Clergy members inflict profound physical, emotional, and spiritual harm when they abuse young parishioners. They deserve to be brought to justice for their crimes. They and their employers also have a legal and moral responsibility to compensate survivors of clergy abuse. For years, arcane and ill-fitting statutes have made it difficult to obtain justice for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Fortunately, in the District of Columbia, the tide has begun to turn. Among the major religious faiths, the Roman Catholic Church has received the most attention for having allegedly harbored perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse. According to BishopAccountability.org, within the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., 27 priests have been accused of sexual misconduct by 119 persons. But the Roman Catholic Church is hardly the only religious community that has had to confront the scourge of clergy sexual abuse in the past twenty years. Large Protestant denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church have recently faced-up to allegations of sexual misconduct in their clerical ranks, as have leaders of some American Jewish and Muslim congregations. In Washington D.C., a new law took effect in May 2019 that gives survivors of clergy sexual abuse, as well as local prosecutors, new opportunities and tools to combat abuse and hold abusers (and those who employed them and/or facilitated their conduct) civilly and criminally accountable. This much-needed change in the law is expected to bring more perpetrators of clergy abuse to justice and to help survivors come forward to tell their stories of abuse. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman represent survivors of clergy sexual abuse throughout the United States. We aim to help those survivors obtain much-needed justice and appropriate compensation from those within their current or former faith communities who did them harm. We invite anyone in the Washington, D.C., area who wants to learn more about the options for holding clergy abusers and their enablers accountable under the law to contact us to schedule a free, confidential consultation.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman represent clients all over the country who have suffered injuries and losses in a wide variety of personal tragedies. Our team of skilled, experienced attorneys has a hard-won reputation for taking on, and winning, the most difficult cases. Though we represent all of our clients with passion and compassion, we fight particularly hard on behalf of brave survivors of clergy sexual abuse who have the courage to step forward and seek justice from their abusers. We understand that every one of these cases has a different arc, and that what “justice” means for one survivor may diverge from what it means for another. In every representation, we aim to give our clients honest, compassionate, straightforward legal advice so that they can decide whether and how to move forward in a legal process that best fits their personal needs. Our affiliated firms have recovered millions of dollars in settlements and jury verdicts over our years of practice. Of course, there is never a guarantee of recovering money in any particular case, and we also understand that for some survivors of clergy sexual abuse, it may feel uncomfortable to seek payment from a faith community. Clients who hire Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman quickly come to learn that we put their needs first in constructing strong, sophisticated legal strategies to achieve their individualized goals for justice and accountability.
The Washington, D.C., Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Amendment Act of 2018 Helps Many Survivors Seek Justice
There is, sadly, nothing new about clergy sexual abuse. It is a tragedy with a long history in many faith communities. Equally tragic is the fact that, according to advocates, many survivors of clergy sexual abuse kept their personal histories of abuse secret out of a belief that it would be fruitless to come forward and reveal their stories; that too much time had passed for any kind of justice or accountability to be possible, particularly considering how emotionally difficult coming forward can be. It is a mark on our community that in many cases, in the past at least, those survivors had reason to doubt the ability of the courts to help them. Until recently, in many American jurisdictions, the statute of limitations for bringing perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse to justice, civilly or criminally, effectively closed the door to survivors of clergy sexual abuse that they had long kept secret. In Washington, D.C., however, that is no longer the case. In May 2019, a law titled the Sexual Abuse State of Limitations Act of 2018 took effect, making sweeping changes to D.C. law that re-opened courthouse doors to clergy sexual abuse survivors. The Act made for important changes affecting the rights of survivors, and prosecutors, to pursue sexual abusers and their enablers, through the legal process:
- It requires law enforcement agencies to keep files in open sexual abuse matters for 65 years;
- It extends the statute of limitations for bringing a civil action for damages for sexual abuse. Of particular note, it authorizes actions arising out of abuse that occurred when the victim was 35 years old or younger to be brought up to the victim’s 40th birthday or within five years after the person could reasonably have known of the abuse;
- It eliminates the statute of limitations for a wide range of sexual abuse-related crimes; and
- It opens a two-year “window” for anyone whose civil claim for clergy sexual abuse had expired under D.C. law, but would still be “live” under the changes to the law made by the act.
In short, the Act gives many survivors of clergy sexual abuse who have never told their stories the ability, if they choose, to take legal action against their abusers and those who enabled them. And it gives prosecutors the tools to bring criminal charges against perpetrators of abuse going forward.
Washington, D.C., Options for Seeking Accountability for Clergy Sexual Abuse
In our experience at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, there is no single reason survivors of clergy sexual abuse choose to step forward. Some want to see long-awaited justice done. Others need support in their efforts to recover from their history of abuse. Nearly all want to do their part to prevent abuse of others in the future. No matter what our clients’ reasons for revealing their histories of sexual abuse, our goal as their attorneys is to listen with compassion, investigate with diligence, and give legal advice that serves our clients’ needs. Among the options we frequently discuss with our clients who have survived clergy sexual abuse are:
Civil Actions for Monetary Damages
The new Washington, D.C. law makes it possible for survivors of long-past clergy sexual abuse to seek money damages from their abusers and the church institutions who may have enabled acts of abuse. Money does not erase the past. But it can help provide essential support services to survivors and their families, to pay for:
- Costs of mental health and emotional support services;
- The pain and suffering of clergy sexual abuse;
- Harm to personal relationships resulting from abuse; and
- If available, statutory and/or punitive damages.
No two cases of clergy sexual abuse are identical. What one survivor may have the right to recover may differ from what another can seek. Our job as attorneys for survivors of clergy sexual abuse is to identify as many avenues as possible to recovering the maximum compensation available.
Civil Actions for Injunctive Relief
Separate and apart from compensation through money damages, survivors of clergy sexual abuse may also have the right to ask a court to order “injunctive relief,” which is the legal term for the court directing a defendant to do something. Lawsuits alleging clergy sexual abuse can, sometimes, convince a court to “enjoin” a church organization to take affirmative steps to prevent future clergy sexual abuse. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, we listen to our clients’ needs to determine whether a claim for injunctive relief may fit their needs and goals in stepping forward with their histories of clergy sexual abuse.
Survivors of clergy sexual abuse do not get to decide whether a prosecutor will file charges against their abuser. But they do often have the ability to participate in any prosecution that does happen. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, we provide skilled legal advice to our clients who seek to evaluate whether to participate in the prosecution of their abuser. If they choose to participate in the prosecution, such as by giving witness testimony, we work with our client and the prosecutor to help protect our client’s rights as a “victim” in a criminal proceeding and as a “plaintiff” in a parallel civil proceeding. We have years of experience in advising our clients how to balance the needs of simultaneous criminal and civil matters.
You Want to Step Forward. What Should You Do First?
There is nothing easy about coming forward with an allegation of clergy sexual abuse. It is a highly personal, frequently emotional, decision. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, we often advise anyone thinking of taking that courageous step to prepare for it by having a strong emotional support system in place, including (usually) the services of a professional mental health counselor. As attorneys for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, our first priority is to listen to what a new client has to say about their history of abuse. It is important for anyone contemplating meeting with us (or any other attorney) to understand that anything they tell an attorney is strictly confidential. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman, an initial meeting with a member of our team is also free of charge, and comes with no obligation whatsoever to move forward. We never pressure a client into a legal strategy. If a client does decide to move forward with taking legal action against a clergy abuser or a church institution, then our next priority is to work with the client to gather evidence to support their allegations. This may include digging up old records, interviewing family members and friends, and working with mental health counselors. It can be a straining process, which is why we encourage our clients to have a strong emotional support system in place. At the end of that process, we aim to be able to give our client solid, compassionate legal advice about the client’s options for seeking justice, accountability, and/or compensation. As we mentioned above, it is always ultimately our client’s decision to make about how to proceed. In some cases, our client may ask us to engage in negotiations with a church’s legal representatives. In others, our client may ask for our assistance in reaching out to prosecutors. In others, we may decide, together with our client, that initiating a civil legal action is the best path forward. Whatever path our client chooses, we do not rest until we have done our utmost to achieve our client’s goals. It is the least we can do on behalf of someone who has shown the courage to come forward.
Our Washington, D.C. Attorneys Help Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse
Survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the Washington D.C. area have lots of options in choosing a law firm to help them seek justice, accountability, and/or compensation from their abusers and those who enabled abuse. We invite anyone contemplating taking the step of making an allegation of clergy sexual abuse to contact our team at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman to learn how our nationwide practice can serve their needs. If you have questions about taking legal action for clergy sexual abuse, then the compassionate, skilled lawyers at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA and Sibley Dolman want to help you understand your options. Reach out to us online or phone at 833-552-7274 today to schedule your confidential, free, no-obligation consultation.