Q: Who should I contact if I am sexually abused or someone I know is sexually abused?
A: Call the police! It doesn’t matter if you (or someone you know) was abused at an institution such as a school, a church, a daycare, a hospital; or abused by a “friend” or relative. You should always call the police first. Do not call the institution where the abuse took place directly. Similarly, never confront the perpetrator. Let the experts – law enforcement officers – do that. Call your local police station and tell them you want to report an incident of sexual assault.
If the abuse was recent, there may be physical evidence on clothes or on the victim’s body, such as semen or blood. The victim should not shower or bathe until told by the police to do so, and the clothing should not be washed or thrown away.
Q: What should I do if I suspect a child is being (or has been) sexually abused?
A: Call the police. Do not question the child. Questioning children about sexual abuse takes extensive training and experience. Do not confront the perpetrator. The police will be far more capable of doing so expertly. Finally, if the abuse was recent and there may be physical evidence such as semen or blood on the victim’s clothes or body, the victim should not shower or bathe until told by the police to do so, and the clothing should not be washed or thrown away.
Q: What will the police do after I call them about actual or suspected sex abuse?
A: They will investigate. They will talk to the victim to get the facts. They will also interview possible witnesses. In many cases, the police will set up what is called a “pretext” call. In a pretext call, the police will work with the victim who will then telephone the perpetrator, usually from a police station, and engage in a conversation to get the perpetrator to admit what they did. The calls are recorded, and when successful, they provide the police with crucial information.
If the abuse was recent and there may be physical evidence such as semen or blood on the victim’s clothes or body, the victim should not shower or bathe until told by the police to do so, and the clothing should saved, not washed or thrown away.
Depending on the nature of the sexual assault, the officer may request that the molestation victim undergo a Sexual Assault Response Team (S.A.R.T.) exam for the purpose of collecting forensic evidence. A victim always has the choice as to whether or not they wish to partake in this exam. A victim’s choice to not take the S.A.R.T. exam will not result in a failure to have the case investigated, but it may limit the evidence police could otherwise obtain.
If the police conclude that they have sufficient evidence to do so, they will arrest the perpetrator. If the perpetrator later gets out of jail on bail (pending a trial), there will be a “no contact” court order prohibiting the perpetrator from contacting the victim and witnesses. If the perpetrator violates the order, he or she will go back to jail and stay there until trial.
Q: If I was sexually abused, at what point should I hire an attorney?
A: The best answer is, as soon as possible. In criminal cases, you won’t need an attorney, as the state will prosecute the abuser.
In a civil case for monetary compensation, you will need a personal injury attorney to represent you. Ethical, experienced lawyers who represent victims in civil suits for money damages do not charge money “up front” or work by the hour when representing survivors of sexual abuse. Generally, the survivor only pays the lawyer a portion of the damages recovered. The lawyer advances all of the costs and expenses involved in bringing the lawsuit, and is only repaid when there is a recovery. In the rare case where there is no recovery, the survivor owes nothing.
Be sure to hire an attorney who has extensive experience and a track record of proven success in handling sex abuse cases, as this is a highly specialized field. Do your own research to find the lawyer you need.
Q: What is institutional sexual abuse?
A: Institutional sex abuse is sexual abuse that occurred when the victim was under the care or supervision of a public or private entity, such as a school or church. The abuse is typically committed by employees or volunteer workers, but may be perpetrated by a stranger. At the time of the abuse, the victim may have been a minor, a mentally challenged adult, or even a senior.
Institutions have a legal duty to keep those in their care safe from sex abuse. Institutions where sexual abuse is known to occur include schools; places of worship; child care, elder care centers, or disability care centers; sports organizations; foster family agencies and foster homes; and youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Big Brother and Big Sister, or the YMCA.
Q: What is not considered institutional sexual abuse?
A: Institutional sexual abuse does not include abuse by family or friends of the family of the person abused.
Q: What if the person abused “went along with” the sexual acts or didn’t report them immediately?
A: Minors and impaired adults can not legally consent to sex. Sexual predators use many tactics to gain false consent to sex. These tactics include:
- Using their position of authority to coerce the victim
- Threatening to harm the victim or the others close to the victim
- Telling the victim that no one will believe him or her
- Leading the victim to believe they are in a romantic relationship
- Making the victim feel as though it was their fault the sex happened
- Threats of economic harm
- Telling the victim the sex was an “accident”
Q: What damages can victims suffer as a result of sexual abuse?
A: Simply put, the effects of sexual abuse can last a lifetime. Some victims of sex abuse initially believe what happened to them was “no big deal” and that they can handle what happened to them. But the reality is that while the effects of sexual abuse can be suppressed or “pushed down” for a while, they may never go away.
The harms of sexual abuse affect all parts of the victim’s life: their mental health, physical health, and their relationships with others. Sexual abuse can be a cause of substance abuse, criminal activity and other types of self-harm (such as cutting). Sex abuse can cause self-esteem issues, including shame and self-guilt, which can make it very difficult to be in loving, intimate relationships.
In addition, victims of sexual abuse can suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), depression, and other mental problems that can cause nightmares, flashbacks, lack of motivation, and many other problems.
Timely, continual, and effective treatment of sexual trauma can provide victims with tools to cope with these issues, and make it easier for them to participate fully in life.
Q: What if I can’t remember all of the details of the abuse? Should I still report it?
A: Reporting sexual abuse is not easy. Victims often feel guilt, shame, and extreme embarrassment in talking about what happened. It can take years for victims to find the courage to fully disclose what happened to them, so it is not unusual for them to forget some details about the abuse. Victims of sexual abuse can consciously (or unconsciously) forget certain details, often as a method of avoiding dealing with what happened to them in an effort to move on with their lives.
Although it may be very difficult, sexual abuse should be reported as quickly as possible. Delaying reporting only helps the predator avoid consequences for what he or she did. Witnesses may become unavailable, and physical evidence may be lost. Fortunately, there is a legal basis to hold those responsible accountable for sexual abuse, even if many years have passed since the abuse occurred.
Q: What are the benefits of filing suit against the institution and predator involved in my abuse?
A: There are many potential benefits to filing a claim for both the victim and society at large. For the survivor of sexual abuse, there are proven therapeutic benefits when the victim uses the legal system to confront their abuser. Victims are often entitled to substantial amounts of money for the harms they have suffered. These cases require local institutions to review their policies and improve their hiring and evaluation processes, thus benefitting the community. Last but not least, civil lawsuits and criminal cases against abusers can protect others who may otherwise become victims of sex abuse by the same predator.
Q: What are the negatives of filing suit against the institution and my abuser?
A: First of all, the victim must tell his or her story to strangers, and some people may doubt the victim. Coming forward is not easy, and it is often accompanied by strong emotions like guilt, shame, and extreme embarrassment. Sometimes, details of what has happened in the life of the victim since the abuse took place – including psychiatric or substance abuse issues – come out in confidential settings. Nobody likes to talk about these things. Finally, telling the story of what happened can make it temporarily more difficult to deal with the effects of the sexual abuse because it brings back memories of the abuse.
Q: Will my privacy be respected?
A: Yes. If you are a minor, your true identity is not disclosed in court or settlement documents. You will be referred to as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” or a similar name. If you are an adult, you can also proceed in a lawsuit under a pseudonym.
Q: What if nobody believes me and I don’t win – will I get worse?
A: The facts of what happened to you will be carefully reviewed by attorneys who are experts in sexual abuse cases. It would be rare that they would go forward with a case that had a poor chance of winning, so the likelihood that nobody will believe you is very small. Of course, no one can guarantee that you will win. Even if your case is unsuccessful you will have achieved a great deal by standing up for yourself and coming forward with the truth of what happened.
Q: Will our religion shame us if we expose their wrongdoing?
A: Members of a religious organization may react to a lawsuit that exposes sex abuse with disbelief, anger, shock, and denial. However, religious organizations must ultimately realize that allowing sexual perpetrators to prey on believers is something they can not allow and that it would be wrong to blame victims who are brave enough to put a stop to the wrongs.
Q: How long is the legal process?
A: This depends on where the suit is filed. Typically, sexual abuse cases take about 1 – 1 ½ years from the time of filing to resolve.
Q: Will my work find out about this?
A: Typically, employers do not find out about an employee’s pending lawsuit unless they are told by the employee.
Q: Can you put the abuser in jail?
A: Only the government can put an abuser in jail. This is a completely separate process from a civil suit, in which a victim sues for money damages. Police almost always initiate an investigation into credible reports of sexual abuse, which is the first step in initiating a criminal lawsuit against a perpetrator.
Q: Are there any benefits besides money damages to suing?
A: Yes. It is well established that when victims of sexual abuse stand up for themselves by pursuing a lawsuit, they reap many psychological benefits. Click here for more information.
Q: Do I have to pay the lawyers to sue?
A: Ethical, experienced lawyers who represent victims of sexual abuse in civil suits for money damages do not charge money “up front” or work for an hourly fee. The survivor only pays the lawyer a portion of the recovery that is made. The lawyer advances all of the costs and expenses involved in the lawsuit and are only repaid when there is a recovery. In the rare case where there is no recovery, the survivor owes the lawyer nothing.
If your child, or a child you know is a victim of sexual abuse, contact your local police department and report it.