While most people think about Florida as a haven for retired seniors and snowbirds, demographic studies from the U.S. Census Bureau shows us that nearly 20 percent of the population of Florida is under age 18. In addition, children under the age of five represent nearly 6 percent of the population. Given this data, it is important that everyone, not just parents and caregivers, understand the symptoms associated with childhood sexual abuse, as well as the increased risks these survivors face throughout their lifetime, so they can encourage appropriate reporting and treatment. Read on to learn the risks from our sexual assault attorneys at Dolman Law Group.
Understanding the Risk for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse
When a child survives sexual abuse, there are a lot of challenges for both the child and their family. Some of these challenges include:
- Being revictimized – Often, a child sexual abuse survivor is revictimized in later years. This may be a result of a lack of self-esteem and other factors related to their initial trauma.
- Becoming dependent – Too frequently survivors of sexual assault turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with the pain associated with the initial trauma. This dependency often means they face challenges in maintaining a job, among other issues.
- Suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Survivors of childhood sexual abuse may ultimately be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) meaning they could face months or even years of therapy and counseling.
- Facing multiple interviews after reporting – After initially reporting sexual abuse, a child is likely to face several interviews forcing them to relive their trauma over and over. Initially, the survivor will work with Department of Health’s child protection teams (CPTs), but there may be other interviews including law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and psychologists.
- Have mixed feelings about reporting – Because many survivors know their abuser, survivors often have mixed feelings about reporting instances of sexual abuse and assault.
These are just a few of the reasons why it is helpful for a survivor of child sexual abuse to be represented by a Florida sexual abuse lawyer. An attorney can help serve as an advocate for the child to ensure their rights are not violated and their family understands the process they are facing after reporting cases of sexual abuse.
Sexual Abuse Victims and Revictimization
While the root causes for revictimization may not be readily evident, some of the issues that could lead to a survivor being sexually abused by a second person could be due to feelings of being unworthy of a good relationship. Unfortunately, repeat victims also may be more fearful of reporting sexual assaults if they have previously reported being a survivor. Unfortunately, no current studies explore revictimization, however, an older study indicated that as many as two-thirds of survivors reported more than one incident.
Correlation Between Sexual Abuse Victims and Addiction
Psychology Today published a review of several studies that shows many survivors of child sexual abuse turn to illicit drugs as teens and into adulthood. This review indicates survivors of sexual abuse often turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of dealing with the trauma they experienced. Long-term feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness often result in survivors of child sexual abuse turning to drugs and alcohol to help them feel better about themselves, or to avoid having to think about the abuse they suffered. In some cases, survivors turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with other problems such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Sexual Abuse
While most of us associate PTSD with veterans returning from battle, several indications and studies point to PTSD as a problem for survivors of sexual abuse. Whether the survivor is a child, or an adult, survivors of sexual abuse often suffer flashbacks, depression, anxiety, and issues functioning day-to-day. This is a very real problem, and many survivors will spend months or years recovering from the trauma associated with sexual abuse and assaults.
Although it is common for PTSD symptoms to occur within three months of a trauma, there are no definitive time frames for when a sexual abuse survivor may start displaying symptoms. For example, a younger child who is sexually abused may revert to prior habits such as bedwetting, while a child in their preteen or teen years may start acting out in aggressive manners. There is no time frame for PTSD symptoms to display in survivors of sexual abuse.
Trauma and Fear After Reporting
One of the many challenges survivors and their families may face after reporting sexual abuse is the emotional roller coaster that they will endure. Since many parents take the time to warn their children about “stranger danger,” they are often unprepared for the emotional toll when they learn their child has been victimized by someone they know. Studies show a surprising number of survivors of sexual abuse know their abuser.
In fact, abusers tend to be someone familiar in nearly 90 percent of all cases, and may include:
- Family members – We are often unprepared to find that a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or sibling is sexually abusing another member of our family. However, too often this is the case.
- Trusted caregivers – Children often have a great deal of trust in those who are providing them care. This may include adults who run daycare centers, those who assist in after school care programs, or other settings where a child depends on an adult for care and nurturing.
- Community leaders – Trusted members of the community including coaches, scoutmasters, teachers, members of the clergy may commit sexual abuse. These instances are especially egregious because of their ongoing access to potential survivors.
Unfortunately, this may explain why many instances of sexual abuse in children are not reported. Children are often hesitant to report sexual abuse when it involves someone close to them because of:
- Fear – Survivors are often threatened with bodily harm or the perpetrator may threaten harm to the survivor’s friends, siblings, or family. A child is often afraid if they tell someone that another person they love will be injured.
- Feelings of guilt or shame – It is important to remember perpetrators of sexual abuse will use guilt or shame as a method of controlling their survivors. Children often feel they have done something that warrants the abuse they are suffering, and they lack the ability to understand they are not the ones doing something wrong.
- Feelings about the abuser – Because survivors often have a relationship—familial, caregiver, or mentor—they often have mixed feelings about reporting their abuser. Remember, abusers nurture relationships with their victims to maintain control.
Process After Reporting Can Further Traumatize Victims
The process of helping the survivor of sexual abuse may often leave the family and survivor feeling like they are being victimized all over again. Depending on who makes the report, and how the report is made, there will be several phases of an investigation surrounding child sexual abuse. Parents who report abuse may turn to local law enforcement officers before it is turned over to the Department of Health’s child protection teams (CPTs). Per Florida statutes, there are also mandated reporters of child sexual abuse who may turn directly to the Department of Health for reporting purposes.
Once a reported case of child sexual assault or abuse is under investigation, there will be interviews with the child by prosecutors, doctors, and the child may be required to undergo physical evaluations to determine if there is evidence of abuse. These processes can result in confusion, fear, and a range of other feelings.
Should the prosecutor determine there is a reason to follow through with criminal charges, the child sexual abuse survivor may also be required to either appear in-person in court, or take part in a recorded session where the court, the abuser’s defense attorney, and others ask questions. This can leave a child feeling vulnerable and exposed, which is a valid reason why you should seek the assistance and input of a trusted sexual abuse attorney.
Sexual Abuse Victims and Feelings About Abuser
One of the most overlooked issues for survivors is how they feel about their abuser. Because so many survivors of child sexual abuse know their abuser, they may not understand how to deal with the feelings of reporting someone they know, trust, and potentially love. As the criminal case proceeds, the child may change their story, parents of survivors may feel conflicted about the potential outcomes, and the survivor of child sexual abuse may begin acting out.
Each of these scenarios is normal since none of us expect someone we know and trust to hurt our child. Sexual abuse is about control and unfortunately, the abuser depends on the mixed emotions of their survivors and their family to help them keep the abuse quiet. Child survivors and their family members can often count on their attorney to serve as an advocate and a resource for them to get the assistance they need throughout the process of dealing with criminal cases and the trauma remaining after the abuse has stopped.
Considering Civil Lawsuits Against Perpetrator of Abuse
Survivors of sexual abuse of all ages can face financial difficulties. When a family has a child who has been a survivor of sexual abuse, they are potentially forced to take numerous days off work, the child is likely to have to seek medical attention for the physical trauma, and they also may be facing years of psychological counseling. These costs, and the potential future economic losses of being unable to work regularly due to addiction, PTSD, or other issues can impose a significant hardship.
Under Florida statutes, however, sexual abuse and assault survivors, or their adult caregiver, may file a civil lawsuit on their behalf. Potentially, an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse may file suit when they reach the age of majority.
Under Fla. Stat. § 95.11(7) and s. 775.15 “Claims 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. “For intentional torts based on abuse.”
Certainly, it is impossible for money to compensate for some losses, such as the innocence of a child, or the trust a child has placed in someone who they cared for who perpetrated abuse upon that child.
However, some of the liability the abuser may be held liable for include:
- Medical bills – Aside from treatment for physical injuries, child survivors of sexual abuse may require weeks, months, or years of treatment for the emotional aspects of abuse. This may include psychological treatment, addiction treatment, and other forms of therapy to ensure the survivor can function on a day-to-day basis.
- Hidden damages – Emotional distress, diminished quality of life, and other hidden damages are difficult to place a dollar value on, but an attorney who has experience working with survivors of sexual abuse can help you determine what damages a court or jury may deem appropriate.
- Pain and suffering – Physical trauma can cause physical pain, but emotional trauma can result in other types of pain and suffering for which a survivor may have the right to seek compensation.
Criminal and civil cases are separate. Even with a criminal conviction, survivors don’t recover compensation to pay for treatment for the damages they suffered. Even when a perpetrator is not held criminally liable, the survivor, or their family on their behalf, may seek civil restitution for the harm caused.
Whether you are a parent who has a child survivor of sexual abuse, or you are an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you probably have unanswered questions, and you may not fully understand your rights. A sexual abuse lawyer can answer whatever questions you may have, and help you understand the criminal and civil process following child sexual abuse.
Dolman Law Group
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765