Fort Lauderdale Sexual Abuse Lawyer

March 10, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), sexual abuse is “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent,” making children and mentally disabled adults most vulnerable.

Survivors of sexual abuse have gone through a trauma that can leave them with physical and emotional struggles for life, making it difficult to function on multiple levels.

If you or your child has survived sexual abuse, Florida law entitles you to take legal action for the trauma and losses you've incurred from the abuse. Taking legal action in this sense means bringing a civil lawsuit against your perpetrator, which is separate from any criminal charges. A Fort Lauderdale sexual abuse attorney at Dolman Law Group can help you file a lawsuit against the person who caused you or your child harm.

Sexual abuse remains a sensitive subject, especially for survivors, as it often elicits feelings of guilt and shame. You might be struggling with your decision to take legal action against your perpetrator. Keep in mind that holding the person who harmed you accountable for his or her actions can help you heal, and when you speak out, you protect others who may otherwise be future victims.

How does Florida Define Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is an umbrella term that includes many sex crimes. Each state uses slightly different language in its laws to label sex crimes that fall under sexual abuse. Florida law categorizes sex crimes into three broad categories: sexual battery, molestation, and exhibition. Each of these constitutes sexual abuse when committed against a minor or adult who cannot give consent.

Sexual Battery

Florida law distinguishes sexual battery from other types of sexual abuse based on whether penetration occurred. Oral, anal, and vaginal penetration each fall under the category of sexual battery, whether referring to a sex organ or another object.

One of the following must exist for sexual battery to take place under Florida law:

  • The victim is incapable of resisting the perpetrator.
  • The perpetrator makes a credible threat of force or violence.
  • The perpetrator makes a credible threat against the victim or others.
  • The perpetrator gives drugs to a victim or knows that another drugged the victim with a narcotic, anesthetic, or any other substance that impairs the victims' mental or physical capacities.
  • The perpetrator knows that the victim has a mental health issue and likely cannot understand the nature of a sexual act.
  • The perpetrator performs sexual acts when the victim is unconscious or sleeping.
  • The perpetrator holds a position of power over the victim, such as correctional officers, police officers, etc.
  • The victim is under age 18, Florida's legal age of consent.


Florida law defines lewd or lascivious molestation, informally referred to as sexual touching, as intentional sexual contact with a minor's breasts, genitals, or buttocks. Unlike sexual battery, sexual abuse that involves molestation is only against the law when the victim is under age 16. Molestation can also occur when a perpetrator forces or coerces a minor to touch sex organs, buttocks, or the genital area, and it can also occur when clothed.


Often referred to as indecent exposure, exhibition occurs when a perpetrator exposes his or her genitals to another person or masturbates in front of them. Florida law also includes the simulation of sexual acts, sadomasochistic abuse, and sexual bestiality as exhibition.

How to Know If Someone You Love Was Sexually Abused

If you suspect your child, a teen, or someone else you care about has suffered sexual abuse or is currently being abused, you need to look for common warning signs. Below is a broad overview of sexual abuse warning signs for different age groups based on criteria from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), one of the largest resources for sexual abuse survivors in the United States.

Sexual Abuse in Children

  • Contraction of a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Blood or bruises in the genital or anal area
  • Fresh blood or blood stains on clothing or bed sheets
  • Overt and age-inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge for the child's age
  • Bedwetting, thumb sucking, and other new behaviors inappropriate for the child's age
  • Nighttime separation anxiety and hesitation to be alone with specific people
  • Refusal to take a bath and remove clothes

Sexual Abuse in Teens

  • Contraction of a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Evidence of an eating disorder, such as refusing to eat or binging and purging
  • Unexplained bruises and wounds
  • Symptoms of depression, such as sadness, sleep difficulties, and social withdrawal
  • Anxiety and excessive worry
  • Poor grades in school
  • Changes in personal hygiene and grooming habits
  • Self-harm and talk of suicide
  • Use and abuse of controlled substances

Sexual Abuse in Young Adults

  • Contraction of a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Low self-worth and self-esteem
  • Symptoms of depression, such as sadness, sleep difficulties, and social withdrawal
  • Self-harm and talk of suicide
  • Anxiety and excessive worry
  • Avoiding certain people and particular places
  • Increased use of controlled substances

When considering if a loved one may be a victim of sexual abuse, believe them if they tell you something happened. Others do not often take reports of abuse seriously or do not believe that the perpetrator would act in such a way. This is because most sexual abusers are friends or family members of the victims.

Reporting Sexual Abuse in Florida

Individuals who have experienced sexual abuse or are currently being abused need to speak about their trauma with a trained professional. While local resources are available in the Fort Lauderdale area, some prefer the anonymity of a national resource. RAINN's National Sexual Assault Line has professionals available around the clock at 800-656-HOPE(4673) and online at

If you are in immediate danger related to sexual abuse or know someone who is, call 9-1-1 as soon as possible so emergency response teams can help you.

You can report the sexual abuse of a child or vulnerable adult to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) by calling its central abuse hotline at 1-800-962-2873 or filing a report online. Once you file a report with DCF, agency staff will immediately investigate the situation and involve law enforcement if necessary.

Remember that Florida law has strict reporting requirements for individuals who suspect the sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult or child. Medical professionals, social workers, law enforcement, bank employees, and many others must report the abuse of a vulnerable adult or child under the state's mandatory reporting rules. Principals, teachers, and others who work in a school and daycare providers and judges must also file a report with DCF if they suspect a child has been sexually abused.  

If you are not sure if you are required to report a situation but believe a minor or another vulnerable person may be a victim, a sexual abuse attorney can help you determine the right course of action for your situation.

Criminal Charges for Sexual Abuse Versus Civil Action

Sexual abuse survivors can legally seek justice in two ways: criminal charges and a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. These two paths are independent and have vastly different judicial processes. If you have reported your abuse to the police, it's possible you have already been through a criminal trial and provided your testimony.

If you haven't yet reported your abuse, the state's attorney in your county may file criminal charges against your perpetrator, as your suit may trigger a criminal investigation. In either case, the prosecutor will listen to your story and ultimately decide whether to file criminal charges; it is not your choice. The outcome of a criminal court case depends on whether the jury finds your abuser guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The civil lawsuit process is different. It is your choice to take action, and the outcome of the criminal trial does not impact whether you can file a suit. In a civil lawsuit against your abuser, you seek compensation for the physical, financial, and emotional damages you have incurred as a result of sexual abuse.

The outcome of a civil trial does not include penalties like jail time or fines. The other notable difference between criminal proceedings and a lawsuit against your abuser is the standard for evidence.

For jurors to rule in your favor, your attorney needs only to prove that it's more likely than not that your abuse occurred instead of beyond a reasonable doubt threshold in criminal trials. This preponderance of the evidence threshold means that the jury must believe a greater than 50 percent chance that your claim is true.

What Are the Benefits of Filing a Civil Action Against My Abuser?

Whether or not you choose to pursue a civil case based on the abuse you or your child endured is a very personal choice. Our Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys are here to help you weigh your options and explain what each entails. All of our consultations are completely confidential, and you do not have to move forward with your sexual abuse case if you do not want to do so.

Some reasons why sexual abuse survivors choose to take civil action, in our experience, include:

To Hold Their Abuser Responsible

The criminal justice system does not always work out for victims. Because it occurs in private and predators take steps to cover their actions, sexual crimes can be extremely difficult to prove in criminal court. Sometimes a civil case is the only way to hold the perpetrator legally responsible.

To Recover Expenses and Losses

Victims can recover compensation for their economic and non-economic damages through a claim or lawsuit. This can help cover expenses and make up for any financial losses suffered. Recoverable damages include:

  • Related medical bills
  • Psychological counseling and other support
  • Lost wages if they missed work while recovering or receiving care
  • Pain and suffering for physical injuries
  • Emotional distress and other psychological effects
  • Other intangible losses
  • Punitive damages, in some cases

To Help Others Get Justice

Unfortunately, sexual predators are often in positions where they can meet and abuse many victims. Some continue for decades because they are not held accountable despite numerous reports. Sometimes, they can get away with it because an institution supports them and helps keep the scandal quiet. 

From national sports organizations to universities and churches to the Boy Scouts of America, many high-profile sexual abuse cases have been in the last few years. Many victims join these claims to help others prove their claims and get justice.

Our Sexual Abuse Lawyers Serving Fort Lauderdale Can Help

Coping with the trauma of sexual abuse may prove overwhelming for survivors, regardless of age. If you are an adult survivor or parent of a survivor, you understand the challenges and may even carry common feelings of shame or guilt. If you were abused, it's not your fault. 

You deserve justice and the opportunity to hold your abuser accountable for his or her actions. Taking legal action against your abuser will not undo the past. Still, an experienced sexual abuse attorney can help you seek justice, advocate for you, and potentially secure a settlement or jury award. Some examples of how an attorney can help include the following.


Skilled lawyers investigate the circumstances of sexual abuse to uncover facts that help build a strong case against the perpetrator. Investigative activities vary based on the facts of your case but may include:

  • Obtaining police reports and medical records that support your case and reviewing evidence used in a criminal trial, if applicable
  • Finding and speaking with witnesses or other victims who suspected, reported, or suffered sexual abuse
  • Consulting with experts, especially doctors and psychologists that can speak about the impact of your abuse

Some sexual abuse survivors hesitate to speak out because they want to protect their identities. Reputable and seasoned attorneys go the extra mile to maintain your anonymity and keep your case confidential. 


The outcome of a civil lawsuit against your abuser will be a verdict in favor of you, the plaintiff, or your abuser, the defendant. If the court rules in your favor, you can be awarded damages related to the losses and injuries you incurred from your abuse. However, not all sexual abuse cases go to court. For many reasons, some survivors choose not to go to trial and have an attorney litigate their claims. 

Often, this decision has to do with the desire to remain anonymous or avoid having to relive the traumatic events through testifying in a courtroom. However, this does not mean you cannot recover compensation without appearing in court.

Experienced attorneys have honed their negotiation skills and can help you hold your abuser financially liable for damages without litigation. If it is the right decision for your circumstances, you can avoid the courtroom and let your attorney negotiate to get the best possible settlement for your sexual abuse case.

Courtroom Advocacy and Litigation

Sometimes settlement simply is not an option for a sexual abuse case, which means an attorney must fight for his or her client in court. If your sexual abuse case needs to be litigated, your attorney will be prepared to fight for you and increase the likelihood that the court will rule in your favor. 

Some survivors feel they need litigation as part of their healing process. Maybe there were never criminal charges, and they want to see their abuser publicly held accountable for their actions. In other cases, their abuser refuses to admit fault or will not agree to an appropriate settlement. These are all good reasons to go to trial.

A courtroom trial provides an opportunity for survivors to face their abusers. Your Fort Lauderdale attorney will discuss the best course of action for your circumstances. We can proceed with your case in the way you believe is best for you. We will discuss your options based on the facts of your case and provide guidance and advice while you make this decision.

Contact Dolman Law Group Today for a Confidential Consultation

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse or the parent of a survivor, you deserve to hold the abuser accountable in every way possible. Receiving compensation for injuries and losses related to the abuse does not turn back time. Still, it can help pay for therapy to work through the trauma and alleviate some or all debt related to abuse.

Contact Dolman Law Group or call us at (754) 208-1130 for a private consultation to determine the right course of action for your situation.

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


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

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 of $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.

Learn More