Many survivors of sexual abuse struggle with feelings of isolation, guilt, and shame. These feelings can prevent victims of sexual abuse and molestation from coming forward to hold their abusers accountable in a court of law.
The American Psychiatric Association categorizes involvement with the legal process as a stressor. This stress is particularly severe when the plaintiff is a victim of child sexual abuse, regardless of whether the victim is a child or an adult at the time of the litigation.
However, the legal process has powerful psychological benefits for victims. In order to understand these benefits, it is necessary to discuss the trauma involved in child sexual abuse.
Children are small and relatively powerless in relationship to adults, and they are unsophisticated about the nature of adult sexuality. Their perpetrators are almost always adults in positions of power, be they coaches, relatives, members of the clergy, teachers, or neighbors. Consequently, sexual abuse brings about feelings of extreme passivity and powerlessness in victims. They are groomed, manipulated, and controlled by their perpetrators. The sense of helplessness and rage can continue for a lifetime unless it is confronted and dealt with actively.
Bringing a lawsuit against the perpetrator allows the victim to actively express their rage and overcome their passivity.
This is true even when sexual abuse occurred decades ago and has festered as a horrible secret. Bringing a lawsuit against the perpetrator is often the first step toward conquering the trauma and the beginning of the healing process. It is a decisive statement by the victim that sexual abuse will not be tolerated, overlooked, or condoned.
The funds obtained from a successful lawsuit make treatment possible.
The treatment of sexual abuse, regardless of the age of the victim, requires significant therapeutic treatment. In many instances, the victims do not have funds available to begin or continue the therapeutic process.
Treatment brings with it the hope for alleviation of intrapsychic suffering and agony; a reduction in harmful acts such as drinking, gambling and inappropriate sexual activity; and the prospect for a better life.
Moreover, a lawsuit can stop the cycle of abuse. When a victim brings a lawsuit against a perpetrator and/or other parties responsible for sexual abuse, he or she helps put a stop to the cycle of sexual violence. Lawsuits force institutions to reevaluate their policies and take active steps in preventing sexual abuse from occurring on their watch. A lawsuit can also put the community on notice of a perpetrator’s abhorrent tendencies.
Lawsuits help victims understand that they are not alone.
When a jury returns a verdict in favor of a victim, the victim realizes that he or she is not alone. In civil child sexual abuse cases, jury verdicts for victims represent society’s strong disapproval of abusive and negligent behavior. Often, juries return large, multi-million dollar verdicts in favor of victims of child sexual abuse. In addition to being compensated financially for their suffering, victims appreciate that they have the support of others in their fight against sexual abuse.
In a civil lawsuit, the victim is in control.
As a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, the victim controls many important decisions and directs the course of the litigation. As discussed above, sexual abuse can leave a victim feeling powerless. Filing a lawsuit reverses the power dynamic present in episodes of child sexual abuse. The victim decides whether to file a case, proceed with the case, or settle the case. In short, the victim plaintiff has power over the perpetrator defendant.
In a civil lawsuit, the victim can seek remedies other than money.
A criminal lawsuit affords only certain remedies. Perpetrators who are convicted in criminal trials are typically sentenced to jail or prison. In a civil lawsuit, a victim can seek remedies that enable him or her to heal. A court may order the perpetrator to apologize, or force an institution to revise its policies. These non-monetary remedies can help a victim gain some closure over the pain and suffering caused by abuse.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse and are considering filing a lawsuit, contact an attorney to discuss your rights. An attorney can help you understand what you stand to gain from coming forward to seek justice.