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What is Defined as Sexual Abuse

by John Gomez | Last Updated: December 5, 2019

Sexual abuse is an enormous problem in our society. Victims may experience shock or disbelief. Long-term symptoms include fear, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, rape and sexual assault are not always taken as seriously as they should be in the criminal justice system. For too long, victims of these crimes have suffered in silence and often feel invisible and alone.

However, they are far from alone. There are approximately 293,000 cases of sexual abuse in the United States each year. Unfortunately, 68 percent of these attacks go unreported to the police. According to statistics from the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), “every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child.”

There were 604 instances of rape in the San Diego region, an increase of 13 percent compared to 2017. These acts are crimes, but in California, victims of sexual abuse are also able to sue their abusers in civil court. Money cannot erase the trauma of sexual abuse, but it can help survivors get the care and services they need to heal. Civil recoveries provide a way for victims to hold the abuser accountable and start to rebuild their lives. They may even help protect someone else from going through the same thing in the future. So for confidential case evaluation contact the sexual abuse attorneys at the Gomez Firm, and they can walk you through you legal options.

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.” Sexual assault may include acts such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. It often occurs in situations when a person in a position of power or authority takes advantage of someone in their care. Therefore, cases of sexual abuse happen in a variety of situations, such as:

  • Schools, school buses and daycare facilities
  • Foster care homes or facilities
  • Organized recreational activities for children
  • Churches
  • Mental health/medical facilities
  • Vulnerable individuals in the care of relatives or neighbors

Long-Term Effects of Sexual Abuse

A recent study found that sexual assault may be related to subsequent health problems. It clearly has an impact on the survivor’s mental health, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, but it also has a physical impact. Survivors suffered from high blood pressure, sleep loss, and showed a 20 percent increase in the risk of heart disease.

Many survivors do not talk about their experience because they are embarrassed or afraid that others will not believe them. They may be unable to externalize the abuse, so they live with feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. However, remaining silent intensifies the damage to their health. Evidence also shows that when a child has this type of experience, it can negatively affect the body’s stress response system. About 60 percent of all sexual assaults happen before the age of 18.

Personal Injury Lawsuits Based on Sexual Abuse

A civil lawsuit based on sexual abuse is a type of personal injury case. The civil court case is not focused on the guilt or innocence of the perpetrator. Instead, the case is focused on whether the perpetrator is liable for injuries resulting from the crime. If he or she is found liable, then they may be ordered to pay the victim or his or her family compensation. This compensation helps the survivor deal with the personal and financial burdens resulting from the abuse.

In California (San Diego), anyone who has been a victim of sexual violence or assault may file a civil claim for damages, even in the absence of a criminal conviction or a police report. The survivor will file a lawsuit under one or more theories. Legal theories which may apply include:

  • Assault/battery
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • False imprisonment
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress (for witnesses or bystanders to the sexual assault)

Other Parties Who May Be Liable for Sexual Abuse

In addition to the individual perpetrator, others may bear responsibility for the harm you have suffered. In some cases, a civil suit can be filed against any organizations, people, or institutions that may have enabled the abuse. Therefore, the survivor may be able to file a lawsuit against a school, an employer, a religious institution, a corporation, or other entity for negligent supervision or failure to provide proper security.

Proving Civil Lawsuits Resulting From Sexual Abuse

A civil lawsuit resulting from a sexual abuse case requires navigating complex issues. It involves meticulously gathering and preserving evidence before trial, courtroom skills, and in some cases, negotiating a settlement. However, the burden of proof is lower in a civil case than in a criminal one. Criminal cases use beyond a reasonable doubt as the standard of proof. The burden of proof in civil suits is the less stringent preponderance of the evidence. It requires the plaintiff to prove that his or her version of the events is more likely than not how things happened. If the defendant was convicted in a criminal case, you might have a better chance of prevailing in your civil lawsuit—but you can still secure a significant judgment or settlement if the perpetrator was never prosecuted or even if a court found the perpetrator not guilty.

Compensation and Other Relief

If the survivor prevails in a sexual assault civil lawsuit, he or she is usually awarded monetary damages. These fall into two categories, economic or non-economic. It is relatively easy to place a monetary value on economic damages. They usually include such damages as lost wages or medical bills. Non-economic damages are less easy to calculate. These include such things as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, reputational damage, loss of consortium, and humiliation. The survivor may need long-term care for problems such as depression, addiction, and suicide.

In addition to financial compensation, the survivor may request injunctive relief—a special court order that requires someone to do, or refrain from doing, a specific act or behavior. The main goal of such injunctions is to help prevent future abuse.

Statute of Limitations

Because sexual abuse may have occurred much earlier in the victim’s life, they may believe that it is too late to take legal action. However, in California beginning in 2020 – a victim of childhood sexual abuse will be able to bring a case notwithstanding the time passed since the sexual assault occurred.

A new California law gives survivors of childhood sexual abuse or assault the right to file a claim after they reach the age of 18.  In the new law, AB 218, there is no age requirement for an adult bringing a case against a church, school, youth organization, or any other person or entity for childhood sexual assault.  The key is the person is a victim of childhood sexual assault. It does not matter the current age. A person 40 years or older does have to submit a “certificate of merit” when filing a case with a declaration by an attorney and medical health professional evaluation.

Consult an experienced sexual abuse attorney regarding the time limits for your case.

What to Do After Sexual Abuse

John Gomez, Sexual Abuse Attorney

Sexual Abuse Trial Attorney, John Gomez

Victims of a sexual assault may feel hesitant to speak up, or believe they should just forget about it and go on with their lives. However, reporting a sexual assault immediately is important. It will permit the law enforcement officers to collect valuable evidence, increase the chances of bringing the offender to justice, and reduce the chances of the offender victimizing others.

After reporting a sexual assault to the police and receiving medical treatment, the next step should be contacting an experienced sexual assault lawyer.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Yes. The state will handle the criminal prosecution of the abuser, but your own sex abuse lawyer will provide dedicated, compassionate support with regard to your civil claim. An attorney can advise you of your legal options and guide you through the entire process.

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