With 93% of perpetrators being known by the child and their family, it’s likely that when childhood molestation is reported, it’s difficult to believe. This may leave many childhood victims wondering: “What to do if my family doesn’t believe I was molested?”
Regardless of whether your family believes you or not, if you were molested as a child, you have the right to seek justice. This article will discuss your legal options should you decide to press criminal charges, file a civil lawsuit, or both.
Reasons Family Members May Not Believe a Claim of Molestation
Molestation is often kept a secret if the affected child fears no one will believe them. Children may fear the repercussions of speaking up and disrupting the family dynamic. Re-victimization may occur if family members don’t believe the survivor and react harshly to the news.
There are many other reasons why your family may seemingly not believe you:
- Shock: Child molesters can be priests, teachers, coaches, doctors, neighbors, and other respected members of the community. In 34% of cases, child sexual abuse occurs within the family. Oftentimes perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse are trusted so it may come as a shock that they could do anything to harm a child.
- Guilt: Molestation typically occurs when a child is left alone with the perpetrator. Upon hearing about an incident, the person who left the child alone may not welcome the responsibility and self-guilt that often follows. They may need to seek counseling themselves.
- Lack of Evidence: Many times, parents of an abused child will confront the accused. Usually, perpetrators deny the allegations. Some people find stories of abuse impossible to believe because they didn’t witness it or have a feeling that something was going on.
- Dependency: Physical, emotional, or financial dependence on the perpetrator can complicate matters. For example, a parent my side with their spouse—despite allegations—to maintain their relationship and financial status.
- Fear of Consequence: Some adults may worry that the spotlight on child abuse may cause a separation within their family. They may fear what others in the community will think of them once the story is out, feeling that they allowed the abuse to occur.
If My Family Doesn’t Believe I Was Molested, Should I Still Seek Justice?
Ultimately, it is your decision to pursue legal action. It’s often better for survivors to disclose incidents of childhood molestation and seek justice rather than to continue bearing the burden alone.
Not telling your story may make you feel more alone. Sexual abuse is a crime that perpetuates social isolation and feelings of loneliness. Your family’s disbelief may have only made you feel worse and more alone. Not telling your story or pursuing justice tends to perpetuate shame and confusion long after the abuse has ended.
The social stigma for survivors is changing. In the past, victims of sexual abuse were often shamed into secrecy or given a shorter time limit to come forward. However, in the #MeToo Era, the prevalence of sexual assault in our society and research supports the validity of many of these claims. Even if your family doesn’t believe you for their own personal reasons, the authorities and support services providers should be able to assist you.
Current legislation makes it possible. Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) increases the time limit for pursuing litigation to obtain a recovery of damages suffered as a result of childhood sexual assault to 22 years from the date the plaintiff attains the age of majority. It also extends the rule of delayed discovery to within five years of the date the plaintiff discovers or reasonably should have discovered that the psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by sexual assault. AB 218 also allows for a window of three years for the revival of past claims that might have expired due to the statute of limitations. In cases where a child becomes a victim of sexual assault as the result of an effort to cover up past assaults, AB 218 allows a court to award recovery of treble damages against the defendant who engaged in the cover-up
Family testimony isn’t necessary in court. There are many different types of evidence. While helpful, physical evidence or corroboration from your family members isn’t needed to prove your case. You may decide to testify on your own behalf or to have your pre-recorded statement shared with the judge and jury.
The investigation may sway opinions. Sometimes it can be difficult to articulate what happened, when it happened, and how it happened—especially when the abuse took place years ago. Lawyers can take a deeper look into the circumstances and find supporting evidence to corroborate your story. Family members may change their minds once the facts are presented by an attorney.
You may not be able to make your family believe you, but you can effect change. Your family may never come to grips with what happened to you, but a successful verdict could hold institutions liable for protecting known sex offenders. You have the power to prevent similar abuse from happening to others.
Legal Options for Victims of Child Molestation
Survivors of childhood molestation have two general options in the pursuit of justice:
Press criminal charges: To press charges, you will need to contact the police to file a report. After a preliminary investigation is conducted, they may forward your case to the district attorney’s office for review. If the D.A. thinks you have a case, they will agree to press charges to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. Prosecutors must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The end result could mean jail time for the offender, fines paid to the state, and registration on the state sex offender list.
File a civil lawsuit: To file a lawsuit, you should contact an attorney specializing in sexual abuse cases. A civil lawsuit allows for an expanded scope of liability, meaning you might be suing a church diocese, school district, athletic organization, or another third party in addition to the offender. California’s mandated reporter law requires anyone who works with children to report known or suspected abuse. In civil court, attorneys must prove the case was 51% or more likely to be true based on a “preponderance of the evidence.” The end result could be thousands, or millions, of dollars paid to support the costs of your recovery.
These legal avenues are not mutually exclusive—meaning you may pursue both courses of action at the same time if the facts surrounding your case warrant it and you have not surpassed the state’s statute of limitations.
San Francisco Sexual Abuse Attorneys Can Help
If you were molested as a child and your family doesn’t believe you, you can still pursue litigation. The experienced sexual abuse attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn in San Francisco know that the process of coming forward can be made much more difficult when family members refuse to acknowledge what has happened. However, seeking a support network through a law firm, a sexual assault therapist, and local survivors’ groups can help you through recovery.
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.