According to a study conducted by Darkness to Light, a non-profit organization committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse, one in 10 children will be sexually abused before age 18. And despite growing up with warnings of “stranger danger,” 90% of sexual abuse is committed by someone the family knows and trusts—teachers, coaches, mentors, scout leaders, camp counselors, doctors, church clergy, daycare facilities.
For parents of minors who have been sexually abused, dealing with the aftermath can involve many steps—seeking legal recourse should be among them. If you’re thinking of pursuing litigation for the sexual abuse of a minor, this article will provide you with information regarding pressing criminal charges and pursuing civil litigation.
Pressing Criminal Charges for Sexual Abuse of a Minor
The first step once you have knowledge of your child’s abuse is to contact a medical provider. If you’re unsure where to turn, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to connect with a local sexual assault service provider. It is a good idea to request a sexual assault forensic exam (also sometimes referred to as a “rape kit”) to gain valuable physical evidence that will be helpful in your case. You will want your child to meet with a qualified mental health counselor to help cope with the aftermath of abuse. The effects of sexual abuse can persist well into adulthood—sometimes for a lifetime—but long-term, early intervention is key in minimizing harm.
Once you’ve contacted law enforcement, a detective will be assigned to work on your case—interviewing your child, collecting evidence, and interviewing the suspect. The goal of law enforcement will be to find probable cause to make an arrest. The decision to press criminal charges or not will be up to the State of California District Attorney. If criminal charges are pursued, the defendant is prosecuted for crimes against the state. The end goal is to determine whether the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
If the defendant is convicted of sexual abuse of a minor by judge and jury, the perpetrator could face jail time, criminal fines to be paid to the state, probation monitoring, and inclusion on the state’s sex offender registry. Most parents agree that seeking criminal conviction is important for their family’s safety yet, that’s not the only option available when a minor has been sexually abused.
Why You Should Pursue Civil Litigation for Sexual Abuse of a Minor
As the parent of a sexually abused minor, you may also choose to (concurrently or independently) pursue civil litigation. Even if the DA decides not to pursue criminal charges or if your criminal case failed to produce the verdict you wanted, your family can still contact a civil attorney.
There are a number of advantages to pursuing civil recourse for the sexual abuse of a minor:
- Longer statute of limitations: Up until January 1, 2017, California enacted a 10-year time limit on pressing criminal charges for sexual abuse. But when it comes to civil cases, Section 340.1 of the Civil Code sets the legal deadline for filing civil complaints of child sex abuse to “within 8 years of the date the plaintiff attains the age of majority (age 26) or within 3 years of the date the plaintiff discovers that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by sexual abuse, whichever occurs later.” The civil code also provides for a delayed discovery period of three years. This means that your lawsuit will be timely if it is filed within three years after the date the victim discovers the connection between the injury they have suffered and the abuse itself.
- Financial compensation: The aftermath of sexual abuse often involves medical expenses, emotional hardship, and loss of employment or opportunity. While no amount of money will ever undo what has occurred, obtaining compensation for damages suffered can help you afford the best possible treatment for your child in the years to come.
- Expanded liability: The civil court is less interested in whether or not the defendant is guilty but whether or not the defendant owed some duty to the plaintiff, which was not met. In pursuit of this goal, attorneys may find that legal liability exists well beyond the defendant. Often, civil lawsuits dig deeper and go after not just the perpetrator but anyone who knew about the abuse; could have done something to stop it; and failed in their obligations to keep your child safe. This could include school districts, churches, daycare facilities, camps, athletic associations, scout organizations, and other larger entities.
- Lower burden of proof: “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a much higher standard of evidence than the “preponderance of evidence” that is required in civil court. An experienced civil attorney will need to demonstrate that the alleged sexual abuse was “51% or more likely to have occurred,” as indicated in the victim’s testimony.
Start the Process of Seeking Civil Litigation
The first step in pursuing civil litigation for the sexual abuse of a minor is knowing what to expect when working with a civil attorney. Whether you are an adult victim or the parent of a victimized child, the aftermath of child sexual abuse may take you through the full gamut of emotions—but you don’t have to go through it alone. An experienced legal representative can act as your advocate, providing counsel and empowering control over the course of the proceedings.
Working with a California attorney who specializes in sexual abuse cases is about more than legal advice and paperwork. Lawyers can also point you in the right direction for seeking medical attention, connecting with crisis social workers and counselors, dealing with insurance issues, and getting your life back in the wake of disturbing events that were beyond your control.
Whether you’re advocating for your child or are an adult seeking closure for abuse suffered years ago, Lewis & Llewellyn has the experience, grit, and compassion to help you obtain justice and maximum compensation. As parents ourselves, we are particularly compassionate and zealous in our pursuit of justice for the abuse and betrayal committed by once trusted members of the community. Contact our team online for support and guidance to see you through this emotional time, or call +1 (415) 800-0590 to schedule an appointment with an advocate today.
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.