Florida 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.
Prevalence of Sexual Abuse in Children
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. Most people may not know 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 victims 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 Children
One of the most common myths about child sexual abuse is making sure our children be wary of strangers. Unfortunately, statistics show nearly 90 percent of children know their abuser. To compound this terrifying statistic, parents also know the perpetrator in nearly 60 percent of all cases. Typically, when the parent is familiar with the abuser, it is someone they trust to care for their children. Unfortunately, we also have to understand that abusers of children in nearly 40 percent of all cases are other children.
Often child abusers 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 always 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
One of the most common myths about Florida is that 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 then learn the signs of sexual abuse to try and determine if intervention is necessary.
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 that children are reluctant to report instances of 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 lack the understanding 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.
Long-Term Impact 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 recover are often still impacted by the trauma associated with experiencing abuse. Many victims of sexual abuse have been known to have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
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, guilt, and often enter a phase where they simply deny they were ever victimized. Victims commonly show symptoms of depression, eating disorders, and other psychological problems, including engaging in self-destructive behavior.
Sexual Abuse Repeat Victims
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. 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 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 to serve as their advocate. An experienced attorney regularly fights to protect child victims from the equally traumatic investigation process.
Why Involve a Sexual Abuse Attorney?
After a child reports an instance of sexual abuse, the victims and their families 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, should you choose to pursue a civil action 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 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 sexual abuse of cases can provide invaluable guidance for navigating both criminal and civil legal proceedings. Experienced attorneys regularly advocate for victims and provide them access to important resources. A sexual abuse attorney can help mitigate the uncertainty you may feel after sexual abuse is reported.
Civil Cases Pertaining to Child Sexual Abuse
Civil lawsuits differ from criminal proceedings in many respects. One key difference is that a civil lawsuit requires a lower threshold of proof than would be required to prove 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. 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.
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 the rights of the victim and the potential damages which may be sought from perpetrators.
Effects of Sexual Abuse on 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 may 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 properly 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.
Finding an Advocate for Sexual Abuse Victims
When selecting an attorney, look for someone with experience helping victims and families of victims of sexual abuse. Families need to know there is someone available to help them make sense of both the criminal and civil aspects of sexual abuse cases. An advocate should be caring, compassionate, and willing to listen to both the victim’s concerns and the concerns of family members.
Keep in mind, the criminal case will be complicated. When a prosecutor decides they have sufficient reason 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 family 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 often 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 help understand your rights under the law.