Regardless of faith, religion, or creed, those who are devout regularly engage with the leaders who facilitate and mediate their relationship with a higher power. As religious followers embark on their spiritual journey, those in power sometimes use their position as an opportunity to sexually abuse those who look to them for religious guidance.
Clergy of any religion or denomination can sexually abuse girls and adults. Yet, the most recent stories and cases of clergy sexual abuse involve priests from the Roman Catholic Church, who have typically victimized teenaged and young boys.
If you are a survivor of clergy sexual abuse or are currently suffering abuse from any person who has a position of power in your church, synagogue, mosque, or faith-based organization (including pastors, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, and deacons), the abuse is not your fault. These predators have used their position of power to abuse survivors. If a clergy member is currently abusing you, tell an adult you trust and contact the police as soon as possible to stop the abuse.
When a child suffers abuse, sexual or otherwise, they sometimes detach their thoughts from the physical occurrences associated with the abuse.
The American Psychiatric Association refers to this as a dissociative disorder:
“During a traumatic experience such as an accident, disaster or crime victimization, dissociation can help a person tolerate what might otherwise be too difficult to bear. In situations like these, a person may dissociate the memory of the place, circumstances or feelings about the overwhelming event, mentally escaping from the fear, pain, and horror. This may make it difficult to later remember the details of the experience, as reported by many disaster and accident survivors.”
Recently, as allegations surfaced against many Catholic priests, many states have changed their laws to account for how some adult clergy sexual abuse survivors have suffered from a dissociative disorder. Changes vary among states. However, many include changes to the statutes of limitations, as well as providing a specific window of time to take action against abusers.
Regardless of when you suffered abuse at the hands of a trusted clergy member, you might be eligible for compensation. Contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman online, or at 833-552-7274, for a free and confidential consultation to determine the best course of action for your individual circumstances. We serve clients throughout the United States who have survived sexual abuse, and continue to help clients seek the justice they deserve.
Our Dedication to Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors
The sexual abuse attorneys at Sibley Dolman and Dolman Law Group have served clients who suffered preventable injuries caused by another’s reckless behavior or intentional harm. The firm’s continued dedication to client advocacy and professionalism has contributed to the recovery of millions of dollars of damages in settlements and jury awards for clients over the years.
We seek justice for survivors of clergy sexual abuse with the understanding that sexual abuse cases do not fall under the umbrella of “typical personal injury claims.” The privacy of our clients is a priority. Our lawyers also understand that seeking economic damages from your current or former religious community can feel awkward, or maybe even wrong. We want to help you seek justice in the way that best suits your individual goals for healing.
Additionally, we understand the courage a sexual abuse survivor must have to come forward. We will continue to help survivors hold their abusers, and those who enabled the abuse, accountable for their actions. While your steps to hold your abuser accountable contribute to your emotional health, they can also help protect others from future abuse when you speak out.
The clergy sexual abuse attorneys at Sibley Dolman and Dolman Law Group understand that each sexual abuse survivor’s path towards justice varies based on their experience. We are here to present you with legal options and advice, so you can make an informed decision about the best way to proceed, considering your individual circumstances.
Dynamics of Clergy Sexual Abuse in Children
In recent allegations against priests affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, the vast majority of those sexual abuse survivors were children and teens. The dynamics of sexually abusing children can differ from adult sexual abuse.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports the following as common dynamics of child sexual abuse:
- Abusers typically do not resort to physical force; but instead, manipulate and coerce children into hiding sexual abuse and keeping the secret.
- Child sexual abuse often occurs continuously over weeks, months, or years.
- Abusers commonly groom their child victims and gradually introduce sexual activity into the relationship.
- Pedophiles hone their skills, so they can inject themselves into the lives of children they want to target.
Long-Term Impact of Sexual Abuse
If you have experienced clergy sexual abuse, you have likely wrestled with the idea of coming forward with your story. If you have not yet reported your abuse, you might still be wondering if coming forward is the right choice for you.
Choosing to come forward can require a strong support system that can include close friends, family, and support groups. Many sexual abuse survivors who have come forward have found that having a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, has helped them navigate the difficult steps of telling their story. Coming forward can be an important part of the healing process.
Behavioral therapy to cope with the trauma of clergy sexual abuse can be extremely important for minor children who come forward with an allegation against a clergy member. Therapists can help reduce the long-term effects of sexual abuse that children experience in the wake of their trauma.
If you suspect your child is being abused or has been abused by a clergy member, watch for these common symptoms:
- Fear, shame, guilt, humiliation, and other emotional reactions to the abuse. This can display itself as symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Nightmares, flashbacks, and distracting thoughts that suggest post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Self-harm, talking about suicide, and other self-defeating behaviors driven by self-blame for the abuse.
If you are an adult survivor of clergy sexual abuse during your childhood, you can experience physical, sexual, and interpersonal consequences of the trauma from the abuse. Sexual abuse is not typically a one-time event; it often occurs continuously for weeks, months, or years. The longer someone suffers abuse, the higher the likelihood that he or she will face severe impact.
Long-Term Physical Impact of Sexual Abuse
Adults who suffered sexual abuse as children are twice as likely to smoke, lead a sedentary lifestyle, and suffer from severe obesity. They are also five times more likely to abuse controlled substances. Other physical consequences of sexual abuse include self-neglect, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Long-Term Sexual Impact of Sexual Abuse
Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse by a clergy member can have sexual difficulties. A low sex drive, the inability to get aroused, and the inability to reach climax sometimes occur because of the association between sexual activity and the violation and pain derived from the abuse. Additionally, sexual abuse survivors are more likely to have over 50 sex partners, contract an STI, and make risky decisions that can lead to HIV.
Long-Term Interpersonal Impact of Sexual Abuse
Children and teens who attend religious services are typically taught to trust clergy. When clergy sexual abuse occurs, the violation of the trust can be as traumatic as the abuse itself. Adult survivors sometimes struggle with boundaries as a result. They either have difficulty trusting others or have difficulty setting boundaries for others to protect themselves. This can leave adult survivors vulnerable to further victimization and exploitation.
Taking Legal Action After Clergy Sexual Abuse
Clergy sexual abuse survivors may choose to come forward for many reasons. Some have undergone therapy and feel the need to confront their abuser and hold him or her accountable as part of their recovery. Some have worked through the trauma of sexual abuse and no longer feel guilty, shameful, or embarrassed. As a result, they feel safe to tell their story and seek justice. Many clergy sexual abuse survivors want to stop future abuse by clergy, so they come forward to protect others.
If you choose to make an allegation against a clergy member who sexually abused you, contacting an attorney can be a step in the right direction. The clergy sexual abuse lawyers at Sibley Dolman and Dolman Law Group can evaluate your story, uncover necessary facts, and provide you with options after considering your individual situation.
Seeking Justice With a Lawsuit
You may bring a lawsuit against your abuser and the religious institutions that possibly enabled clergy sexual abuse. This can depend, in part, on how long ago your clergy sexual abuse occurred, your age, and the state in which the abuse took place.
If your lawyer reaches a settlement or if a court rules in your favor after going to trial, you may recover compensation for the following costs related to your clergy sexual abuse:
- Mental health expenses, including costs to visit a psychologist, psychiatrist, or another mental health professional who helps sexual abuse survivors cope with their trauma.
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress caused by the trauma from the abuse.
- Damage to interpersonal relationships as a result of the abuse, including loss of consortium with a spouse.
- Punitive damages. This is especially common for religious institutions that enable or cover up clergy sexual abuse.
We cannot guarantee a specific financial outcome for your clergy sexual abuse case, but we have the knowledge and resources to deal with clergy sexual abuse cases.
Seeking Justice Through Criminal Charges
If the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution has not expired, you can tell your story to law enforcement and request they press criminal charges against your abuser. Only the prosecutor, or state’s attorney (depending on where you live), can choose to charge your abuser. But, survivors often have a choice whether to participate in criminal proceedings. Sometimes criminal and civil trials occur simultaneously, making it difficult to know exactly what to say during testimony. A clergy sexual abuse lawyer, like those at Sibley Dolman or Dolman Law Group, can advise you and protect your rights in civil and criminal court proceedings.
Let Our Priest Abuse Attorneys Help You Seek Justice
Survivors of clergy sexual abuse potentially face a wide array of long-term consequences from their abuse. Physical and emotional trauma from sexual abuse can inject itself into every aspect of a survivor’s life, sometimes creating personal and professional struggles. Additionally, suffering sexual abuse at the hands of someone who is supposed to provide spiritual guidance can create struggles with one’s faith.
If a clergy member has sexually violated you, or someone you love, take action. You may hold your abuser accountable and receive compensation for injuries and losses related to clergy sexual abuse.
Whether you have made the decision to come forward with a clergy sexual abuse allegation or you are still considering your options, consult with an attorney in this field. They could help you understand your options to seek justice and accountability for your abuser and religious organization. We understand the gravity of your situation and the internal struggles you might be experiencing, and we are here to help.
Sibley Dolman and Dolman Law Group have offices throughout Florida, and we serve clients throughout the United States who have suffered clergy sexual abuse. Contact us today online or at 833-552-7274, for a confidential and free consultation to discuss the details of your abuse, the ways it has affected your life, and where you can go from there. You are not alone.