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Sexual Abuse FAQs

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Sexual Abuse FAQs

Questions & Answers About Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
  • Q:What is child sexual abuse?

    A:Sexual abuse has been defined under federal law. It has been defined under state law. Basically, if you have circumstance where a child is being subjected to some sexual acts or conduct by an adult, which would include showing them pornography for example, or even not necessarily touching the child but an adult exposing themselves to a child. Anything beyond that with actual touching, from the slightest touching to the most severe touching with some sexual intent, essentially, that is sexual abuse of a child.

  • Q:What is the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases?

    A:Almost every state now recognizes that there is a long delay in coming to terms with childhood sexual abuse. That it is often not until well into adulthood that we start to realize the problems associated with childhood sexual abuse. Today there are statutes of limitations that have extended the time to bring a lawsuit, to pursue a claim for damages that occurred as a child. If you are an older individual or are well into middle age and this is something that you are dealing with, you should seek some type of counseling for therapy and talk with a lawyer knowledgeable in this type of area.

  • Q:What is the difference is between a civil and a criminal lawsuit?

    A:In a criminal lawsuit, you have state authorities that are bringing a legal action against the perpetrator in an attempt to punish the perpetrator, putting that perpetrator potentially in jail or under some other government supervised probation to protect the public and other children. In a civil lawsuit, that is a proceeding where by the victim is trying to obtain some sort of monetary compensation for the harm that's been done to them and to try to make them whole in some way for the suffering they've incurred since they were a child. A civil case is for monetary compensation. It's brought by a private party, private lawyers and a criminal proceeding is a proceeding brought by the state public authorities to prosecute the wrongdoer and put them away.

  • Q:What is a mandatory report?

    A:Since the 1960's, every state has adopted laws that requires certain individuals that have relationships with children, either as a teacher, or a therapist or a doctor for example, to report reasonable suspicions of child abuse to law enforcement authorities. These laws have come about because of the lack of reporting that historically has been the case when it comes to the abuse of children. The states adopted law requires certain care providers and certain people involved with children as professionals to report any suspicion of child abuse to law enforcement.

  • Q:What if I suspect a loved one was abused as a child?

    A:If you have some concern or suspicion that someone you love or someone you are close to was abused as a child and you do not know what you should do, you should ask them. It is not an easy subject for a victim of childhood sexual abuse to talk about it but if you notice some type of behavior or something about them that makes you think that might have been the case then there is a chance that it was. If you are close to them and feel they trust you, you should ask them up front, "Did something happen to you as a child?" or "Were you ever sexually abused as a child?" You can tell them that they can talk about with you. You can make them feel comfortable in discussing with you what happened.

  • Q:Where should I start if I feel my child has been abused?

    A:If you don't know where to go, the best place to start is usually any children's hospital. Most children's hospitals have expert therapists on staff that know how to respond to your concerns, even as an adult. If you are an adult and you are now dealing with problems that relate back to your childhood and having been abused sexually as a child, I would still contact those children's hospitals and talk to a staff member. They are knowledgeable and can direct you to an adult therapist as well.

  • Q:What can I do if I was abused by a family member?

    A:Most circumstances in childhood sexual abuse involve what we call acquaintance abuse. The victim knows their abuser and in a great number of those cases that involves a family member. It can be very difficult to report a family member because it affects the entire family dynamic. But there is no excuse not to report. That person must be reported to law enforcement for the safety of the child and the protection of the other children that might be at risk. It's a difficult thing to do but it must be done for the safety and welfare of children.

  • Q:What can I do if I was molested years ago?

    A:If you were molested years ago and you want to pursue criminal proceeding or criminal charges against that perpetrator, you need to go to law enforcement and you need to go to the sex crimes unit associated with the local police force or sheriff's department. Report the crime and they will investigate the crime. If they find support for your allegations, the prosecutors will likely prosecute that individual. Depending on the state you live in and the circumstances at hand, you may have the right to pursue civil legal action as a means to recover damages.

  • Q:What if I was abused as a child, but feel like I am the only one?

    A:The problem of childhood sexual abuse is very pervasive, if prevalent unfortunately, in our society. Statistics show that one in four girls has been abuse or will be abused before the age of 18. One in six boys will be abused before the age of 18. Forty percent of kids that are abused are abused by a family member, and another fifty percent of kids that are abused by someone they know, an acquaintance abuse. Sexual abuse is unfortunately too common in our society and victims often feel like they are alone. They are made to feel that way. They are intimidated. They feel ashamed. A part of the grooming process by a skilled perpetrator is to make them feel that way. If you've been abused as a child and are struggling with the issues of that abuse, you need to come forward. You need to report what happened to you. You need to get psychological help before this can get worse in your life. It's very difficult to report and most people don't report it and they live with it. But it can have horrible consequences.

  • Q:I was abused as a child I want to get help. Where do I start?

    A:If you are a middle-aged person and you are now coming to grips with the reality of having been abused as a child, and you don't know where to turn, you should first and foremost try to get psychological help. You need to see a therapist. You need to see a counselor. If you don't know where to find a therapist or a counselor that can help you, contact a lawyer who does work in this field, who represents victims of childhood sexual abuse. I can almost guarantee you that the lawyer will know of experts in the field in your area and will be able to guide you to somebody, a therapist that can help. The lawyer can be of help as well. Lawyers who do this kind of work have a certain sensitivity of it, have a certain understanding of the issues and can be of tremendous help in your dealing with this issue in your life.

  • Q:If I want to bring a case against the person who abused me or the institution that allowed this to happen, do I have to go to court?

    A:If a lawsuit is going to be filed by you against someone who has sexually abused you or against an institution that is somehow responsible for the sexual abuse you suffered, you should be prepared to go to trial. You should be prepared to go to court, but most of these cases do not go to court. For most of these cases, there is a financial settlement before the matters ever take place in a courtroom.

  • Q:If I tell my story of what happened as a child abuse survivor, does the lawyer have to report it?

    A:No. Lawyers are not mandated reporters. In fact, there are very strict laws in all states that require lawyers to maintain confidential information communicated to them by a client or a potential client. Without the permission of that client, the lawyer cannot make any revelation of any of those communications. There's a strict confidentiality requirement. So telling a lawyer your story does not mean that the lawyer will then go and report that story. That lawyer cannot do that.

  • Q:How can I protect my privacy in a sexual abuse or assault case?

    A:If you are interested in pursuing legal action as a result of childhood sexual abuse, but you have concerns about the protection of your privacy and you don't want your name out in the public, in most courts, in most states there are privacy protections that would allow you to proceed with a fictitious name, so as a John Doe, or a Jane Doe. As such, your name would not be public. You could still be in a courtroom and not identified by your true or real name even to that kind of public proceeding.

  • Q:I was abused, but love my church. What should I do?

    A:It's very common for a victim of childhood sexual abuse by a member of their church to feel very conflicted about what to do. On the one hand, they are upset, hurt, they realize this was wrong but they don't want to hurt their church. They feel ashamed and they're afraid if they say something, it's going to hurt their church. That's not real, that's not fair to you as the victim. If your church really cares about you and you report this to someone in your church. They will and should respond by coming to your aid, and they need to know if there is somebody in their church causing harm to children. They need to know, and law enforcement needs to know because as much as you may love your church, you also don't want to see others getting hurt. It needs to be reported. If there is someone employed by a church that's causing harm to children but if your church really cares about you and loves you, they'll be there for you and they won't be there to hurt you or be against you for coming to them.

  • Q:I believe my child was recently abused at school. What do I do?

    A:If you believe your child was abused at school, first and foremost, you should go to the school authorities. You should talk to the principal, the head master, or whoever is in charge of the school. Report it to the proper individuals or authorities in the school. You should also report this to law enforcement and specifically what you should do is call your local police department or sheriff's office. Ask to speak to someone in their child sex abuse unit. Most law enforcement agencies have a designated child abuse unit that have people and officers involved who are very skilled in how to interview a child and how to conduct an investigation of these types of allegations. You should also seek psychological help for your child to be interviewed. If you don't know a psychologist, we recommend you contact a children's hospital. Most children's hospitals have experts in child abuse. They have therapists and physicians who are trained and skilled on how to handle allegations by a child of being sexually abused. So contact law enforcement, contact the school, and contact the local children's hospital.

  • Q:We were told by our child's school that our child was sexually abused by another child. Apparently, the other child had problems like this before and the school knew. What can we do?

    A:If you have learned your child was sexually abused by another child, that is something to take very seriously. The sexual abuse of a child by another child or by an adult can have life-altering consequences. It is very important you have your child evaluated and interviewed by a professional psychologist or psychiatrist who is skilled in handling issues with childhood sexual abuse. You should also make sure the school has taken proper steps to protect other children and has made the parents of the abuser child aware of what's going on. Even though a child committed the abuse, schools are legally obligated to report to law enforcement, who will take necessary steps to protect others.

  • Q:We have noticed that our child has been acting very strange lately and suspect that maybe he / she was sexually abused. What should we do?

    A:If you are noticing there are behaviors that have changed in your child, that your child is acting out in what appears to be a sort of sexual way, and you have a concern whether they've been sexually abused in some way, consult with a professional. It's very important that your child be interviewed by someone who is very skilled and knowledgeable, so there is no question of putting something in their head that wasn't there. This is often a concern when children are being interviewed. They tend to want to please the interviewer, especially if it's a parent. They may say something to please you, which isn't accurate. So it's very important that a professional conduct the interview and ask the right questions.

  • Q:I was sexually abused when I was a child and have been living with shame ever since. I am confused about my sexuality and don't know where to turn. What should I do?

    A:First of all, you should realize you have nothing to be ashamed about. You were not in control of what happened to you as a child. If you were sexually abused by an adult, it wasn't your fault. So you should first of all come to recognize that you should not be ashamed. It is very normal for a child who was sexually abused to struggle with their sexual identity, because they don't know "Was this right?" "Was this wrong?" These are legitimate concerns and it would be very helpful for you to talk with a professional. To have this conversation with someone who really understands what happens to children who are sexually abused and help you through personal self-reflection and moving forward in your life.

  • Q:With all the news about the sexual abuse of children, I have been struggling with my own memories. What do I do?

    A:First, you should know you are not alone. It is very common for people to start focusing on issues with sexual abuse in their past when they are in their later adulthood. Something triggers that memory and now they are focused on that. It's very helpful to get counseling. There are expert counselors who are very comfortable and knowledgeable in treating people who have suffered from sexual abuse and understand the delayed reaction that occurs. So first and foremost, get help, get counseling.

  • Q:I am an Orthodox Jew and I was sexually abused as a child. Everyone tells me I should forget about it and move on. I can't, but I am afraid to say anything because I feel I will be ostracized by my family and community. What should I do?

    A:There is a real problem with the cover up of childhood sexual abuse within certain seeded communities, principally in Brooklyn and elsewhere in New York and throughout the United States. Rabbis within in these communities often put tremendous pressure on families not to report abuse. It is vital for the benefit of the child who has been sexually abused to get professional help, and to go to law enforcement and have law enforcement conduct an appropriate and lawful investigation. You cannot allow yourself to be intimidated, there are support groups that are available to help, and there are groups such as survivors for justice, Jay Safe. These organizations can help and provide support.

  • Q:I am a Jehovah's Witness. Our child was sexually abused by an Elder. I was told that I should not tell anyone but the Body of Elders of our Kingdom Hall. They said they could not do anything because the perpetrator did not confess and there are not two eye witnesses to our child's abuse. What can I do?

    A:If your child was abused by a Jehovah witness, a ministerial servant, a pioneer, or even a publisher, you should immediately report that to law enforcement. The Jehovah witnesses have policies and procedures for how they conduct an investigation, and they follow a very rigid rule that is almost impossible to meet. It is going to be the extremely rare case where there will be two eyewitnesses to the abuse of a child or where a perpetrator will confess. According to Jehovah Witnesses, those are the only times when they can take some sort of action. The action they would take is that they would form a judicial committee and they either reprove an individual or they dis-fellowship the individual. But that's not the end of the problem. The real problem is getting your child into counseling, into proper counseling, into proper intervention now because there will be a lifelong history of problems, if they don't get help immediately. Go to law enforcement, they're the ones qualified to do an investigation.

  • Q:I am Mormon and was abused as a child by an Elder of our local church. As I grew older I felt very un-chaste. I went to see my Bishop. He took my "confession" and told me I should read "the Book of Mormon" and that by doing so God would give me comfort. He said he would not be able to do anything more for me, that this was a confidential matter. What can I do?

    A:The Mormon Church, as in the case of Jehovah's witnesses and many other religious denominations, prefers to keep matters of child sexual abuse quiet and under wraps. They want to keep it cloaked with religious confidentiality or penitential privilege from exposure to law enforcement. They are not equipped to deal with the consequences of childhood sexual abuse, nor are they motivated to deal with it. They would prefer to keep this information confidential and leave this to God’s will and to the child to deal with. Well that's not good enough. The consequences of childhood sexual abuse are lifelong and life-altering, and can be severe throughout a person's adult life. That person needs to get professional help, and this situation needs to be reported to law enforcement. Do not allow yourself to be dissuaded from going to law enforcement under some threat of some religious consequence. It is the law, it is against the law, it's a criminal act and it cannot be covered up. For the safety of others, it needs to be reported.

  • Q:Our daughter received very sexual text messages from an assistant choir director at our church. She is fifteen and he is twenty five. Apparently, they have been seeing each other outside of church but she says nothing physical has happened. We have found text photos of her in her underwear sent from her to him. Is this sexual abuse?

    A:Inappropriate sexual communications or conduct by a choir director or other volunteer of a church to a young vulnerable child is sexual abuse. It is inappropriate and is unlawful. It is something that needs to be dealt with immediately and stopped. Children are very vulnerable and impressionable and they look up to adults in organizations, like a church or school and they are susceptible to being exploited and taken advantage of through grooming and other means, which can lead to actual physical sexual abuse. The grooming of a child, preparing them for being sexually abused is in itself sexual abuse. That child needs to get some help and some intervention, professional intervention and this situation needs to be reported to law enforcement. It needs to be investigated properly.

  • Q:I was in the United States as a foreign exchange high school student. My host father did inappropriate sexual acts with me. I now live back home. Is there anything I can do since I am not from the United States and do not live there?

    A:First of all, you should contact the U.S. Department of State. Ask for the division that handles the exchange of high school students in the United States and report this to them because the State Department has oversight and enforcement authority over the placement agencies. Immediately report this to the State Department. Also contact the local law enforcement of the city where this abuse occurred. You need to report that to them immediately and you can ask for their Child Sexual Abuse Unit. They should have one or the police officer in charge of investigating child sexual abuse claims. Report to them what happened. You can also go online and look up the committee for the safety of foreign exchange students. It's a private, non-profit organization. An attorney in the United States who knows how to represent foreign exchange students in the United States can also help.

  • Q:When I was in high school I had sex with one of my teachers. I am now a middle aged man and she was about ten years older than me at the time. I have had all kinds of problems my whole life about this, but I always felt that since I had sex with an older woman, most people would not consider that abuse. Is that sexual abuse?

    A:For a young boy or a young teenage boy to have sex with an older woman is not a badge of honor. It is sexual abuse. It is a serious problem. It is no different than child sexual abuse by anybody else. It is important for that person to get help immediately, to get psychological help because the lifelong consequences of childhood sexual abuse can be devastating. You should also report that abuse to law enforcement. It's important to protect other children from having the same problem and going through the same experience. So get help and go to law enforcement.

  • Q:I was in band during high school. My band instructor sexually abused me. Is there anything I can do now?

    A:A band instructor is very much like a teacher or is a teacher in most instances. And in some circumstances, they are what's called an outside contractor to the school, but the rules apply to them equally. First and foremost, this should be reported to law enforcement; they need to know what happened and they need to conduct a proper investigation. It should also be reported to the school. As a survivor, it is also in your best interests to get counseling. There may be issues related to when the abuse happened and if this was a public or private school. Depending on the circumstances, you have legal options if you're interested in some sort of compensation for what happened to you from the school. That would require more detail, more information about what school, what type of school and so on.

  • Q:When I was a kid, I was sexually abused by my scout master. I have heard of sexual abuse cases against the Boy Scouts. Is there anything I can do?

    A:Well unfortunately, the Boy Scouts have maintained confidential files on known perpetrator scout masters and other leaders within the scout organization. They have actually written very good policies, procedures, and handbooks on this issue, but they fail to properly enforce that in many situations. As a result, children throughout the scout organization have been sexually abused over the years. You should report this immediately to law enforcement. You should report this to the scouting organization, the Boy Scouts local chapter, and you should get help. You should immediately seek some psychological intervention because the consequences of childhood sexual abuse can be devastating over a person's lifetime. The earlier you can get professional intervention the better.

  • Q:I am middle aged, Catholic, and was abused by our parish priest when I was an altar boy. I never said anything because I thought I was the only one. With all the news about Catholic priests I think there may have been others like me. What should I do?

    A:With the amount of media attention that's been drawn to the problem of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, it's very common now for people to come forward and realize that they weren't the only ones who were abused. It's the norm rather than the exception for a perpetrator, a pedophile, to have multiple victims. They are prolific in abuse, and if you were an altar boy and you were abused by a priest, there's a very strong likelihood there were others in similar situations. You should report this to law enforcement immediately. You should seek psychological help immediately. And it's probably helpful if you report this to the victims’ assistance coordinator of the diocese that has the jurisdiction for that parish.

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