Sexual abuse by a clergy member against a church-goer inflicts profound physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse face unimaginable distress and difficulty living with their trauma. Many of those survivors have long suffered in silence, unable for a wide variety of reasons to confront their abusers and those who enabled the abuse. Now, however, the tide is turning and giving those brave survivors opportunities to hold individuals and church organizations accountable.
The Roman Catholic Church has received the bulk of global attention relating to allegations of clergy sexual abuse. But sexual misconduct against congregants (particularly minors) by clergy is not limited to a single faith community.
In June 2019 for instance, the Southern Baptist Convention released a report detailing troubling rates of sexual abuse within Southern Baptist congregations nationwide. Similarly, the United Methodist Church has confronted alarming reports of sexual misconduct within its clergy and church community.
In fact, the three largest insurance companies that insure the majority of Protestant churches in the United States reported in 2018 that they “typically receive upward of 260 reports each year of young people under 18 being sexually abused by clergy, church staff, volunteers or congregation members,” according to the Insurance Journal. Clergy sexual abuse is not limited to Christian faiths, either. American Jewish and Muslim congregations have also had no choice but to confront allegations of sexual misconduct by faith leaders.
As calls for accountability have grown, states have begun to enact legislation to make it easier to take civil and criminal legal action against abusers and those who facilitated or turned a blind eye to their conduct. These laws have started to give survivors of clergy sexual abuse, no matter what their religious affiliation, the tools to obtain justice and compensation for past abuse.
Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman represent survivors of clergy sexual abuse throughout the United States, helping them seek accountability from religious leaders of all faiths and denominations. We invite anyone who has questions about taking legal action relating to an allegation of clergy sexual to contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation.
Based in Florida and serving clients nationwide, the affiliated law firms of Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman represent victims of all types of personal injury and tragedy. We bring all of our experience, diligence, and compassion to bear in representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse, who show immeasurable strength and bravery in telling their stories and seeking justice. Our goal is to help survivors understand their legal rights to compensation and other forms of legal relief and to choose a legal path suitable for them.
Over our decades of combined legal experience, we have recovered millions of dollars in settlements and jury verdicts for our clients. Of course, there is never a guarantee that a particular matter will result in a large monetary recovery. But we can promise to invest the full-measure of our skill and know-how to every matter, no matter how personally difficult or legally complicated. Our attorneys have the fortitude and reputation to go toe-to-toe with powerful institutions in their pursuit of what is right and fair for our clients.
Recent Legislation Gives Survivors New Legal Options
Clergy sexual abuse is not a new phenomenon. Many of the survivors who have stepped forward to tell their stories in recent years recount abuse that occurred decades ago. According to advocates for childhood sexual abuse survivors, this is common. Revealing a history of sexual abuse by a clergy member often brings with it extreme emotional and spiritual difficulty. Many survivors have been reluctant to face the pain of reliving past abuse when the “statute of limitations” for seeking justice in the courts has long since expired. Without a legal remedy, survivors have wondered if telling their stories is worth the trauma.
In recognition of how expired statutes of limitation deter survivors from stepping forward, states have begun to enact legislation that effectively “revives” civil claims and criminal charges for clergy sexual abuse. As reported by the children’s advocacy organization ChildUSA, an increasing number of states now allow prosecutors to file criminal charges, and survivors to take civil action, for abuse that occurred years ago. In some states, the laws have also expanded to allow for claims against not just perpetrators, but also church institutions that enabled or ignored clergy sexual abuse.
These are powerful new weapons to combat sexual misconduct by clergy in all faith communities. The tools they give survivors may prove especially effective at holding religious organizations to account. Whereas criminal charges must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” most claims in civil lawsuits seeking money damages need only be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence” (that is, “more likely than not”). This means that in many cases, even if a state prosecutor cannot make a case for criminal charges, survivors can still seek justice and compensation in civil court.
State laws on seeking justice for past clergy sexual abuse continue to evolve, which is why it is important to have a legal team like Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman that keeps a close eye on legal developments nationwide. We expect more survivors of clergy sexual abuse to step forward as more states change their laws to allow for civil suits, in particular, against clergy and church institutions.
Legal Recourse for Clergy Sexual Abuse
Survivors have many and varied reasons for telling their stories of clergy sexual abuse. Some are motivated by a desire for personal closure. Others want to see justice done at long last. In our experience, nearly all want to help prevent clergy sexual abuse against other church-goers.
At Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman, we believe there is no one, “right” reason to pursue a legal action for clergy sexual abuse. No matter what our clients’ reasons, our aim is to provide sound, sensible, honest, and straightforward legal advice that allows them to make the best decision about how to proceed, and what recourse to seek. Among the options frequently available to them are:
Seeking Money Damages
Money damages constitute a “remedy” available in almost any civil action seeking justice for clergy sexual abuse. Of course, money on its own cannot heal the deep wounds of clergy sexual abuse. But it can help to compensate survivors for costs inflicted by that abuse, for the difficulties they have faced, and for the expense of future treatment to help them recover. Money damages frequently include:
- Expenses for mental health counseling and other therapy, past and future;
- Pain and suffering from the abuse and its aftermath;
- Impaired personal relationships; and
- When possible, statutory and/or punitive damages.
Every case is different, of course. What is “recoverable” as money damages in one case may not be an option in another. At Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman, we work closely with our clients to identify the various ways in which financial compensation can help provide them with a measure of justice.
Seeking Injunctive Relief
In addition to money damages, survivors may also have the option of seeking “injunctive relief,” which is the legal term for a court order directing someone to do something. In civil legal actions alleging clergy sexual abuse, some survivors have been able to achieve “injunctions” directing church organizations to take steps aimed at preventing future incidents of abuse.
Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman attorneys also work with clients to identify potential avenues for seeking “injunctive” relief. As with money damages, every case is different and may call for different “injunctive” remedies. We aim to give our clients a realistic appraisal of the range of this type of relief they may hope to achieve through a civil legal action.
Cooperating With Criminal Prosecution
Some allegations of clergy sexual abuse, particularly those that relate to more recent incidents, spur prosecutors to bring criminal charges against perpetrators and those who aided and abetted them. In those cases, prosecutors typically need the help of survivors to act as witnesses against the accused. Some survivors participate in these proceedings willingly, but many have hesitations about the personal costs and difficulties associated with testifying as a witness in a public criminal matter.
Acting as a witness in a criminal matter does not affect your rights to seek money damages and other relief through the civil court process. But it can require some coordination between prosecutors and your legal advisors to help ensure both matters succeed in their goals. The team at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman has years of experience helping our clients navigate the cross-currents of simultaneous criminal and civil matters. We have the know-how to guide survivors of clergy sexual abuse to a legal strategy that works best for them.
About the Process of Seeking Legel Relief for Clergy Sexual Abuse
Survivors of clergy sexual abuse have understandable hesitations about taking legal action. Making a history of abuse public is a highly personal, emotional decision. For that reason, at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman we often advise survivors of clergy sexual abuse to build an emotional support system, which may include a counselor or therapist, before approaching an attorney, so that they come to us in a frame of mind in which they feel prepared and supported in making important decisions.
When a survivor of clergy sexual abuse approaches an attorney, the attorney will want to meet and hear the survivor’s story. The first meeting with an attorney is strictly confidential. At Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman, the meeting is also free-of-charge. Also, just because you have a meeting with an attorney does not mean you have to move forward with any legal action if you don’t want to. Our team’s job in an initial meeting is to listen and give our initial impressions of a person’s potential legal options. We never pressure anyone to take legal steps the client is not ready to take.
Survivors of clergy sexual abuse who decide to move forward with retaining an attorney to pursue money damages or other forms of relief will typically work closely with their attorney in gathering evidence to support their claims. This can be a taxing experience for a client, which is one reason why we encourage our clients to have an emotional support system. The team at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman aims to give clients clear, understandable advice about their legal options based upon what the evidence shows.
When the evidence supports a potential civil claim for money damages and other forms of relief, an experienced clergy sexual abuse attorney will describe those options to the client. Attorneys typically discuss the types of claims the client might make, the parties who may have legal liability, and any complications or roadblocks the attorney anticipates the case might encounter. An attorney can never guarantee an outcome, but will give the client a reasonable assessment of what range of damages might be possible, and of the investment of time and effort that taking legal action would involve. Then it is the client’s decision—and the client’s decision alone—whether to move forward with a claim for clergy sexual abuse.
Attorneys for Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse Nationwide
The affiliated law firms of Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman help people who have endured clergy sexual abuse evaluate their legal options and pursue the path to justice and accountability that suits them best. Representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse is some of the most important work our team does. The strength and bravery shown by survivors simply in meeting with us proves, time and again, why they deserve the most sophisticated, dedicated, and compassionate legal representation available; and that is what we strive to provide.
If you have questions about seeking legal remedies relating to an allegation clergy sexual abuse, then the lawyers at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman want to help you understand your options. We have offices on both coasts of Florida, and you can also reach out to us online or by phone at 833-552-7274. Contact us today to schedule your confidential, free, no-obligation consultation.