Worship places should be safe sanctuaries where religious leaders protect children from harm. Religious leaders are also trusted to provide spiritual and moral guidance to their congregation. However, that is not always the case. Some clergy members use their position of authority to abuse minors and cover up their actions.

For many years, the Catholic Church and other church authorities hid child sexual abuse committed by priests by transferring the offenders to a new location. They hoped the allegations would disappear. If you were a victim of such a situation, a Fort Lauderdale clergy abuse lawyer could bring your case to light and help you seek justice.

How Can a Fort Lauderdale Clergy Abuse Lawyer Help?

In Fort Lauderdale, you can contact a clergy abuse lawyer if a clergy member has sexually (or in another way) abused you or a loved one. It may be empowering for sexual abuse victims to learn their legal options. Receiving legal justice can play a significant role in the healing process for abuse survivors.

Hiring a lawyer will make the process of seeking justice and compensation easier. A lawyer will build a solid legal case based on evidence and determine the statutes and laws applicable to your lawsuit. 

Here are the ways a clergy abuse lawyer can help:

  • Offer Professional Advice: A clergy abuse lawyer will explain the claim process and your legal rights before offering advice on the available options. For instance, in a sexual abuse case, a victim may choose between a civil or criminal court. 
  • Prove Liability: For a successful civil or court case outcome, your lawyer must prove liability to hold the responsible party accountable. Your lawyer will investigate and collect evidence, such as eyewitness statements, medical reports, and police reports to help determine liability.
  • Build Your Case: A lawyer will review your case and consult with experts, such as doctors and psychiatrists, who will show the damage caused by the sexual abuse. These actions will enable the lawyer to build a compelling legal case on your behalf.
  • Negotiate a Fair Settlement: If you decide to pursue justice through a civil court after being abused by a clergy member, your lawyer's responsibility is to ensure you are offered a fair settlement. Your lawyer will calculate the value of your claim based on both past and future losses resulting from the abuse to ensure you are awarded maximum compensation.

Types of Sexual Abuse by the Clergy

Clergy members and church leaders must report any form of sexual abuse and hold the offenders accountable. However, church officials sometimes help cover up the allegations of sexual misconduct. Therefore, it is important to understand what sexual abuse is to prevent abuse or to help the sexual abuse victim.

Sexual abuse may include:

  • Statutory rape
  • Unwanted touching
  • Indecent exposure 
  • Child molestation
  • Creating or viewing pornography with the victim
  • Sexual threats or harassment
  • Lewd or lascivious conduct
  • Sexual assault or battery

These sexual abuse acts may be committed by religious leaders like priests, pastors, ministers, rabbis, or other church staff. 

Signs of Sexual Abuse

The signs of sexual abuse may not be apparent immediately. However, there are physical signs and changes in behavior you should be aware of in sexual abuse victims. These signs can include:

  • Sudden or persistent bedwetting
  • Sudden personality changes, such as fear of being touched
  • Child's school grades drop suddenly
  • Bleeding in the genital area
  • Underwear with bloodstains
  • Behaving in an overly sexual manner
  • Self-harm or talking about hurting themselves
  • Talking about suicide in extreme cases of depression

Long-term Effects of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Clergy sexual abuse survivors can suffer severe psychological and physical issues because of the abuse. Sexual abuse victims typically sustain physical injuries, which can result in numerous health issues, such as:

Physical Injuries

  • Damage to the genitals
  • Broken bones
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Bruises (contusions)

Health Complications

In addition to physical injuries, survivors of child sexual abuse tend to deal with high-risk health complications later in life. People who have experienced sexual abuse can suffer the following health issues:

  • Reproductive and gynecologic health issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Obesity
  • Cardiopulmonary symptoms
  • Gastrointestinal health issues

Psychological Disorders

Clergy sexual abuse survivors also have to deal with psychological trauma. Psychological disorders caused by sexual abuse can negatively affect a victim's relationships, physical health, and career. 

The following are some of the psychological problems a victim can experience:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Personality disorder
  • Eating disorder

Sexual Abuse Charges: Civil Court vs. Criminal Court

A sexual abuse victim has the option to hold the abuser accountable in court. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse have two options for seeking justice against the perpetrator: the criminal court system or the civil court system.

  • Criminal Court: These cases of sexual abuse are filed in court by the state. The government has a right to file charges against the abuser through criminal court proceedings. If convicted, the perpetrator may face imprisonment, fines, probation, mandatory counseling, and other criminal sanctions authorized by the state law.
  • Civil Court: Court proceedings are not common in sexual abuse cases involving minors. In child sexual abuse cases, the plaintiff files their claim in court to pursue financial compensation for physical and psychological damages resulting from the sexual abuse. However, civil court cases typically award monetary compensation to victims, unlike the criminal court system.

Damages You Can Receive as A Victim of Sexual Abuse

A survivor can pursue justice by seeking monetary compensation for damages resulting from the assault or abuse. Although financial compensation cannot heal the deep wounds, it can help cover expenses relating to the injuries inflicted by the abuse. 

The common damages that victims receive include:

  • Medical payments for treating injuries sustained during the sexual assault
  • Expenses for counseling or psychiatric treatment
  • Pain and suffering resulting from the traumatic sexual abuse
  • Impaired personal relationships

Each case is different, so the recoverable damages in one abuse case may not be like another. A Fort Lauderdale clergy abuse lawyer can advise you on the damages you are eligible to claim.

Contact Us Today to Schedule a Free Consultation

If you've experienced clergy sexual abuse, let the Dolman Law Group assist you through this challenging time. Sexual abuse can negatively affect your life, especially when you do not get the justice and closure you deserve.

Our Fort Lauderdale clergy abuse lawyers are ready to oversee your case. We want to help you receive the monetary compensation for damages resulting from the abuse and see your perpetrator face the consequences of their actions. Call us today to schedule a free consultation. 

Fort Lauderdale Office
150 E Davie Blvd Suite 201-2
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
Phone: (754) 208-1130

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

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 represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $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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