Church Sexual Assault Lawyer - Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Lawyer

If you were sexually abused as a child by a priest, deacon or any other member of the Catholic Church, you are not aloneWe are here to help you.  Please fill out our confidential online contact form or call Toll Free 1-866-777-2557 and a Church Sexual Assault Lawyer will get back to you within 24 hours to discuss your possible case.   Help is available nationwide.  There is no cost to investigate and there are no legal fees unless you receive financial compensation.  Making the call is sometimes the hardest step, but it is often a necessary step on the road to healing.  Church Sexual Assault Lawyer

Reasons to call

  • Hold the church and priests accountable
  • Prevent this from happening to someone else
  • Help with the road to recovery – settlement money can provide financial security for you.  It can also help pay for therapy, rehabilitation, and medical treatment

Please call Toll Free 1-866-777-2557 or fill out our confidential contact form and a lawyer will get back to you within 24 hours to discuss your case.  Church Sexual Assault Lawyer

Church Sexual Assault Lawyer

Why is Child Sexual Abuse Underreported?
According to national statistics, one in four girls and one in six boys across the country will be victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18. These numbers are staggering and alarming, but understanding the true extent of childhood sexual abuse is not a black-and-white subject. It is suspected that up to 85% of child sexual abuse victims delay disclosure or do not report the crime, which makes it virtually impossible to develop accurate numbers for the percentage of Americans who have been a victim of childhood sexual abuse.

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Complicating the matter is the fact that child sex abuse is one of the most underreported crimes in our justice system, and there are many factors that contribute to this lack of reporting. Of these factors, some of the most common include:  

• Age of Victim: The average age of a child sexual abuse victim is nine years old, although victims range from infant to nearly 18 years old. With young victims, they may not have the ability or developmental insight to report the crime, and many of the cases that are reported are difficult to prosecute due to the young age of the victim. 

• Fear of Harm: Child sexual abuse victims often are subjected to a period of “grooming” by their abuser in an attempt to gain trust. Once this has occurred, the victim may fear reporting the perpetrator out of loyalty—especially if it is a family member. There can also be threats involved regarding physical harm, financial support, and emotional abuse that all have an effect on the victim. 

• Psychological Trauma: Children that have been the victims of sexual abuse are often left to deal with mental illness and disorders, including PTSD, depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety. This can lead to repressed memories, or the refusal to disclose due to the overwhelming negative feelings experienced by the victim in regards to the abuse. 

• Lack of Support: For many children, it is difficult to find a trusted authority to disclose the abuse. This is especially true if they are already dealing with a deep lack of trust from being abused by someone that they love. Statistically, males and minority children are the least likely to disclose abuse. 

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The lack of resources for victims of childhood sexual abuse comes from many different facets of our society, including family loyalty, peer judgements, and current legislation. The statute of limitations for reporting and prosecuting child sexual abuse can greatly restrict the ability of victims to find justice, leading to an even higher rate of nondisclosure when victims do not see a benefit to reporting their abuser.    

PTSD in Children Affected by Sexual Abuse
It has been proven that sexual abuse in childhood can have devastating, long-term effects for the victims, and the mental and emotional trauma of the experience can lead to issues with anxiety-related disorders. One type of anxiety disorder that can occur in survivors of sexual abuse is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD.

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As a whole, society typically associates PTSD with veterans or individuals who were in a life-threatening situation. However, the extreme violation of sexual abuse, particularly in children, can result in the same lifelong struggle with PTSD symptoms. This disorder can appear in young children who are victims of sexual abuse, or it may occur later in life when adult survivors struggle with personal boundaries, emotional triggers, and interpersonal relationships.

Standard symptoms of PTSD include the following:  

• Flashbacks: Individuals struggling with PTSD can be triggered by situations or sensory stimulation that brings them back to the time of the event. This can result in flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety attacks.

• Avoidance: Those with PTSD attempt to avoid situations that in some way relate to their traumatic experience. This may involve isolation from social interaction or refusing to be around specific people or places.

• Emotional Changes: PTSD can have a damaging effect on the belief system of the victim, resulting in them having issues with trust, negative thought patterns, or traumatic beliefs.

• Hyperarousal: Hyperarousal refers to the over-alert state of those with PTSD. This symptom manifests as hypervigilance, difficulty sitting still or concentrating, and being easily startled by loud noises.

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While the above symptoms cover a broad spectrum of how PTSD can manifest in individuals that experienced trauma, there are also unique symptoms that can be present in children that were victims of sexual abuse. Signs of PTSD in a young child that is a sexual abuse survivor can include:

• Repressed memories
• Loss of interest in favorite activities
• Regression to younger, child-like behavior
• Unusual attachments to authority or deep disrespect
• Unusual fears about death
• Sexually acting out   

Those that have developed PTSD as a result of childhood sexual abuse need supportive, long-term mental health treatment to develop healthy coping strategies and to begin healing from the trauma of their past. Left untreated, adult survivors can develop self-destructive behaviors, distorted self-esteem, or be at risk for severe depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, there is greater understanding of the effects of PTSD in the mental health community than in previous generations, setting the stage for survivors of sexual abuse to have access to the tools needed to recover from the debilitating symptoms.   

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The Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse
The United States has the worst record among industrialized countries when it comes to child abuse and neglect, with five children every day losing their lives due to abuse. In fact, the 2015 Child Maltreatment Report showed that there was approximately 4 million child abuse referrals received across the country, with over 7.2 million children affected. Of these instances, over 8% involved the sexual abuse of a child.

In 2012, in the state of New York alone, there were nearly 162,000 reports of child abuse made with over 46,000 indicated to have credible evidence that the parent or guardian was abusing the child. While this statistic covers all forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, far too many children every year are subjected to the trauma of sexual abuse.

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Statistics on Child Sexual Abuse in the United States
Although these numbers are alarming, they may also be substantially lower than the actual instances of child abuse that occur across the nation. When considering the statistics for child sexual abuse, only approximately 30% of cases are reported to the proper authorities. Instead, the vast majority of victims remain silent and do not disclose until adulthood, if at all. This delay of disclosure is even more prevalent in male victims of child sexual abuse, which could affect the lower reported instances of male victims in abuse claims.

Victims of child sexual abuse can come from any background, lifestyle, race, or economic status, although there are several factors that put certain children at a higher risk of becoming a victim. Those in single-parent household, rural areas, low economic neighborhoods, and African American children are all at a higher risk of being sexually abused. Additionally, female victims account for more than 80% of child abuse victims across the country, with male perpetrators being the overwhelming offender. Other general child sexual abuse statistics include:

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• Over 90% of offenders are known to the victim, with 34% being family members
• The average age of a sexual abuse victim is 9 years old
• 44% of all victims of sexual assault and rape in the US are under 18
• Females who were sexually abused in childhood are up to three times more likely to be sexually assaulted later in their lives.
• Less than 1% of children’s sexual abuse disclosures are fabricated

Recent data has shown that there is a trending decrease in child sexual abuse cases, but there are questions over the validity of that data considering the number of abuse victims that do not disclose. Regardless, even one child having to experience the trauma of sexual abuse is too many, and various states have begun modifying their legislation to provide further protections to victims and survivors of sexual abuse in childhood.     

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Survey of Civil Suit Statute of Limitations in the United States
Every state in the U.S. has laws that outline the statute of limitations in which a victim of sexual abuse can seek prosecution or a civil suit against their abuser. While many states have taken steps to increase the statute of limitations with laws such as the Child Victims Act, there are others that lag far behind in providing an adequate means for justice to survivors of child sexual abuse.

There are a few states with the U.S. that have archaic laws surrounding statute of limitations in child sexual abuse, including:

• Mississippi: Child sexual abuse victims must file claims within three years of the act or within three years of reaching the age of 18.
• Alabama: The victim only has until age 22 to file a civil suit for the abuse they suffered, although there is no statute of limitations on filing criminal charges.
• Idaho: In this state, victims of child sexual abuse have five years from the age of majority to file a civil lawsuit.
• New York: Civil suits for sexual abuse of a minor must be brought by the time the victim is 23 years of age.

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There is significant research and data that shows that these short windows for filing a civil sexual abuse claim does more to protect the abusers than the victims. Due to trauma, financial dependency, and fear, many victims of child sexual abuse wait years, or even decades, before disclosing that the abuse occurred. While the above listed states are behind in protecting the victims of child sexual abuse, there are other states that have taken steps to change laws that allow for a much longer statute of limitations for civil cases, including:

• Minnesota: If the victim was under 24 years old as of May of 2013, there are no limitations on filing a civil claim for child sexual abuse.
• Alaska: The state of Alaska has no statute of limitations when it comes to felony sexual abuse, and an individual can bring an action against the abuser at any time.
• Delaware: The law regarding civil suits for child sexual abuse was amended in 2007 to remove the statute of limitations.
• Connecticut: Connecticut law allows for a special provision for child sexual abuse that gives the victim 30 years from age of majority to file a suit.  

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In the majority of child sexual abuse cases, the victim does not disclose abuse until well into adulthood, which leaves many of them without a recourse for justice due to being far beyond the state’s statute of limitations. Even if criminal prosecution is not possible, longer statutes of limitations that allow for filing of a civil suit can be extremely beneficial to survivors. While a civil suit cannot result in criminal charges, it can provide survivors with a monetary settlement that can cover some of the costs of therapy, treatment, and pain and suffering that they endured. Even more importantly, it can give them emotional closure from knowing that justice was served for the abuse that they suffered.

Difference Between Civil and Criminal Sexual Abuse Suits
When a child has been the victim of sexual abuse, there are two ways to pursue action against the offender within the justice system—criminal and civil law suits. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse may also be able to pursue one or both of these law suits, depending upon the laws of their state. Each state has a set of laws determining the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. For example, victims in the state of New York only have until age 23 to bring a suit against their abuser, while victims in Delaware can file a suit indefinitely.

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There are significant differences between criminal and civil suits when pertaining to sexual abuse, including the role of the victim, the result of the suit, and the burden of proof.

Criminal Cases for Child Sexual Abuse
In a criminal case for child sexual abuse, charges are filed after the abuse is reported and the offender is arrested. Once charges have been filed, it is considered a crime against the state, and the case is prosecuted to determine the guilt or innocence of the person who has been charged.

In criminal cases for child sexual abuse:
• The victim is a witness in the case and does not direct the prosecution.
• The offender is considered innocent until proven guilty in the criminal court system.
• Guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.
• An offender cannot be criminally prosecuted for the abuse a second time if found innocent.
• The punishment for a guilty verdict can include jail time or probation, but the victim cannot obtain any money from the case expect when restitution is ordered for out-of-pocket expenses related to the crime. 

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Civil Suits for Child Sexual Abuse
Depending upon the specifics of the individual case, civil suits may be filed as the only recourse of the victim or in addition to the criminal case. The main goal of a civil lawsuit is to hold the offender directly accountable to the victim for the abuse that was committed. In this type of lawsuit, there will not be jail time or probation, and a monetary settlement is the primary outcome of a successful case.

In a civil law suit for child sexual abuse:
• The victim is the one that initiates and controls the case—not the state.
• The victim is considered a party in the case instead of a witness.
• The burden of proof is 51% instead of beyond a reasonable doubt.
• A civil suit can be filed even if the offender was found innocent in criminal court.
• Both the victim and offender appear as equals in the court.
• If found liable, the offender will be ordered to pay a financial settlement to the victim, including money to cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, damage to familial relationships, and lost wages due to the abuse.

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Both civil and criminal law suits play a role in protecting victims of childhood sexual abuse. However, only a criminal case can result in jail time, addition to the sex offender registry, and a criminal record. For those victims who are unable to seek criminal prosecution for the abuse committed against them, civil suits are available to help provide them with the financial means they need to rebuild their lives after the severe trauma of abuse. 

Role of Doctors in Providing Care for Abuse Victims
Sexual abuse in children is a nationwide problem, and statistics show that up to 25% of children experience this form of abuse before age 18. Unfortunately, sexual abuse is not always readily apparent, even to the trained eye of a physician, and a large percentage of victims do not disclose that they have been abused until well into their adulthood.
Pediatric physicians play an important role in the reporting, investigation, and treatment of child sexual abuse. In some cases, the child may come to them for an evaluation based on suspicion of abuse and concern from the caregiver. If a parent or guardian brings up concerns about sexual abuse of a child, it is important that the physician does not discuss these concerns in front of the child in question, as parental influence can have an effect on a child’s honest disclosure.

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When child sexual abuse becomes a concern, whether during an exam or at disclosure of the child or parent, the physician must address several factors:  

• The Safety of the Child: The safety of a child that may be sexually abused is of the utmost importance. The doctor must assess the claims of the abuse with an open mind, and determine if the environment that the child is in is safe for them to return to. If not, the doctor will need to immediately get child services or law enforcement involved to protect the child’s well-being.

• Proper Reporting: Doctors and all medical personnel are mandated reporters, meaning that they are required by law to report legitimate suspicions and disclosures of abuse to the authorities. Unfortunately, some doctors may fear the repercussions on the family and/or their practice for reporting abuse. In order to ensure that doctors are fully protected when reporting instances of child abuse, U.S. law protects them from liability if the report is made in good faith.  Regardless of the fears of the doctor, all abuse suspicion should be immediately reported, as the child’s needs are paramount.

• The Mental Well-Being of the Child: Sexual abuse is extremely traumatizing to a child, both emotionally and physically. In many cases, abusers are well-known to the child or may even be a primary caregiver. There is severe stress and anxiety for any child when it comes to reporting sexual abuse and the doctor plays an important role in ensuring that the child gets the mental health support that they need.

• Physical Examinations: There are physical signs of trauma in only a small percentage of child sexual abuse victims. However, if the abuse happened recently, a physical examination is called for. If the doctor suspects that abuse has occurred within the last 72 hours and that bodily fluids were exchanged, the child should be sent to an emergency department for evaluation with a forensic evidence kit, or “rape kit”. This type of examination requires specialized training by professionals and must be performed in a medical setting.

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Above all, a doctor is responsible for acting in a child’s best interests. Having an open mind during the interview process, reporting suspicions immediately, and ensuring that the child is safe are essential to the doctor’s role in caring for a sexually abused child.

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