Sexual abuse can have consequences that last a lifetime. Unfortunately, many victims struggle to come forward, both because they fear that an investigation may involve reliving the assault and because victims often face shame when they come forward.
If you've suffered sexual abuse, however, you deserve compensation for everything you've suffered, and your decision to come forward could prevent other individuals from suffering similar abuse in the future. A Tampa sexual abuse lawyer from our team at Dolman Law Group can help you throughout the legal process.
Why Choose Dolman Law Group?
Sexual abuse often leaves victims feeling violated and insecure long after the abuse itself. In dealing with sexual assault or abuse victims, we exercise compassion and understanding. That includes:
- Handling negotiations for you as much as possible, preventing you from having to deal with your abuser or the abuser's insurance company directly
- Listening compassionately to all the aspects of your story and giving you the time you need to share everything that led up to or contributed to your abuse
- Providing access to resources that can help you recover from the trauma you've experienced
- Fully investigating your claim, including collecting any evidence that could provide insight into the abuse you faced
- Collecting your medical records and going over any other vital information
Defining Sexual Abuse
Many victims assume that if they did not suffer rape, they did not suffer sexual abuse. Sexual abuse, however, can incorporate much more than direct forced genital-on-genital contact alone. Sexual abuse includes any non-consensual sexual act, including:
- Unwanted touching
- Forcing you to engage in degrading or uncomfortable acts during intercourse
- Forcing you to perform any type of sexual act
- Taking videos or photos of sexual acts without your permission
- Spreading explicit photos or videos without your consent
- Denying you access to contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies
- Refusing to allow you to use protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Sexual abuse often worsens over time. Many people have intimate relationships with their abusers and may even remain with them despite the abuse. Identifying sexual abuse, calling it by name, and pursuing justice can help you heal from the abuse you've suffered and provide you with vital compensation that can help you move forward with your life.
The Aftereffects of Sexual Violence: Victim Symptoms
Following sexual abuse, no two people react in the same way. Some victims of childhood sexual abuse go on to lead perfectly normal lives. Others may suffer long-term behavior difficulties or struggle with emotional connection. However, many survivors of sexual abuse do share some common symptoms.
Many victims of sexual assault have a higher instance of genital trauma following the assault than victims who engage in consensual sex. Sexual abuse can also include deliberate trauma to the genitals. Bruising, tenderness, and lacerations can cause difficulty and pain following a sexual assault. Trauma may also occur around the anus after an assault.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
STDs can permanently change the lives of many victims of sexual abuse. Many abusers spread STDs through direct genital contact and contact with bodily fluids, including semen and blood. STDs can also spread through oral and anal sex. Some STDs cause ongoing pain when untreated, while others can cause infertility.
Contracting an STD can also cause victims to avoid contact with future partners or cause embarrassment, including an ongoing reminder of past abuse.
Depression and Anxiety
Many victims of sexual abuse suffer from depression and anxiety. If you had depression and anxiety before your assault, sexual trauma could worsen it; if you never had symptoms before, sexual trauma can cause them for the first time.
Both depression and anxiety can make it difficult to go out in public. You may suffer decreased interest in activities you once enjoyed, or you might discover you need more space when in public.
Flashbacks and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Many victims of sexual violence, including ongoing sexual abuse and sexual attacks, suffer from flashbacks in which they relive the experience. Flashbacks can occur due to specific triggers, like being in an area that reminds the victim of the assault or coming into contact with the abuser, or flashbacks can result for apparently no reason.
PTSD can also cause heightened emotional responses to seemingly mundane stimuli, increased anxiety and depression, and avoidance of scenarios that remind victims of their abuse.
Following sexual abuse, many people struggle to maintain normal sleep patterns. Victims of childhood sexual trauma, especially those who suffered ongoing sexual abuse as a child, may struggle to sleep apart from other people or struggle with going to sleep at all. Other victims may need a particular environment where they feel safe to fall asleep.
Sexual trauma can also cause nightmares, making it difficult to stay asleep, go back to sleep after waking, or even go to sleep in the first place.
Increased Likelihood of Behavioral Problems
Childhood victims of sexual abuse have a significantly increased likelihood of criminal behavior as adolescents. They also have increased instances of drug abuse, increased likelihood of teen pregnancy, and higher levels of hyper-sexualized behavior in adolescent and adult years.
These behavior problems can also lead to academic difficulties, struggles in school, and difficulty in structured settings, especially if victims of childhood sexual abuse do not receive proper attention and counseling.
Increased Likelihood of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders, including restrictive disorders like anorexia and severe overeating, typically arise from feeling a lack of control. Victims of sexual abuse often feel they have no control over their circumstances, including the events that led up to the assault.
As a result, they may engage in disordered eating patterns to control their lives. Eating disorders can cause unhealthy weight loss or gain, heart problems, and an ongoing lack of energy.
Increased Substance Abuse Challenges
To dull difficult memories or improve sleep, many victims of sexual abuse choose to self-medicate. They often have higher risks of ongoing substance abuse and may struggle to free themselves from the impacts of those substances, especially after long-term use.
In some cases, sexual abuse can lead to pregnancy. Often, a woman may struggle with an unwanted pregnancy, especially if pregnancy progresses past the point of termination before acknowledgment or before the victim reports the sexual abuse. Pregnancy can further take away a woman's sense of control over her own body after sexual abuse.
Sexual Function Challenges
After a sexual assault or abuse, many people struggle to resume normal sexual activity, even with a trusted partner. In some cases, this can pose substantial difficulty in building or maintaining relationships following the assault.
A victim of sexual assault may have both physical and emotional struggles in resuming normal sexual function following abuse.
After suffering from sexual abuse, many people struggle to trust others in the same position as the abuser. For example, victims of childhood sexual abuse may struggle with trusting other adults in positions of authority over them. Even after growing up, adult victims of childhood sexual trauma may struggle to trust coaches and teachers in positions of responsibility over their children.
Victims may also struggle with relationship difficulties following sexual abuse. For example, they may show reluctance to engage in a romantic relationship following abuse from another partner or choose to disengage from contact with friends and relatives of the same gender as the abuser.
The Impact of Shared Sexual Images
When someone takes photos or videos of you without your consent, you may feel degraded and embarrassed. However, when those photos and videos get spread beyond the immediate abuser, it can have an even more serious impact on your life.
Once those photos get posted online, you cannot control who sees them. This can hurt your ability to obtain future jobs, dating relationships in the future, and your relationships with other family members and friends, especially if they view those photos.
The humiliation, shame, and loss of reputation often follow victims long after the event itself, leaving them with ongoing emotional and financial challenges related to the incident.
Seeking Compensation for Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse cases can prove difficult to prosecute, especially with no available DNA evidence. However, an inability to prosecute your abuser criminally does not necessarily mean you cannot seek financial compensation for the abuse you faced or the financial difficulties arising from that abuse.
The compensation you can receive will vary, and an attorney cannot offer you any guarantees about the compensation you receive. However, working with an attorney can help you calculate the damages you suffered at the hands of your abuser and prepare a personal injury claim that will help you seek the compensation you deserve.
Consider these key elements of your claim:
- Medical expenses for any injuries you suffered. Sexual abuse can cause a wide range of physical injuries and leave you with STDs that cause long-term medical and financial impacts. You can calculate your medical expenses directly based on what medical bills you faced after the assault, and your lawyer can help you calculate the long-term financial impact of your injuries. Medical expenses include any medical treatment for injuries incurred during the abuse. You should also include compensation for counseling and therapy.
- Lost wages. Following sexual abuse, you may need time off work to recover. In some cases, you may need medical treatment before returning to work. In other cases, you may need time to recover from the abuse, especially if you now suffer from PTSD, depression, or anxiety. Some victims of sexual abuse struggle to return to work at all following an assault, especially if the assault was connected to their work. As a result, these victims may face lost earning potential and a need to receive training for a different job or position.
- Loss of enjoyment. Loss of sexual enjoyment can cause serious problems for many victims of sexual abuse. You can include that loss of enjoyment as part of your claim. In an established relationship, the victim may also claim loss of consortium, or the loss of the relationship, connection, and companionship shared with a partner following a sexual assault.
- Loss of reputation. When someone shares photos or videos of you online without your consent, it can cause a substantial loss of your reputation. Viewing those photos can change the way others view you in a personal or professional setting. Even if you take steps to remove those photos and videos as soon as possible, they can still impact your life long after the assault. Claiming loss of reputation can help you seek those materials and take them down, as well as provide some financial support during this difficult period of your life.
- Humiliation. Sexual abuse often causes a sense of humiliation that can be hard for victims to move past. Many victims suffer from an ongoing sense of shame that can cause substantial, ongoing suffering in many different areas of their lives. While claiming compensation for that humiliation may not help you recover from it, it can provide you with funds to move forward with your life.
Who Can You Sue for Sexual Abuse in Tampa?
Once you have decided to seek compensation for your suffering, your Tampa personal injury lawyer will be responsible for establishing liability. Proving that another party's negligence or misconduct caused the sexual abuse you suffered is of utmost importance.
Of course, you will want to ensure your abuser is held accountable. But there may be other parties who also share liability for your damages. Some of the other parties you may name in your case could include:
- School administrators
- Other school staff
- The school district
- Community program leaders
- Adults who supervise your children
- Property owners
- Other third parties
Only an in-depth investigation into how your sexual abuse occurred will determine who should be compelled to cover your damages so you can begin to rebuild your life. Find out more about who may be at fault for the sexual abuse you endured when you contact a Tampa sexual abuse attorney to discuss the details of your case further.
Tampa Sexual Abuse FAQ
For too long, the nationwide problem of sexual abuse has remained largely hidden, but sexual abuse is a serious problem in our society. Sadly, most victims have suffered in silence and isolation in the past. Victims may suffer from fear, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds, and many of these victims are children. Acts of sexual abuse are crimes. However, victims of sexual abuse may also file lawsuits in civil court. Financial compensation will not make the trauma disappear, but it can help survivors get the care and services they need to heal. Civil lawsuits offer a way for victims to hold the abuser accountable and start to rebuild their lives.
How Is Sexual Abuse Defined?
Sexual abuse is defined as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.” Reports of sexual abuse are cropping up daily in the news. Such abuse often happens in situations where a person in a position of power or authority takes advantage of someone else.
More and more incidents of sexual abuse have been found in alarming circumstances, such as:
- Schools, school buses, and daycare facilities
- Foster care homes or facilities
- Organized recreational activities for children
- Mental health facilities
- Vulnerable individuals in the care of relatives or neighbors
- Medical facilities
What Types of Sexual Abuse Exist?
Sexual abuse applies to many types of unwanted sexual contact. The specific names given to acts of sexual abuse differ from state to state. For the most part, however, all states prohibit the kinds of sexual abuse described below.
Some of the most common types of sexual abuse include:
- Rape. The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines rape as “forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force.” This definition includes both male and female victims, as well as heterosexual, same-sex, and attempted rape. Verbal threats of rape are considered attempted rape. The use of force implies there was no consent and often includes the use or threat of physical violence to compel the victim's compliance. Rape is a crime in every state, although some state laws use the term “first-degree sexual assault” rather than rape.
- Sexual assault. The broad term “sexual assault” includes rape and other types of unwanted sexual contact that do not necessarily involve penetration of the body. Florida's relevant statute includes penetration by another or a foreign object in its definition. Acts of intercourse with sleeping, unconscious, seriously intoxicated, or physically or mentally disabled victims are considered sexual assault.
- Domestic violence. In Florida, domestic violence (DV) is defined as any criminal offense that results in physical injury or death, committed by a family or household member against another family or household member. DV offenses may include sexual assault, sexual battery, assault or battery, aggravated assault or battery, kidnapping, false imprisonment, stalking, or aggravated stalking. The definition includes current and former spouses and people related by blood or marriage. It also includes those who currently or previously reside together as a family unit or parents who have a child together, whether or not the parents were married at any point.
- Child sexual abuse. State laws are strict regarding acts of sexual contact with children. State and federal laws prohibit acts like exposing a child to pornography, allowing or forcing a child to watch adults engage in sexual acts, and forcing children into prostitution.
- Statutory rape. In Florida, the definition of statutory rape is “sexual penetration involving a youth.” Consent is irrelevant, and ignorance or misrepresentation of the victim's age is not a valid defense.
- Date rape. Date rape is a term attached to rapes or sexual assaults that occur in a friendship or dating relationship. Sometimes, the perpetrator uses date rape drugs, like Rohypnol.
- Abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elderly individuals and disabled adults. Some states impose more severe penalties when the victim of a sexual assault is a vulnerable adult or has reached a certain age (older than 60).
- Sexual harassment in employment. Federal and state laws prohibit employers from sexually harassing employees. When such harassment occurs, the employee may pursue a civil or administrative remedy. Generally, sexual harassment in employment may mean the employee's job or benefits are conditioned upon agreeing to some form of sexual contact. The employee may also have a cause of action if there is a hostile work environment because of a person's gender, such as the frequent use of sexually disparaging language or the open display of pornography in the workplace.
- Sexual harassment in other contexts. The law in this area varies from state to state. However, sexual harassment may also arise in other circumstances, such as a former partner who engages in stalking, makes persistent and unwanted telephone calls, or subjects the victim to other disturbing behavior. Victims may also pursue civil remedies against individuals who persistently threaten or harass them due to their gender or sexual orientation.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse and assault can result in serious physical consequences for the victims, including:
- Broken bones, bruising, or lacerations
- Sexually transmitted infections
While a sexual abuse victim may suffer physical injuries due to the assault, in a sexual abuse case, the bulk of a victim's injuries tend to be emotional, rather than physical. It is important to assess the past, current, and future unseen damages caused by such abuse. Emotional and psychological injuries, while perhaps not visible, are painful and deep.
A recent study found that sexual abuse may result in negative long-term health outcomes for survivors. It clearly impacts survivors' mental health, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, but the effects of abuse also have physical impacts.
Experiencing sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or sexual assault may prove a chronic stressor. Survivors often suffer from high blood pressure and sleep loss and may even show an increase in the risk of heart disease.
Many survivors do not talk about their experiences because they are embarrassed or afraid others may not believe their stories. Victims may live with feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. However, staying silent increases the risks to their health.
Studies show that when children suffer sexual abuse, the experience hurts their stress response systems. According to RAINN, one in every nine girls and one in every 53 boys experience sexual abuse or assault before age 18.
Why File a Civil Lawsuit for Tampa Sexual Abuse?
A civil lawsuit that stems from sexual abuse is a type of personal injury civil case. In a criminal case, prosecutors represent the government and focus on the guilt or innocence of the perpetrator. They have to prove perpetrators guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a civil case, however, the focus is on whether the perpetrator is liable for injuries resulting from negligent or harmful acts. If a court finds the perpetrator liable, it may order them to pay compensation to the victim or their family. In a civil case, your attorney must meet a lesser burden of proof: preponderance of the evidence.
Survivors deal with many personal and monetary problems that arise from their abuse. Emotional or psychological issues may make it difficult for survivors to return to work. In addition to financial compensation, there are other potential benefits of filing a claim.
Survivors may find it therapeutic to confront their abusers. Local institutions that have employed sexual abusers may feel motivated to review their hiring and evaluation processes. Finally, taking action against the perpetrators may protect others who may otherwise become victims in the future.
In Florida, anyone who has been a victim of sexual violence or abuse may file a civil claim for damages, even if there is no criminal conviction or police report. The survivor will file a lawsuit under one or more theories. Legal theories that may apply include:
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Negligent infliction of emotional distress
- False imprisonment
- Negligent hiring or supervision
- Premises liability
- Inadequate security
A civil lawsuit resulting from a sexual abuse case involves sensitive and complex issues. However, the burden of proof only requires the plaintiff to prove their version of the events is most likely true.
Who Else May Face Liability For Sexual Abuse?
In addition to the individual who perpetrated the abusive act, other parties may also face responsibility for the harm you have suffered. In some cases, a survivor may file a civil suit against an organization, person, or institution that enabled the abuse through negligent supervision or poor security.
What Types of Damages Can You Seek in a Tampa Sex Abuse Case?
There are generally two types of damages that courts award in sexual abuse lawsuits: (1) economic and (2) non-economic. It is fairly easy to determine economic damages, such as lost wages or medical bills, but non-economic damages are more difficult to calculate. These damages may include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and reduced quality of life. The survivor may need long-term care for problems such as depression, addiction, and attempted suicide.
In addition to financial compensation, the survivor may seek injunctive relief, requiring someone to do, or refrain from doing, a specific act or behavior. The main goal of such injunctions is to help prevent future abuse.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Cases?
Because sexual abuse may have occurred much earlier in a victim's life, they may believe it is too late to take legal action. However, in some circumstances, a survivor may still file a case.
In Florida, a victim must file a sexual abuse lawsuit within the following time limits:
- Seven years after the victim reaches the age of majority, which is 18 years old in Florida
- Four years after the victim leaves the dependency of the abuser or four years from the time of the discovery of both the injury and the relationship between the injury and the abuse (whichever is later)
- With sexual battery involving a minor under 16 years old, there is no statute of limitations.
You should consult a Tampa sexual abuse attorney as soon as possible regarding the applicable statute of limitations for your case.
What Should You Do After Sexual Abuse in Tampa?
It's hard to know what to do, how to feel, or what your options are after a sexual assault. The priority is to ensure your safety.
Many survivors hesitate to pursue medical attention immediately after sexual abuse, but seeking medical care can prove helpful for several reasons. A health care provider can treat any physical injuries, ensure your physical and sexual health, and provide you with a rape kit. If you choose not to report the abuse immediately, some centers can freeze the evidence and store it for future access.
Victims of sexual abuse may feel hesitant to speak up or believe they should just try to forget about it and go on with their lives. However, reporting sexual abuse immediately allows law enforcement officers to collect crucial evidence, increase the chances of bringing the offender to justice, and reduce the chances of the offender victimizing others.
After reporting sexual abuse to the police and receiving medical treatment, the next step should be contacting a sexual abuse lawyer. In fact, calling our Tampa sexual abuse lawyers even sooner might give you the support and legal advice you need to go through the reporting process.
What Should You Expect From the Defense?
The defense, whether it is your abuser or someone else who may be responsible for facilitating or failing to prevent the abuse, will likely attempt to avoid culpability whenever possible. They may attempt to slander your name and argue that you share liability for the injuries or other damages you sustained.
Since Florida follows a pure comparative negligence system under Florida Statutes § 768.81, your compensation could be reduced if the judge agrees that you are partially at fault for your injuries. You can have your attorney step in and challenge the defense, presenting evidence that clearly shows your abuser and other liable parties are responsible for the damages you endured.
Will the Liable Party Be Punished Criminally?
The liable party could face criminal charges in addition to the civil lawsuit you pursue against them. If they are arrested and charged with a criminal offense, this could impact the outcome of your sexual abuse lawsuit against them.
For example, if their criminal trial ends with a guilty verdict, it is likely that the judge and jury presiding over your Tampa sexual abuse claim will agree that the defendant is liable for your suffering.
However, it is important to note that if the defendant does not face criminal charges or is acquitted in criminal court, this will not impact your ability to recover compensation through your civil claim.
The burden of proof is based on a preponderance of the evidence, and your Tampa sexual abuse attorney will work tirelessly to ensure that the evidence presented against the liable party in your case is powerful enough to secure a favorable outcome in your case.
Do You Need a Tampa Sexual Abuse Attorney?
The state will handle any criminal prosecution of your abuser, but a lawyer will provide skilled and compassionate support with your civil claim. While you are not legally required to hire a lawyer, an attorney can advise you of your legal options and guide you through the entire process.
If You Suffered Sexual Abuse in Tampa, Don't Wait to Come Forward
When you suffer sexual abuse or assault, you deserve justice for the crime committed against you, including compensation for the damages you suffered. Do not wait to come forward. The sooner you contact a personal injury attorney, the sooner your attorney can start collecting evidence on your behalf, potentially increasing the odds that you will receive compensation for the full cost of your injuries.
With offices on both Florida coasts, Dolman Law Group has an office conveniently located near you. Call us at (813) 212-8509 today or email us for a free consultation with an experienced member of our legal team.
3715 W. Horatio Street Suite G, Tampa FL 33609
Phone: (813) 212-8509