Why Victims of Child Sexual Abuse Need an Attorney

December 13, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Why Victims of Child Sexual Abuse Need an Attorney

Florida Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

Sexual abuse involving children is considered one of the most egregious crimes ever perpetrated. While the criminal justice system deals with the criminal aspect of these crimes, victims are facing a lifetime of pain and suffering. Children who suffer at the hands of an abuser need a strong advocate to protect their rights. This is particularly true while the abuser is still facing criminal charges. Speak with a Florida child sexual abuse attorney about your case today.

Any child may be at risk for sexual abuse. Children of all ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds have been impacted by instances of abuse. Males and females, regardless of age, may also suffer from sexual abuse. Sadly, studies have uncovered the following facts pertaining to sexual abuse in children:

  • Before age 18, one in 10 children may experience some form of sexual abuse
  • More than 50 percent of survivors of sexual abuse are children abused before the age of 12
  • A disabled child is nearly 3 times more likely to be sexually abused than their non-disabled peers
  • Nearly one-third of girls and 10 percent of boys in the juvenile justice system have been victims of sexual abuse

According to The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every 9 minutes, a child protective agency investigation determines there is evidence of child sexual abuse. These statistics should, and do, terrify every parent.

Stranger Danger Warnings Will Not Help Sexually Abused Children

One of the most common myths related to child sexual abuse is making sure our children are wary of strangers. Unfortunately, statistics show nearly 90 percent of children know their abuser. To compound this terrifying statistic, the child's parents also know the perpetrator in nearly 60 percent of all cases. Typically, when the parent knows the abuser, it is someone they trusted to care for their children. Unfortunately, studies also show that in nearly 40 percent of all cases, children are abused by other children.

In general, child abusers often target victims under the age of six. Some potential perpetrators of child abuse include:

  • Coaches or teachers
  • Family members including siblings, cousins, grandparents
  • Members of the Clergy
  • Caregivers in various settings, including daycare and after-school care

Warning our children about strangers is still a good idea for parents. However, it is equally as important to make sure our children understand no person, regardless of who they are, has the right to touch them inappropriately.

Demographics: Perception Versus Reality Regarding Sexual Abuse of Young People

One of the most common myths about Florida is that the majority of the population is older. Many people are surprised to learn that there is a large number of children within the state. The United States Census Bureau shows that nearly 20 percent of the population is under the age of 18. In addition, nearly 6 percent of the population is under the age of five.

Every day, there are children in Florida at risk of becoming a victim of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, experts believe that many instances of sexual abuse, whether upon a child or adult, go unreported. If you are concerned about a child's safety, be sure to learn the signs of sexual abuse to determine if intervention is necessary.

Reasons Why Sexual Abuse Remains Under-Reported

A study conducted by the Justice Department suggests that nearly 80 percent of all sexual abuse and rape cases are not reported. This number may be much higher among child victims because of the numerous reasons for not reporting. While an older victim may fear not being believed, children are more likely to have different reasons for not reporting sexual abuse.

Some common reasons why children are reluctant to report abuse include:

  • Fear - Perpetrators often threaten children to keep them from reporting abuse. Threats may include harming the victim's parents or siblings.
  • Shame - Children often do not understand they are victims. While they may know that what is happening to them is wrong, they often don't understand that the perpetrator is doing something wrong.
  • Perpetrator standing - Another common reason a child may not report sexual abuse is that they have a certain level of respect or love for the abuser. This is common among children of all ages.

What are the Long-Term Impacts of Sexual Abuse in Children?

With sexual abuse, whether reported or not, the long-term impacts can affect victims for their entire lives. Even children who report the abuse, have supportive families, seek counseling, and seem to make a full recovery can be impacted by the trauma associated with experiencing abuse.

Many victims of child sexual abuse have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their abuse. It is not unusual for victims of sexual abuse to suffer delays in normal development or difficulty sustaining intimate relationships. Even when they do manage to meet a partner, victims often have life-long sexual problems, which can destroy the intimacy of a normal relationship.

Victims may also continue to feel shame, suffer from anxiety and guilt, and often completely block out the abuse to deny they were ever victimized. Victims commonly show symptoms of depression, eating disorders, and other psychological problems, including engaging in self-destructive behavior.

Many Victims Suffer Repeated Sexual Abuse

While there are no recent statistics pertaining to repeat abuse, a decades-old study suggests that many victims of sexual abuse are repeatedly abused. Unfortunately, this pattern of sexual abuse may continue throughout a victim's lifetime. Oftentimes, victims feel that they are unworthy of a healthy relationship, which increases the risks of abuse when they choose abusive partners. Fear of reporting a sexual assault does not improve with time. If anything, as time passes, the victim's fear of reporting may increase. Victims may be reluctant to bring up past trauma.

Trauma Often Continues After Reporting Sexual Abuse

Even after the victim of childhood sexual abuse reports their abuser to friends or family, the trauma is far from over. Unfortunately, the victim is then subjected to questioning by law enforcement officers, physical exams, and, in many cases, psychological exams. Investigation of the reported abuse can leave children feeling like they are victims a second time. This is true even when everyone believes the child is telling the truth.

If your child is a sexual abuse victim, you should consider working with a sexual abuse attorney who can serve as their advocate. An experienced abuse attorney can help protect child victims from the equally traumatic investigation process.

Why It's Important to Work With a Sexual Abuse Attorney

After a child reports an instance of sexual abuse, the victim and their family can experience a great deal of mental and emotional stress. The legal process almost always feels overwhelming. Victims will be expected to provide statements to law enforcement to assist with the criminal case. In addition, if they choose to pursue a civil action against the abuser for financial compensation, victims may have to relive the traumatic experience again.

Initially, most cases of child sexual abuse are handled by the Department of Health's child protection teams (CPTs). These teams are specifically trained to handle cases of child abuse. Team members are prepared to investigate abuse whether reported by a family member, the victim, or another party who has a duty to report suspected sexual abuse.

Criminal proceedings against abusers must often rely on circumstantial evidence. Unfortunately, victims and their families have little or no input into how the criminal case should proceed or if it should proceed at all. While prosecutors are more likely to prosecute sexual abuse cases today than they were a couple of decades ago, this process can adversely impact those involved. Victims and their families are often frustrated because they lack any say in the criminal process.

Working with an attorney who has experience handling child sexual abuse cases can provide invaluable guidance for navigating both criminal and civil legal proceedings. Experienced abuse attorneys regularly advocate for victims and provide access to important resources. A sexual abuse attorney can help reduce the uncertainty you may feel after sexual abuse is reported.

Learn more: Sexual Assault in an Uber

Can You File a Civil Child Sexual Abuse Case?

Civil lawsuits differ from criminal proceedings in many respects. One key difference is that a civil lawsuit requires a lower threshold of proof to find an abuser responsible than the burden of proof required to establish guilt in a criminal case.

Civil suits often seek compensation for harm resulting from instances of abuse. In a civil suit, victims may claim intentional infliction of distress, negligent infliction of distress, battery, or assault. While the child is still a minor, the victim's caregiver, typically a parent, may file a lawsuit on behalf of the child. When a victim of child sexual abuse has reached the age of majority, they are entitled to file a suit on their own behalf.

How Long Do You Have to File a Civil Abuse Lawsuit?

Florida Statute § 95.11(7) provides that “[c]laims founded on alleged abuse, or incest, may be commenced at any time within seven years after the age of majority, or within four years after the injured person leaves the dependency of the abuser, or within four years from the time of discovery by the injured party of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse, whichever occurs later.”

Victims of abuse may be entitled to seek financial compensation for:

  • Medical bills incurred as a result of the abuse
  • Pain and suffering of the victim (and potentially their family members)
  • Costs associated with necessary therapy
  • Emotional distress damages
  • Damages related to the victim's diminished quality of life

A skilled sex abuse attorney can help you understand victim's rights and the potential damages which may be sought from perpetrators.

The Effects Sexual Abuse Can Have on a Victim's Future

It is extremely difficult for many survivors to overcome the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. Too often, these victims turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of easing their emotional pain. Victims may also experience issues trusting other people, suffer from insomnia, or engage in aggressive behaviors. Victims who are dealing with this level of trauma may also have problems holding down a job while struggling with depression and PTSD.

There is no way to fully compensate a child sexual abuse victim for the loss of innocence or the damage done to their ability to trust others. Of course, financial compensation cannot remove the physical and emotional scars of childhood sexual abuse. However, victims and their families should not bear the financial burden of the harm resulting from abuse. Victims may require long-term counseling, medical care, and rehabilitation for substance abuse recovery. All of which can have significant costs.

How to Find an Advocate for Childhood Sexual Abuse Victims

When selecting an attorney, look for someone with experience helping victims of sexual abuse and their families. Parents and caregivers need to know there is someone available to help them make sense of both the criminal and civil aspects of child sexual abuse cases. An advocate should be caring, compassionate, and willing to listen to the victim's concerns and the concerns of family members.

Sexual Abuse Attorney, Matt Dolman
Child Sexual Abuse Attorney, Matthew Dolman

Unfortunately, the criminal case will be complicated. When a prosecutor decides they have sufficient grounds to pursue criminal charges, the victim of abuse may be required to testify in court. Testifying about the abuse can add to the victim's trauma.

An experienced attorney can help families understand their options to protect children who are victims of abuse. For example, depending on the age of the victim, an attorney may request the court to allow video testimony, which may be less traumatizing than in-person testimony.

After a criminal case, victims and families may feel a range of emotions, including anger and grief, particularly when the perpetrator of the crime was someone they knew. These are all perfectly normal feelings. Even when the perpetrator of child sexual abuse has been punished criminally, it is not unusual for the victim to feel saddened by the outcome because of the relationship they had with the perpetrator.

The sensitive nature of the subject matter of these cases makes them complex. Having an attorney who can help identify the right resources to provide emotional counseling before, during, and after the court proceedings is important. Additionally, an attorney can help victims pursue a civil case to hold the responsible party financially accountable for the harm they have caused.

If you are an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse or the parent of a child victim, contact a sexual abuse lawyer today for answers to your questions and to better understand your rights under the law.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 N Belcher Rd Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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