hotel rooms are clean. They’re often easy to overlook. However, they’re people who usually work in isolation, and that exposes them extreme forms of sexual assault and abuse while on the job.
Undocumented immigrants may experience language barriers that hinder their ability to get assistance or be familiar with laws against any form of sexual abuse. And in addition to the fear of being retaliated against, sexually abused immigrants fear to lose their paychecks if they make any complaints. The thought of walking into a police station or seeking help elsewhere can seem counterproductive for an immigrant who lives in constant fear of “being found.” Alleging sexual abuse or assault can be scary to anyone, but it’s even worse if you don’t have a financial cushion, and the only thing standing between your family and homelessness is your paycheck.
Children in undocumented populations are at risk of sexual abuse, whether they’ve traveled alone on a perilous journey or have crossed the border along with their parents. Such children and their families may not be able to access child protection services due to a language barrier. In addition, they face social and cultural barriers and limited access to public facilities where they may be able to report the abuse, such as schools and medical facilities. What’s more, sexual abuse is a taboo topic within many traditional Latino families, and therefore, there isn’t an open room for such discussions within the family.
Lawsuits in the Media Involving Sexual Abuse of Undocumented Immigrants
Undocumented women accessing the American border towns have been beaten for defying smugglers, shackled to beds and trees, forced into prostitution, impregnated by strangers, and in at least a handful of cases, bound with rope, duct tape or even handcuffs. Through detailed interviews with the law enforcement official, federal judges, prosecutors, and immigrant advocates through the country, the New York Times found dozens of documented cases of immigrant sexual abuse in New Mexico, Texas, California, and Arizona. The review disclosed over a hundred documented reports of sexual assault victims being undocumented women along the border in the past two decades, a figure that only skims the surface.
Additionally, interviews with migrant women and those working with them along the border revealed a large number of cases are unreported or unexamined. Sexual violence has become a part of the migrant journey. According to experts, the actual number of sexual assault is definitely much higher than what is documented since most attacks are never reported. And these attacks don’t necessarily end at the border. Several women have also reported being sexually assaulted or abused in immigration detention facilities.
Within a 4-year period, the federal government received over 4,500 complaints concerning sexual abuse of immigrant children being held at government-funded detention facilities. According to the Justice Department, complaints increased while the Trump administration’s policy of migrant families’ separation at the border was in place. Over 2,700 children being separated from their biological parents pursuant to President Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy of indicting anyone found to have illegally crossed the border, including those with families seeking asylum on humanitarian grounds.
According to Axios, the allegations include sexual relationships, forcible touching, showing pornographic videos to children, fondling and kissing minors, raping them, and watching them as they showered. Also, they included cases of suspected abuse by other minors. Several lawsuits have been filed against the government.
In 2018, the government settled a lawsuit involving a woman who sexually assaulted along with her sister by a U.S. border patrol agent in July of 2016. The two sisters from Guatemala had lost their way while traveling to the U.S. when they met Customs and Border Protection officers in Texas. They were led to a CBP filed office, told to strip, and sexually assaulted. The U.S. government agreed to pay $125,000 to have the case dropped.
A Guatemalan father filed a lawsuit in March 2019 alleging that his 10-year old son was given psychotropic drugs and sexually assaulted by another child as he was held in government custody. The suit alleges that the child was taken into custody after being separated from his father in February 2018.
Steps to Take After Assault
The trauma associated with sexual assault can leave the survivors with physical, psychological, and emotional wounds. Every survivor has a distinct experience and needs and may process and the trauma differently. Victims often feel ashamed and confused. They may not know what to do, how to feel, or even what their options are following a sexual assault. If you find yourself in this situation, however, it’s important to come forward to seek justice. Following a sexual abuse incident, you’re advised to write down everything you can remember regarding the attack. Be sure to include the circumstances under which it took place, the physical appearance, special odor or other characteristics of the attacker, the nature of the attack and whether the perpetrator used verbal threat or weapon.
Preferably, anyone who has been coerced into a sexual activity should be seen at a hospital within 24 hours, where they can receive medical care and counseling. A specially trained team of medical professionals can collect high-quality forensic evidence and provide support to the victim. Unless you have the best place in mind, call a rape crisis hotline, irrespective of the nature of the assault and even if the abuse or assault took place days or weeks earlier. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673) or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network for free, confidential information, support, and referrals.
The center advises victims of sexual abuse not to do the following before evidence is collected by a medical professional:
- Use the restroom
- Eat or drink anything
- Gargle or brush their teeth
- Bathe, shower, or douche
- Comb or brush their hair
- Throw away clothes worn during the abuse
- Clean up the crime scene
The main goal is to eliminate these criminals from the streets as soon as possible, which can only be possible if good forensic examinations are carried out, and the victim decides to file charges. It’s exclusively up to the victim whether to notify the law enforcement officers or not, which can be done days or weeks after the assault or even as the abuse is still happening. Even though the victim thinks at the moment all s/he needs is medical help and time to heal, he/she will eventually change their mind. If that happens, the National Center for the Victims of Crime urges a course of action that maintains evidence that could result in arrest and even conviction of the attacker(s).
Reporting sexual abuse to law enforcement is a personal decision. But it can be the first step in stopping the abuse in its tracks, seeking justice and holding the abuser accountable for the wrongdoing. It may not be easy to make this decision, but doing so can have a positive impact on your recovery.
It’s also important to contact a sexual abuse attorney who can help and guide you at a time when you’re faced with uncertainties about exposing your abusers. At Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm, our attorneys can help you understand and navigate all resources even if you’re in the country illegally. We work closely with preeminent experts in this field to protect the rights of sexually abused immigrants.
Filing a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
Victims of sexual abuse or assault may have the option of bringing a lawsuit against the offender in a civil court. While a sexual abuse incident can bring about criminal prosecution, which can lead to jail time, probation, fines, and other sanctions against the offender if a conviction is obtained, a civil lawsuit is typically the best way victims of sexual assault can obtain monetary reimbursement for the harm suffered as a result of the assault. If a criminal charge was filed against the perpetrator and he/she was convicted, you have a better chance of winning in your civil lawsuit when it comes to proving that the defendant is liable for the abuse. An intricate legal rule referred to as collateral estoppel may allow you to submit evidence that was used in a criminal case in which the offender has been found guilty of perpetrating the abuse.
Even with the absence of a corresponding criminal case or if the defendant wasn’t convicted, the plaintiff in the civil case will still have an easier time demonstrating that the defendant is liable for the alleged abuse. This is due to the fact that the standard of proof in a civil case is lower compared to that of a criminal case. To find the defendant civilly responsible, the plaintiff is only required to demonstrate that it’s more likely than not that the offender perpetrated the alleged abusive act (by a preponderance of the evidence). The burden of proof in a criminal case requires the prosecuting team to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is basically a much tougher standard to meet.
California Civil Lawsuit Process
- A plaintiff begins the process by filing a lawsuit with the court
- The plaintiff serves the plaint on the defendant(s) within 60 days
- The defendant files a responsive pleading, such as a demurrer (motion to dismiss) or an answer (usually containing a denial)
- The court will then deem the case at issue after all parties have responded
- Both parties may conduct discovery, which may include written interrogatory questions and depositions.
- At some point, the court will set a Case Management Conference (CMC), which must be attended by all parties or their attorneys. At the CMC, the judge may order the parties to mediation.
- If the parties don’t reach an agreement, the judge will set certain dates including, Trial, Trial Readiness Conference, First Expert Exchange, Law and Motion Discovery Cutoff, and Secondary Expert Exchange.
- A trial will be held, and the parties will submit a brief, which outlines their arguments as well as evidence. Both parties will present their arguments, and the judge will deliberate for a period of time until a verdict is reached.
- After a judgment, either party may file post-trial motions or an appeal, which can extend the litigation process by one year or more.
Compensation in Undocumented Immigrant Sexual Abuse Cases
Survivor of sexual assault often experiences both physical and mental disorders resulting from the assault. Some of the most common issues include depression, sleep disorders, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide, self-injury, sexually transmitted diseases, personality disorders, or pregnancy. Survivors often need immediate and long-term medical care to take care of their injuries. Some individuals suffer social withdrawal and anxiety, making it hard to work or even go to school. The costs of these losses can be substantial. If your lawsuit pushes through and you’re able to prove the defendant’s liability, he/she or the associated government organizations may be ordered to compensate you the following:
- Medical expenses
- Psychological counseling
- Lost wages or loss of future earning potential
- Loss of companionship with your spouse
- Pain and suffering (mental anguish, emotional distress, and physical pain)
- Punitive damages
The Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Case
It’s true that choosing to share your story is an extremely difficult decision that can feel more like a violation in and of itself. Even if you’re ready to file a lawsuit against your perpetrator, it’s imperative to preserve your rights before time runs up. Under California law, there is a statute of limitations which basically provides a certain deadline for sexual abuse victims to file a lawsuit. Missing the deadline can prevent you from holding your abuser accountable and pursuing the compensation you deserve.
Right now, adult victims of sexual abuse in California have up to 10 years from the date of the abuse or 3 years from the discovery of an illness or disease associated with the abuse, to file a civil lawsuit. For survivors of childhood sexual abuse, they are required to file a claim by the time they are 26 years old, regardless of when the abuse occurred. However, these statutes could change soon if Assembly Bill 281- which seeks to extend the statute of limitations for civil claims- is passed into law.
Find an Undocumented Immigrant Sexual Abuse Attorney Near Me
At Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm, we understand that compensation won in a civil lawsuit can’t erase the memories of the horrific event, but it can help you move forward in your life. Also, it can help hold the involved parties liable and discourage them from ever repeating the same act on another person. If you are an undocumented immigrant who is sexually abused, Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm can help you with the following services to hold your abuser accountable and keep you safe:
- Locating a safe and convenient shelter for you and your children
- Obtain a court order to help keep your abuser from causing further harm
- Apply for legal status or a U-Visa to protect your and your family
- Work with immigration officials to ensure the law is implanted as intended
- Provide proper legal counsel to help you understand your right to compensation and protection
- Bring a civil lawsuit against your abuser and fight to obtain the compensation you deserve
- Hold your perpetrator or the associated organization accountable
- Provide bilingual services to help you better express yourself and understand the process
We stand ready to stand by your side throughout the litigation process. We understand how hard it is for you to come forward, and we’ll do everything in our power to make the process easy for you. We will aggressively fight to protect your rights regardless of your immigration status. Contact our law firm today at 310-359-9451 for a free consultation with one of our sexual abuse attorneys.