Trigger Warning: The following content may be upsetting for individuals or loved ones of those who have experienced sexual abuse or assault. If you experience physical or emotional distress while reading this content, please reach out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (888) 656-4673 for support.
Child Sexual Abuse And Assault Lawyers
There are very high emotional stakes for incidents of sexual abuse that involve a child. Every instance of childhood sexual abuse, assault, or molestation is a serious violation that can be punishable by law.
According to RAINN, the largest American nonprofit dedicated to supporting victims of sexual assault, about half of all victims of sexual violence in the U.S. are children under the age of 18. Child sexual abuse can have traumatic consequences for a child in their youth all the way through adulthood, often leading to behavioral problems, long-lasting psychological distress, and other physical and mental illnesses.
While the amount of time that survivors of child sexual abuse have to file a lawsuit varies by state, it is never too late for a person to come forward. Several states have now completely waived their statutes of limitations for sexual abuse cases that involve a child, and many others offer extensions with the understanding that many survivors of childhood sexual abuse often do not disclose their abuse until they are well into adulthood.
At Florin|Roebig, our sexual abuse lawyers are committed to fighting for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to help them seek the justice they deserve. This includes providing legal representation on behalf of children, teens, and adult victims of childhood sexual abuse who wish to seek compensation for physical and psychological damages.
What Is Considered Child Sexual Abuse?
From a legal standpoint, the definitions of consent, abuse, rape, and sexual abuse vary somewhat according to state laws. This also applies to language used to describe incidents of molestation and sexual violence against minors.
Child sexual abuse is a broad term that can apply to many different forms of sexual behavior, and it does not always have to involve physical contact. Child sexual abuse may be described as the coercion or manipulation of a child by another person for their own sexual gratification.
Types of child sexual abuse include:
- exposing oneself to a minor
- psychological pressure to engage in sexual activity
- sexual intercourse
- masturbating in the presence of a minor
- forcing a child to masturbate
- owning, producing, or distributing child pornography
- sexual interaction with a child through digital forms of communication (e.g. by text, phone call, internet messaging)
Sexual misconduct involving a child can be violent or non-violent, and may involve varying degrees of force or pressure. Under federal definitions of consensual sexual activity, no child can consent to sexual activity with an adult.
Regardless of whether the abuse involved physical contact, the use of force, or violence—all acts of sexual misconduct involving child victims are valid instances of abuse that can be punishable by law.
Understanding that there are many different forms childhood sexual abuse can take is one way in which children, teens, and adult survivors can more easily identify their experiences and name the harm perpetrated against them.
Perpetrators Of Child Sexual Abuse
In about 93 percent of child sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator of the sexual misconduct is someone who is known to the child. This can mean a family member, friend of the family, or community or group leaders.
Perpetrators of child sexual abuse can come from a range of backgrounds with varying identifying characteristics. Child sex offenders may appear friendly, welcoming, and unlikely to commit acts of harm on the surface. This does not mean that they are incapable of committing acts of abuse.
In recent years, there have been several startling cases of child sexual abuse uncovered in which the perpetrators are revealed to be religious leaders, leaders of organizations such as the Boy Scouts, and community members with ties to public schools, daycare services, youth camps, and youth recreation.
Both individuals and institutions can be held liable for sexual misconduct involving a minor, depending on the details of the case. If an organization or institution was in a position to identify and stop the abuse, they may be held liable for the abuse in a court of law and be criminally charged.
How Child Sexual Abuse Affects Victims
Surviving an experience of sexual abuse in childhood can have traumatic effects on a person’s physical and psychological well-being. Victims of child sexual abuse are at greater risk for experiencing significant hardships in adolescence and later in life.
The effects of this type of abuse can be long-lasting and are not to be understood as signs of weakness or an inability to “get over it”.
According to research on adverse childhood experiences, child sexual abuse victims are at increased risk for experiencing:
- persistent feelings of shame and guilt
- anxiety disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- eating disorders
- personality disorders
- substance abuse
- gastrointestinal issues
- behavioral problems
- dissociative patterns
- sexual problems
- relationship and intimacy issues
- disturbed sleep patterns
Many victims of childhood sexual abuse go without professional help for a long time—sometimes indefinitely.
Sexual abuse survivors may face difficulty in various areas of their lives without receiving professional support from a counselor or psychiatrist, or the support of friends or loved ones to whom survivors may struggle to disclose their experiences.
With or without help, experiencing sexual abuse as a child is an irreversible trauma that can take an extended amount of time to heal from, and it’s important for advocates and family members of child victims to understand the complex nature of this form of violation.
Seeking Justice For Child Sexual Abuse
According to non-profit organization, Child USA, most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not disclose their experiences of abuse until they are into adulthood.
The average age of disclosure for victims of child sexual abuse in the U.S. is 52 years old. Only 25 to 33 percent of victims disclose their abuse in childhood. Victims of sexual abuse may often face several barriers in first identifying their experience as abuse, disclosing the abuse to others, and formally reporting the incident(s) to authorities.
The reasons why a person may not disclose their abuse until later in life can be complex, and may vary from person to person based on personal and environmental circumstances.
Common reasons for delayed disclosure in adulthood include:
- psychological issues (e.g. depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse)
- power dynamic between the victim and the perpetrator
- level of power/influence of the perpetrator or institution responsible
- relationship to the perpetrator
- repressed memory
Seeking justice for sexual assault of a minor can be a harrowing process and can require a great deal of emotional support from loved ones. Every survivor of sexual abuse deserves to have their story acknowledged and to be able to seek justice for the harm perpetrated against them.
The primary way in which victims of child sexual abuse have to pursue legal recourse is to file a lawsuit against the offender. This can be done with the assistance of an experienced sexual assault lawyer, who will be able to provide you with an overview of your state’s laws on sexual abuse, explain important information about the legal process, and advocate for your right to receive awarded damages.
Although the damage wrought by experiences of sexual abuse as a child cannot be undone, victims can seek compensation for physical and psychological damages and, in applicable cases, seek punitive damages.
Knowing Your Rights As A Survivor
Sexual abuse laws, including those specific to cases involving minors, largely vary by state. However, according to RAINN, most states provide victims of sex crimes with certain rights covered under the Victim’s Bill of Rights.
These rights include:
- the right to apply for crime victim compensation through your state’s Office of Justice program
- the right to appear at criminal justice court proceedings
- the right to actively participate and be heard in criminal justice proceedings
- the right to protections from harassment or intimidation at your trial
Depending on where you live in the U.S., you may have other rights and protections available to you. These can be explained to you by a lawyer who is experienced in litigating sexual abuse cases, or a sexual assault advocate.
Child Sexual Abuse Laws
U.S. federal law dictates that any offender who has been found guilty of sexually abusing a minor under the age of 18 is subject to facing fines and imprisonment.
Depending on the nature of the abuse, offenders may also be charged with additional repercussions, if the abuse involved bodily injury, the use of force or threats, or involved kidnapping. These are known as aggravated circumstances.
Most laws on child sexual abuse, and definitions of child sexual abuse, are established on a state-by-state basis if the abuse wholly occurred in one state. Sexual offenders are therefore prosecuted according to state law under the jurisdiction of state or local authorities.
In response to several landmark cases of childhood sexual abuse uncovered in recent decades, additional protections for victims of child sexual abuse have been passed on a federal level to better advocate for victims of abuse.
Federal pieces of legislation that offer protections for child sexual assault victims and outline penalties for perpetrators include:
- Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children Registration Act: Also known as the Wetterling Act, this federal law led to the requirement of states to implement a sexual offender and crimes against children registry.
- Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act: The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (H.R. 4472) was signed into law in 2006 with the purpose of increasing penalties for perpetrators of child sexual abuse. It also created a national sex offender registry, organizing perpetrators into three tiers based on the nature of the crime. This law was introduced in response to the death of Adam Walsh, a young boy who was abducted in 1981 and found murdered 16 days later.
- The Kilah Davenport Act of 2013: This law, passed in 2013, requires the U.S. Attorney General to report on state penalties and prevention laws for repeat sex offenders. It also increases criminal penalties for repeat offenders who have committed domestic assault, sexual abuse, and sexual abuse involving a child.
- Rape Survivor Child Custody Act: This law incentivizes states that have passed laws terminating the parental rights of men who father children through rape. This includes blocking requests for custody and visitation. This bill is an amendment to the Justice for Victims of Sexual Trafficking Act of 2015.
Liability In Child Sexual Abuse Cases: Can A Parent Or Other Caregiver Be Held Liable?
The laws in our nation dictate that any offender found guilty can be held liable for sexually abusing a child, but what about the child’s parents, caregivers, or other adults responsible for the child who were aware of the abuse?
Laws vary by state, but most states have laws that find individuals guilty of abuse to a child (liable) if they were aware of the abuse and failed to prevent or stop it.
These laws usually include language that covers intentional infliction of harm to the child, i.e. through torture, beating, burning, sexual abuse, etc. These are known as acts of commission (acts a person committed which harmed the child).
Acts of omission include those which may not have harmed the child directly, but which allowed the child to experience harm, such as knowing a child is being sexually abused by a spouse and leaving the child alone with the spouse anyway.
Most states now include laws that find a party guilty of child abuse if they knew abuse was occurring and did nothing to stop it from happening. In other words, parents and other caregivers may be held liable for child sexual abuse if it can be proven they were aware of the abuse and did not take reasonable measures to prevent it.
Additional State Laws
Additional laws regarding child sexual abuse cases are handled by local and state authorities according to state law. Sexual abuse that occurs on federal lands—such as military bases, Native American territories, and other government-owned properties—is prosecuted under federal law.
The RAINN Network regularly updates introduced legislation and passed legislation on child sexual abuse and prosecution for each state.
Types of laws that vary on a state-by-state basis include:
- mandatory reporting
- definitions of consent, sexual abuse, and sexual assault
- criminal statutes of limitations
- confidentiality laws
- DNA sample requirements
- HIV/AIDS testing of sexual offenders
- limits on rapists’ parental rights
Chelsea’s Law in California is one example of a prominent state law relevant to child sexual abuse cases. This law, passed in 2010, requires that certain violent sex offenders serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Jessica’s Law, initially passed in Florida, mandates a minimum 25-year sentence for first-time offenders who target children under the age of 12, and a life sentence for repeat offenders. It also requires lifelong GPS tracking for certain sex offenders. Jessica’s Law has been replicated in forty other states.
Statutes Of Limitations For Child Sexual Abuse
The statute of limitations (SOL) for child sexual abuse cases refers to the number of time victims, or their parents, have to file civil or criminal charges against perpetrators. Statutes of limitations for child sex crimes vary by state.
In recent years, many child abuse advocates have moved to extend state-wide SOLs in order to better serve victims who wish to seek justice for childhood sexual abuse as adults. Some states no longer dictate any time limit for victims of child sex crimes.
The sexual assault lawyers of Florin|Roebig can provide you with an overview of your state’s statute of limitations and other relevant child sexual abuse laws in order to determine your eligibility to file a lawsuit on behalf of yourself or your child.
Child Sexual Abuse Charges: Civil Court Vs. Criminal Court
Victims of child sexual abuse have two options for seeking justice for the harm perpetrated against them.
The victim or parent of a child who has been sexually abused may file a lawsuit in a criminal court (the most common type of lawsuit) or through a civil court system.
Criminal court cases for child sexual abuse are brought to court by the state. In criminal court proceedings, the government has the authority to file charges against the perpetrator and handles the case. With a guilty conviction, charges may include fines, incarceration, mandatory counseling, probation, and other criminal sanctions mandated by state law.
Civil court proceedings are less common for sexual abuse cases involving minors. In these cases, it is the plaintiff that brings their case to the court in order to seek compensation for psychological damages, physical damages, and any other losses that have resulted from the abuse.
The primary differences between the two types of court proceedings are the types of damages that are awarded with guilty convictions (punitive vs. compensatory) and who is tasked with bringing the case to court.
Criminal court cases rarely award monetary compensation for victims. Differences in responsibility for legal fees may also apply if you pursue legal recourse through a civil versus a criminal court system.
Child Sexual Assault Lawyers Of Florin|Roebig Can Help You Seek Justice
At Florin|Roebig, our lawyers believe that no instance of abuse against a child should go unpunished. Our sexual abuse lawyers have a strong record of fighting for victims and securing monetary and punitive damages to bring justice to our clients.
Our lawyers are dedicated to treating clients who have a history of sexual abuse with compassion, dignity, and an understanding of how emotionally difficult this process can be. Our lawyers work with you every step of the way to ensure that you feel safe and knowledgeable about the case throughout the course of the legal proceedings.
If you or your child has experienced childhood sexual abuse, the lawyers of Florin|Roebig are here to fight for you. Contact our offices today to schedule a free case evaluation to discuss the details of your case and begin the process of filing a lawsuit.