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Experiencing childhood sexual abuse can be deeply traumatizing and carry effects that last a lifetime. Many people do not speak up about the sexual abuse they experienced as a child until much later in life; sometimes, survivors do not recognize that they were abused until they are well into adulthood. However, regardless of when you realize or share your story of childhood sexual abuse, there is still an opportunity to seek justice. Connecting with a child sexual abuse lawyer can allow you to utilize the civil legal system to hold your perpetrator or the institutions they were a part of accountable for the harm you suffered.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines child sexual abuse as “the involvement of a child (person less than 18 years old) in sexual activity that violates the laws or taboos of society that he/she does not fully comprehend, does not consent or is unable to give informed consent to, or is not developmentally prepared for and cannot give consent to.” Sexual assault among children is a significant issue: more than 10% of children (about one in four girls and one in thirteen boys) experience child sexual abuse. Additionally, the trauma resulting from this abuse is often considerable and complex.

Because of this, many survivors of child sexual abuse wait years to disclose what happened to them. In a study of survivors of abuse in the Boy Scouts, 51% of survivors disclosed their abuse for the first time at age 50 or older. In the U.S. overall, approximately 70% of childhood sexual assault survivors never contact the police to report their abuse, and one-third of survivors never report their abuse to anyone.

This, coupled with difficulties presented by the criminal justice system, can make it difficult for survivors to get justice for what happened to them. Less than 20% of reported criminal cases of child sexual abuse go forward to prosecution, and only about 50% result in a conviction or guilty plea. This means survivors in less than 10% of criminal cases see justice. However, using the civil legal system can be another way forward.

There are some essential differences between the criminal and civil justice systems that can significantly impact child sexual abuse cases. One of these is the burden of proof required of the survivor. In criminal cases, the standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which can be difficult to meet (especially if the abuse happened years ago). In civil cases, however, the burden lowers to the standard of a “preponderance of the evidence,”  meaning that what the survivor is asserting is more likely than not what happened; this can make it easier for survivors to achieve the outcome they are hoping for. Another key difference to consider, while not necessarily affecting the likelihood of winning a case, is the punishment. In criminal trials, perpetrators, if found guilty, will likely be sentenced to time in prison and may have to pay a fine to the survivor (called “restitution”). In civil cases, on the other hand, the punishment comes via financial compensation to the survivor.

Recently, civil action to find justice for childhood sexual abuse has become even more feasible, especially for survivors who do not recognize or report their abuse for a number of years. In September of 2022, the Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act was signed into law. This legislation eliminated time limits to file federal civil claims related to child sexual abuse. Before this point, federal law only allowed survivors to file claims until they reached the age of 28 or until a decade after the abuse was discovered. Similarly, many states have laws that expand or remove time limits to file civil claims related to child sexual abuse.

Many benefits can come from speaking to a child sexual abuse lawyer and seeking justice through the civil legal system. One of the most tangible benefits that can result is financial compensation. The effects of child sexual abuse are long-lasting and may impact an individual’s physical health, mental health, and ability to work, among other things. This can be costly; the lifetime cost of childhood sexual assault for female survivors is estimated to be around $282,734. The compensation resulting from a civil lawsuit can help compensate survivors for things such as therapy and psychiatric care, physical health care, and lost wages. The settlement in civil child sexual abuse cases is highly dependent on the severity, type, impact, and length of time of the abuse, as well as the survivor’s age, jurisdiction, perpetrator’s ability to pay, and evidence available. However, the average settlement ranges from $350,000 to $950,000. 

Another significant benefit that many survivors of child sexual abuse see when pursuing civil legal action is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the perpetrator or by institutions that enabled the perpetrator’s actions. Some survivors say that, regardless of the financial outcome, they feel a sense of justice by calling out the perpetrator and having them admit what they did. This can give survivors a sense of validation about their experience and the harm they suffered. Also, some survivors say that they find a sense of justice in being able to punish the perpetrator in some way.

Additionally, while there are many complex factors involved in healing from child sexual abuse, finding civil justice can be an important step in that process for some survivors. Staying silent about one’s assault can make it difficult to heal from the trauma of the experience. Instead, many survivors feel empowered by speaking about what happened to them and how it affected their lives. Speaking up can also help survivors feel less isolated and increase feelings of support and connection.

Your community also benefits when you seek justice for sexual violence. Often, speaking up about child sexual abuse can help expose perpetrators in the community and the institutions protecting them, leading to safer communities. Additionally, this can prevent further abuse by prompting the public to become educated about the prevalence and signs of child sexual abuse. Seeking civil justice also may encourage other survivors of child sexual abuse to speak up about their experience and seek justice for themselves. This kind of action can help end the stigma around speaking about child sexual abuse and help change the culture that allows it to continue.

If you decide to investigate or pursue civil legal action for child sexual abuse, having an attorney to advocate for you and help you through the process can be very beneficial. The legal system is complicated, and a lawyer can help explain each step of the process, what it will look like, and your role. They can also help you make individualized, informed decisions about how you would like to approach the process and which path you want to take to find justice while addressing any questions or concerns you may have. Moreover, a lawyer can be helpful in important parts of the civil legal process, such as helping collect evidence and identifying all parties responsible for the abuse.

At Crew Janci LLP, we strive to support you in finding justice. We want to help you explore whether taking civil action for sexual abuse you experienced as a child is something that you would find beneficial and healing. While taking civil action is not for everyone, many of our clients express that coming forward with their cases and seeking justice changed their lives. If you are someone who experienced sexual abuse as a child, it may be worth contacting a child sexual abuse lawyer and exploring the ways that you can achieve justice. Having a child sexual abuse lawyer can help you hold your perpetrator or the institution that protected them accountable, benefiting your community while helping you find validation, healing, and compensation for the harm you have experienced.

 

If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, contact our team of licensed, caring professionals today to learn about your legal rights. Call today for a free, confidential consultation at: 1-888-407-0224 or use our confidential submission form. We will treat you with dignity and respect.

 

You are not alone. We are here to help.

Risa Saulino

Risa is a rising senior at the University of California, San Diego, majoring in Political Science – Public Law and minoring in Law and Society. Risa has always been passionate about advocating for others. She spent her sophomore and junior years working at UC San Diego’s Cross-Cultural Center, educating the UCSD community about social justice issues, and this past spring, she interned at Rising for Justice in Washington, D.C., providing legal assistance to low-income D.C. residents. Risa is grateful for the opportunity to work with Crew Janci and help advocate for justice for their clients. In her free time, Risa enjoys baking, playing piano, and spending time outdoors.