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Who Should Bear the Cost of Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are frequently told that it is unfair to amend a statute of limitations to allow them to seek a remedy for the abuse they suffered while participating in youth-serving organizations. The argument follows that the “good works” of the youth organization will be diminished if survivors are allowed to bring claims for conduct that occurred beyond the immediate past.

Undeniably, the consequences of childhood sexual abuse are costly. Also undeniable, but lost upon proponents of this line of thought, is that unless statutes of limitations provide survivors with meaningful access to civil courts, those who are otherwise legally and morally responsible for the abuse never bear the cost. Instead, it is the survivor, their family, their employer, their community, the system of public health programs, and taxpayers in society that bears the burden. Is that situation fair? Is it just social policy? Of course, it is not. There is no logical reason, in law, policy, or even common sense, for society to bear the cost of institutional wrongdoing instead of the culpable institutions themselves. The law must allow a reasonable time under the circumstances for survivors to bring a claim against the most highly culpable of the responsible third parties - those who knew of the danger were in the best position to prevent it, and took no steps to protect children from abuse.

The consequences of childhood sexual abuse are wide-ranging. Surviving such abuse brings an increased risk of health and behavioral problems. Research conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in conjunctions with the Centers for Disease Control has proven that children who are exposed to adverse childhood experiences, such as sexual abuse, have an increased risk of developing adverse health issues later in life, including the onset of cancer in adult years. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse report more symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than those who have not been abused and are more likely to experience major depressive disorder as adults. Many different forms of addiction can also accompany the survival of childhood sexual abuse.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse frequently have difficulty in the transition to adulthood, are more likely to suffer financial failure, and are at risk to fail in other areas of life due to problem behaviors and outcomes of the trauma. They often develop meaningful problems in dealing with authority figures.

The effects of childhood sexual abuse extend beyond individual problems as well. The health and behavioral problems faced by survivors have negative consequences within the family and workplace. This downstream effect of the abuse leads to emotional, physical, and financial losses to third-parties involved in the survivor’s life, years, and decades after the abuse. Often public health programs, including Medicaid, the last level of resort in the social safety net, are accessed by the survivor as they struggle in adult life to respond to the impact of what was done to them as children.

It is bad public policy, and a poor moral choice, to limit a survivor’s access to justice simply because one day has followed another. Or because of a fear of doing what’s right in the circumstance will cause a corporation to have to pay for its misdeeds. With the help of medical and legal professionals, a survivor can build a case against those responsible for their abuse; the burden should shift unto those who knew of the danger and could have prevented it but instead took no steps to protect children from abuse.