Sexual abuse is an enormous problem in our society. For survivors, sexual abuse is a traumatic experience. For so long, there has been a culture of silence around these issues. Because sexual abuse is such a difficult topic, people who have been the victims of sexual abuse often feel invisible.
There are approximately 293,000 incidents of sexual abuse in the United States each year. However, 68 percent of these attacks go unreported to the police. According to statistics from the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), “every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before the age of 18.”
What Is Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse refers to illegal or coerced sexual actions committed against another person. In addition to physical contact, sexual abuse can take many forms, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children. It often occurs in situations when someone in a position of authority takes advantage of a person in their care. Cases of sexual abuse happen in a variety of situations, including:
- Schools, school buses and daycare facilities
- Organized recreational activities for children (the Boy Scouts, for example)
- Foster care homes or facilities
- Mental health facilities
- Medical and nursing home facilities
- In other facilities or even at home where a vulnerable person relies on care from others
Sexual abuse and assault are crimes punishable under state and federal law. But even if the perpetrator is found guilty and imprisoned, the victim is often left with the pain and emotional trauma from the assault. How does a survivor begin to rebuild their life?
Long-Term Effects of Sexual Abuse
A recent study on the long-term effects of sexual abuse found that there is an association between sexual abuse and subsequent health problems. Victims are at higher risk for anxiety and depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Survivors also suffered from poor sleep quality. And many are reluctant to talk about their experiences because they feel embarrassed or fear that others will not believe them. Remaining silent tends to intensify the effects on their health.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse suffer high levels of depression and anxiety. They may also suffer from eating disorders, as well as sexual and relationship problems. Survivors may be unable to externalize the abuse, which results in guilt, shame, and self-blame.
Given these prevalent health issues amongst assault survivors, those who have suffered sexual abuse need the resources to obtain the help they need.
Personal Injury Lawsuits Based on Sexual Abuse
Sexual assault survivors often face overwhelming personal and financial burdens. Even if the offender is convicted and punishment is meted out through the criminal law system, a sexual abuse victim can file a civil lawsuit and obtain damages for the harm they suffered against any responsible parties. Sexual abuse is a form of personal injury.
In civil court, only part of the case is focused on the perpetrator’s actions. A major part of a case is focused on the survivor’s injuries that resulted from the sexual abuse and other defendants that are at fault, such as a church that knew of a priest’s ongoing inappropriate behavior and failed to act. If the court finds the defendants liable, then the court may order them to pay the victim or their family compensation for those injuries.
In Illinois, a victim’s identity typically is protected by a confidentiality order. Civil lawsuits filed because of sexual abuse often rest on three inter-related legal theories:
- Assault – Which may include an act or statement that puts the victim in fear of imminent physical harm.
- Battery – The actual infliction of physical harm. This includes touching someone else in an offensive or harmful manner.
- Infliction of emotional distress.
These causes of action are considered intentional torts, not acts of negligence.
The amount and type of compensation that a survivor of sexual abuse receives depend on the facts of the case. However, compensation is generally based on the physical and emotional harm the survivor has suffered and will continue to suffer because of the abuse. These injuries may be extensive and affect the survivor’s quality of life for years to come. A court may award the survivor financial compensation to pay medical expenses, therapy, counseling, lost wages, and other economic losses. A survivor may also find that receiving compensation is a way of achieving some degree of personal justice.
Other Parties May Be Liable for Sexual Assault
In addition to the perpetrator, in some cases, a civil suit can be filed against any organizations, people, or institutions that may have enabled the abuse. Therefore, the survivor may be able to file a lawsuit against a school, church, business, or other entity for negligent supervision or failure to provide proper security.
Filing Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Assault
A sexual assault survivor who wishes to file a civil lawsuit should seek out a personal injury lawyer who is experienced in sexual abuse cases. Filing a civil lawsuit over a sexual assault is complex. It involves meticulously gathering and preserving evidence before trial, courtroom skills, and in most cases, negotiating a settlement.
However, the burden of proof is lower in a civil case than in a criminal one. Criminal cases use the standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The burden of proof in civil suits is the preponderance of the evidence, which is less stringent. This civil burden of proof requires that the plaintiff (the survivor) to prove that their version of the events is more likely than not how things actually happened. If the perpetrator was convicted in a criminal case, you could have a good chance of prevailing in your civil lawsuit.
Many states have time limits, called statutes of limitations, for filing a lawsuit. Hire an experienced personal injury lawyer to review your case as soon as possible to avoid missing this important deadline.