The juvenile justice system in the United States has its roots in reformatory schools, which later motivated the development of detention centers for young offenders. These types of facilities were meant to accommodate the needs of a younger population and deter them from a life of crime using strong discipline. Instead, many such institutions became the sites of horrific mistreatment, including sexual abuse. Detention centers and reformatory schools may be considered negligent for failing to prevent sexual abuse and even concealing it.
As detention center and reformatory school sexual abuse survivors reckon with the long-term financial and emotional consequences of their ordeals, many are choosing to take legal action and file civil lawsuits. The personal injury attorneys of Dolman Law Group have been longstanding advocates for sexual abuse survivors and continue to leverage our skills to obtain compensation for their damages. If you or your child experienced sexual abuse at a reformatory school or detention center, we encourage you to take advantage of a free consultation by calling us at 727-451-6900 or completing our online form.
Why You Should Hire Dolman Law Group For Your Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
For many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the idea of reliving their trauma is intimidating, even if it carries the possibility of recovering the compensation they are rightfully owed. Our team has worked with a number of survivors to file sexual abuse lawsuits, where we prioritize the dignity, privacy, and needs of each individual client. The personal injury attorneys of Dolman Law Group are known as skilled negotiators who consistently maximize compensation.
Our firm has successfully handled a variety of sexual abuse claims against established institutions like the military and the church, so we are familiar with what is required to construct an effective argument for liability and negotiate fair compensation. Additionally, we have specific experience with child sex abuse cases from working with both minors and adult survivors.
We understand that trust is earned, and we are happy to provide you with references from former clients until you are ready to benefit from our services yourself. Our team of sexual abuse lawyers can offer you the resources of a larger personal injury law firm as well as the level of commitment to your case that a smaller firm would offer. We believe that each case and each survivor should receive individualized attention, and our child sex abuse lawyers strive to provide this for every client.
Understanding What Sexual Abuse Means
Sexual abuse is a pattern of non-consensual sexual contact that is perpetrated through force or manipulation. Children and teens cannot consent to sexual contact with adults. Those living in environments such as detention centers and reform schools are often more vulnerable to predators. Perpetrators of sexual abuse are often known to the abused and may include family members or friends, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, or other authority figures. Abusers and their targets can be of any gender or sexual orientation.
While the definition of sexual abuse may differ slightly between states, it typically includes:
- Masturbating in the presence of a child or forcing them to masturbate
- Groping or fondling, underneath or over clothes
- Rape and attempted rape
- Penetration of the vagina or anus with an object or some part of the body
- Performing or receiving other sexual acts from a child, such as oral sex
- Other inappropriate sexual contact, such as kissing
Sexual abusers may also show explicit images, expose themselves, demand sexual favors, take pictures of the people they abuse in inappropriate situations, and offer sexual commentary on their bodies. In an environment like a reform school or a detention center, there are ample opportunities for a sexual abuser to use coercion, bribery, manipulation, physical force, drugs and alcohol, or threats to engage in an exploitative sexual relationship with a child or teen.
An abuser may groom their target by offering special privileges for lesser types of sexual contact and eventually condition them to agree to larger sexual favors. Minors who are confined to reform schools or detention centers may be more vulnerable to this dynamic, as they may have daily contact with the abuser for years in a restrictive setting. To manipulate the survivor into silence or complacency, the abuser may try to frame the experience as a “special bond”, a hazing ritual, or a repayment of a debt. Sexual abusers also use the threat of collective punishment or retaliation, which can be quite effective in places like reform schools or detention centers.
Pervasive Abuse Undermined the Intentions of Reformatory Schools
Historically speaking, reform schools were residential programs for children who were seen as at risk of becoming criminals and those who had committed crimes but were too young for adult prison. The original intention was to offer juvenile offenders an opportunity for rehabilitation instead of being treated like adults, as well as divert children who were supposedly destined for a life of crime due to poverty. In practice, reformatory schools were often overcrowded, employed harsh punitive measures, and targeted children from poor and minority families.
The response to this was the establishment of a juvenile justice system, including youth detention centers. Similar patterns of sexual abuse persisted. The conditions of incarceration and the inherent vulnerability of children allowed staff to exploit the isolating circumstances and dangerous power dynamics that were characteristic of both types of facilities. Recent investigations have uncovered horrific accounts of sexual abuse, physical violence, and psychological torment in so-called reform schools, validating their reputation for brutality.
In effect, sexual abusers were given virtually unfettered access to children whose families often had limited resources and lived far away. Nowadays, the residential aspect of reform schools is less prevalent, though a few institutions still accept students who are considered safety threats in a traditional environment. Due to the negative connotation, the remaining reform schools are generally referred to as alternative schools and operate as public schools with greater restrictions.
Detention Centers and Reformatory Schools Can Leave Residents Vulnerable
One of the common elements in sexual abuse cases is that the perpetrator intentionally exploits the circumstances of their relationship with the abused to repeatedly violate them. The relationship may involve being regularly left alone with the abused in a private space, having legal or spiritual authority over the abused, or providing a service the abused needs. All of these conditions are present in reform schools and detention centers for young offenders. For decades, staff were allowed to punish residents and detainees for disobedience, with limited oversight.
The minors in these facilities are dependent upon staff for food, water, showers, clothing, and shelter. Most facilities are fenced-in, and residents may even be restrained with handcuffs. If the implicit threat of starvation and injury or the power of authority were not enough to create compliance, the hope of another adult intervening was limited due to reporting obstacles and the low probability of being believed. Even when a survivor is willing to testify to their experiences, students and detainees are often deprived of opportunities to report the abuse.
In a detention center or reform school setting, residents are kept away from family for extended periods, their communication is closely monitored, and they may have regular contact with their abuser. In some cases, reformatory school administrators and detention center wardens actively covered up sexual abuse cases or even engaged in these crimes themselves. The lack of trustworthy adults and highly controlled access to outsiders leaves survivors with few options. Furthermore, despite their youth, reform school students and detainees are rarely given the benefit of the doubt when reporting sexual abuse, as they have already been branded problematic or untrustworthy.
Behavioral and Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children and Teens
Identifying sexual abuse committed against children and teens is not always a simple task. Younger students may lack the vocabulary, understanding, and context to accurately perceive and convey that they are being sexually abused. Teens often experience shame due to the stigma surrounding sexual abuse, particularly when perpetrated by someone of the same gender, so they may try to conceal the abuse from others.
In an environment like a reformatory school or detention center where children are often predisposed to distrust authority figures and exhibit existing behavioral issues, confirming sexual abuse becomes even more of a challenge. Other than the obvious physical indicators of sexual abuse, which include bruising or bleeding around the genitals, inexplicable injuries, STDs, and pregnancy, certain behaviors can imply that sexual abuse is happening.
In younger children, the following behaviors may be a warning that they are being sexually abused, especially in conjunction with physical injuries.
- Wetting the bed
- Acting subdued or secretive
- Exhibiting fear of certain people or locations
- Shows symptoms of depression or PTSD
- Aversion to bathing or changing clothes
- Demonstrates age-inappropriate knowledge of sex
Signs of Sexual Abuse Displayed by Teens
In teenagers, signs of sexual abuse can sometimes mimic symptoms of other mental health issues, but an acute cause of a behavioral shift should not be dismissed.
- Drop in grades or job performance
- Sleep issues
- More prone to anger or acting out
- Expresses suicidal thoughts
- Becomes overly protective of others
- Substance abuse
- Grows increasingly private
- Withdrawing from friends and activities
- Displays signs of depression or PTSD
Types of Damages Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Can Claim
There is a strong consensus among child psychologists, researchers, and survivors that experiencing sexual abuse as a child often has lasting consequences that present during adulthood. While the trauma of being sexually abused in a reformatory school or youth detention center cannot be undone, the damages this type of crime causes can potentially be compensated in a personal injury lawsuit. For some survivors, this provides a degree of solace in addition to financial stabilization.
Punitive damages may be ordered by the court to penalize the defendant, but the focus is on recovering compensatory damages to repay the plaintiff for their losses. Compensatory damages include economic damages, which are financial losses the plaintiff suffered as a result of their injuries, as well as non-economic damages, which acknowledge the emotional toll of the plaintiff’s injuries. In a sexual assault claim, damages may include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of quality of life
- Loss of consortium
- Emotional distress
Detainees Face Restrictions on Filing a Personal Injury Claim
In theory, people who are incarcerated are legally entitled to take legal action against staff and guards if they are sexually abused while in their care. However, this right comes with significant stipulations that make it incredibly difficult for survivors to file personal injury claims to recover compensation. In an effort to limit inmates from filing frivolous lawsuits against the government, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) was passed in 1995.
This created a number of obstacles for survivors who are still incarcerated. First, they must exhaust all administrative options presented to them by the detention center, which can be a time-consuming and stressful process with ample opportunities for rejection based on arbitrary rules. Survivors must also pay hefty filing fees. Limitations on personal injury lawyers’ contingency fees mean that most incarcerated survivors have to represent themselves.
Perhaps the most egregious part of the PLRA for sexual abuse survivors is that they must be able to show evidence of a physical injury in order to be eligible to claim compensation for a mental or emotional injury. Sexual abuse does not necessarily result in physical injury, so this undermines the ability of survivors to file legitimate claims. Depending on the state, survivors may also be limited on filing a sexual abuse by the statute of limitations.
Who is Liable for Sexual Abuse in a Reform School or Detention Center
Although a survivor may, understandably, want to file a sexual abuse claim in civil court against the individual or individuals who perpetrated the abuse, this is rarely effective in terms of recovering compensation for damages, which is the goal of a personal injury lawsuit. Given this objective, it is usually considered more sensible to file a sexual abuse claim against the institution where the injury occurred because it is more likely to have the financial resources to pay out a claim.
Reformatory schools and detention centers are responsible for taking reasonable, proactive measures to keep the young people in their care safe from sexual abuse by staff or peers. If their policies, facilities, equipment, or personnel are found to enable sexual abuse, the institution itself can be found legally responsible for their negligence. Examples of negligence by a reformatory school or detention center can include:
- Inadequate or incorrect training of staff
- Staffing shortages that compromise supervision
- Hiring unqualified personnel
- Inconsistent implementation of safety protocols
- Failure to maintain proper security measures and equipment
- Absence of a reliable reporting system for sexual abuse
How Can You Prove Liability in a Detention Center / Reform School Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?
In a personal injury claim, the plaintiff’s goal is to establish that the defendant had a legal obligation to ensure their safety, was negligent in their actions, caused their injuries through those actions, and is therefore financially responsible for reimbursing them for the resulting costs of those actions. For sexual abuse claims against reformatory schools and detention centers, survivors must present evidence that the institution responsible for their safety failed to take adequate action and their negligence helped cause their injury.
Plaintiffs must identify how the facility failed to perform this duty, such as by hiring a staff member with previous accusations of sexual offenses. The breach of duty has to have resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries, which in turn must be connected to the damages they are seeking compensation for.
Civil lawsuits offer the potential of financial reimbursement to plaintiffs who can successfully prove the negligence of the liable party and that said negligence caused their injury. The burden of proof is considerably lower in civil sexual assault lasuits, so unsuccessful criminal charges should not automatically dissuade survivors from considering legal action in a civil court. Plaintiffs need to show that the damages from their sexual abuse were more likely than not the result of the defendant’s negligence, which equates to being 51% sure that the evidence supports the plaintiff’s account of events.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sexual Abuse Lawsuits?
What is the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims?
Many states are moving towards extending or even eliminating their statute of limitations for claims involving the sexual abuse of children. This acknowledges that survivors of childhood sexual abuse often wait years, if not decades to come forward. The statute of limitations for criminal charges may differ from that of civil claims. If you have questions about how your state’s statute of limitations applies in your case, or if you believe that your case warrants an exemption, you should contact a sexual abuse lawyer.
How much does it cost to hire a sexual abuse attorney?
You do not need to make any upfront payment, nor will you be asked to cover legal fees out of pocket. Personal injury attorneys use a contingency fee arrangement, which is when a lawyer examines your case, agrees to take it on, represents you all the way through negotiations, and then recovers their fee from the settlement they secure for you. The fee is about 33% of what is recovered. If they fail to get you compensation then they get 33% of 0 meaning they are invested in the outcome of your case.
Is sexual abuse the same thing as sexual assault?
Although sexual abuse is often understood as repeated sexual assault, it is a bit more nuanced than that. Sexual abuse is a pattern of non-consensual sexual interactions. While it is often used to refer to situations involving an adult and a child, it can also involve people who are vulnerable due to their age, immigration status, military rank, physical disability, or cognitive impairment. Sexual assault is typically used to reference a single event of unwanted contact.
How a Reform School / Detention Center Sex Abuse Attorney Can Help Your Case
In many cases of childhood sexual abuse, a major challenge is that the abuse was perpetrated decades ago. This can make it difficult to obtain physical evidence, including medical records, especially because children typically do not report their abuser immediately. A personal injury attorney will have experience tracking down remaining evidence, finding witnesses to corroborate your experience, and deploying investigative resources to obtain additional documentation.
Sexual abuse lawyers are also familiar with the myriad of ways in which sexual trauma can financially affect survivors, which is beneficial when enumerating your damages. They will be able to contextualize your losses, determine their monetary value, and craft a negotiating strategy to maximize compensation for your damages. With a reputable personal injury lawyer negotiating your sexual abuse claim, your case appears more credible, which can result in a fairer outcome.
As you would expect, personal injury claims tend to entail extensive paperwork rife with technical legal jargon and medical terms. Sexual abuse attorneys have the appropriate skill set to not only assist you with navigating these complexities, but also the organizational capabilities to meet filing deadlines, fill discovery requests, and manage other administrative aspects of the personal injury claims process to ensure that a paperwork technicality doesn’t interfere with your ability to secure a fair settlement.
Our Team at Dolman Law Group Secures Great Results
Personal injury law firms are often judged by their case results. At Dolman Law Group, we are proud of our record of delivering results and we believe that it is reflective of our capabilities as negotiators. Through hard work, diligence, and adept advocacy, we are able to consistently secure fair settlements for our injured clients. To us, a fair settlement is not just a specific number. It represents an accurate reflection of the harm inflicted on our client. We are proud to show prospective clients our history of settlements so that they can feel confident in entrusting us with their claims.
Contact Dolman Law Group About Your Detention Center and Reformatory School Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
At Dolman Law Group, we find the sexual abuse of minors in the care of reformatory schools and detention centers not only appalling but legally actionable. Bringing a sexual abuse claim against a reformatory school or a detention center, many of which are run by the government, can be an arduous effort characterized by bureaucratic red tape, reliving painful experiences, and demanding deadlines.
You deserve the staunch support of an expert sexual abuse lawyer as you navigate this process. At Dolman Law Group, we are proud to represent survivors of childhood sexual abuse as they seek compensation for their injuries. You can depend on our trustworthy team of personal injury lawyers to work tirelessly to maximize your compensation for your claim because we understand that successfully securing a settlement is worth more than its monetary value.
If you or a loved one have survived sexual abuse in a reform school or detention center, we encourage you to schedule a free consultation with our personal injury attorneys by calling us at 727-451-6900 or completing our online form. We can provide clarity on how the statute of limitations applies to your case, what damages may be available to you, and what legal services we offer.