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How to Deal With Sexual Abuse by a Family Member

By June 11, 2019January 29th, 2020Blog
sexual abuse by a family member
This post was written before the passage of AB-218. For information regarding the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit for childhood sexual assault/abuse, click here or contact our team of experienced representatives.


Law enforcement generally helps victims in cases of sexual abuse by a family member. However, if you are seeking civil restitution, San Francisco attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn can assist you with your claim. Many clients come to us if their abuse falls outside the standard statute of limitations for pressing criminal charges, if their financial losses have been great, or if their criminal claim against a family member fell flat.

In this article, we’ll discuss statistics around family member sexual abuse, the statute of limitations, the differences between criminal and civil paths to justice, and how settlements are won in these cases.

How Common is Sexual Abuse by a Family Member?

Despite widespread fears of “stranger danger,” the fact remains that less than 10% of perpetrators are unknown to victims. Family members are much more likely to betray the trust of the youth they are caring for and commit abuse that goes unreported for years.

According to statistics:

Family structure is the most significant risk factor in child sexual abuse. Children who live with both biological parents are at the lowest risk. Children living without either parent in a foster situation are at 10 times greater risk of molestation. Children living with a single parent and live-in partner are at 20 times higher risk of sexual abuse.

Every nine minutes, a child is sexually abused in America. Out of the 63,000 substantiated sex abuse cases reported by Child Protective Services in 2018, 80% of perpetrators were parents of the child, 6% were other relatives, 5% were siblings or strangers, and 4% were unmarried partners of the parent.

When a child speaks up about sexual abuse by a family member, a sibling or friend is often the first person to know. Of all other family members, mothers are most likely to be told.

Is It Too Late to Come Forward About Abuse?

The sense of shame and fear that a victim of sexual abuse may feel becomes exacerbated when the perpetrator is a family member. Many victims of child sexual abuse do not come forward until years later. California, like all other states, has specific time windows for filing valid claims to protect the rights of the accused.  

  • Pressing criminal charges: The State of California placed a 10-year deadline on pressing criminal charges against child sex abusers who have committed their crimes prior to January 1, 2017. More recent instances of sexual abuse may be reported at any time, as California’s SB 813 abolished the statute of limitations for certain crimes including child sex abuse.
  • Filing a civil claim: The California Civil Code allows victims of child sexual assault to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and emotional hardship through a civil lawsuit filed against their abusers until age 26.

Under extenuating circumstances, victims may have more time to file a lawsuit if the nature of their psychological and emotional side effects were not known until recently. Through the rule of delayed discovery, plaintiffs may have “within three years of the discovery of harm” to pursue justice in civil court.

Criminal vs. Civil Options for Recovery

The differing statute of limitations is not the only way criminal and civil court proceedings differ. Contacting the state district attorney to press criminal charges may be important to you if you want to see jail time served for the crimes committed. Convicted offenders may also be ordered to pay fines to the state of California, put on probation, and placed on a sex offender registry. The downside to criminal court is that your legal team must work hard to prove your case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a fairly high standard of evidence.

On the other hand, filing a civil lawsuit with a personal injury attorney who specializes in sex abuse requires you to prove your story is 51% or more likely to have occurred. If your claim is successful, the offender could be ordered to pay restitution to you for related medical expenses; substance abuse or mental counseling services; lost time off work and reduced earning capacity; as well as emotional pain and suffering.

How Are Settlements Won Against Family Members?

Similarly to date rape cases, Lewis & Llewellyn use reputational damage as leverage to get the perpetrator to settle. Individuals may get money to pay for damages from their insurance, homeowner’s policy, the selling of assets, or garnished wages. In some cases of sexual abuse by a family member, there may not be money to recover.

Meeting with one of Lewis & Llewellyn’s experienced San Francisco sexual abuse attorneys for a free consultation is the first step. We’ll explore your claim and lay out your options for pursuing justice. For more than a decade, we’ve helped sex abuse victims recover millions of dollars for their suffering to get on the fast-track to recovery.

If we’re not a good fit for your particular case, we’ll help you find someone who can adequately represent you. We can help you access local counseling, support groups, therapy, and advocacy organizations that support your healing.  

The civil attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn are passionate and experienced trial attorneys who have represented both adult and child victims of sexual abuse across the nation. If you or a loved one was sexually abused by a family member, contact us or call +1 (415) 800-0590 for a free, confidential, no-obligation case review.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.