Parents expect their children to remain safe when at school—to have a safe environment in which they can learn, grow, and develop. Schools must exercise a high duty of care when it comes to their students, providing them with as safe a learning experience as possible. Unfortunately, some schools fail to uphold that duty of care.
Sometimes, teachers engage in unspeakable sexual abuse of their students. Other times, teachers, administrators, and staff members turn a blind eye while other students abuse their peers sexually. Both male and female students can be victims of sexual abuse, and the perpetrator is not always male. The aftereffects of sexual abuse and assault can stay with students for a long time.
If you have questions about your particular claim, contact an experienced school sexual abuse attorney as soon as possible to get a better idea of how much compensation you should seek as well as the rights your child has to appropriate protection. If your child suffered abuse, contact Gomez Trial Attorneys as soon as possible.
Defining Sexual Abuse
In many cases, when people think about sexual assault, they assume rape, which is generally defined as unwanted sexual penetration of the vagina or anus. In many cases, however, sexual assault may include other acts, including fondling, unwanted touching, or harassment.
When teachers, school administrators, and coaches use their authority to manipulate or coerce their students into sexual relationships, we tend to think of it as sexual abuse—particularly when this sexual contact becomes an ongoing and, in many cases, escalating ordeal.
The assailant may gradually increase sexual behaviors until the survivor finally asks for help or finds a solution. In a school setting, teachers, administrators, or other students may commit sexual assault or abuse. Often, students may struggle to reject a teacher or administrator in a position of power, which can cause the abuse to persist. They may fear physical and other retaliation, such as revenge porn, being published by a fellow student.
Students have the right to a safe environment at school, where they need not deal with unwanted sexual attention. Sexual abuse and assault can occur at any type of school event: during the school day, on a school bus on the way to or from school, or during, before or after school activities. Some survivors may choose to avoid activities that they otherwise enjoy to avoid their assailants. Others, however, may continue to suffer every day as they struggle to deal with persistent abusers.
Dealing with sexual abuse and assault promptly can help provide survivors and their peers a safe learning environment. If a school fails to promptly and decisively remedy or remove a threat, if it fails to establish, promote, and enforce adequate prohibitions against sexual assault or abuse, or if it fails to provide a secure environment that keeps children safe from sexual predators, it may bear civil liability to the survivors of sexual abuse and assault whom they failed to protect.
Do You Need an Attorney After Suffering Sexual Abuse?
You should immediately report sexual abuse to the police, but what comes next? Do you need an attorney? How can an attorney help when your child has suffered abuse in a school setting?
Contacting an experienced sexual abuse attorney can provide several key advantages.
An attorney can help collect evidence about the abuse and assault. Does the teacher or student who has assaulted or abused your child have a history of such behavior? Has the school chosen to sweep reports of abuse under the rug, rather than addressing them directly? An attorney can help delve into those records and track down any instances of past sexual abuse or hints of misbehavior, which can help build your claim. Often, attorneys can also help collect witness testimonies and other evidence regarding the sexual abuse and assault.
An attorney can prevent the school from simply making the sexual abuse or assault “disappear.” Both public and private schools will often act quickly to cover up an allegation of child sexual abuse or assault. They may choose to fire or transfer the teacher, then quickly try to pay off the student to make those allegations go away. The school does not want to be associated with sexual abuse or assault, nor does it want other parents or children to worry about the atmosphere at school. As a sexual abuse and assault survivor or the parents of a survivor, you likely don’t want the record of abuse to disappear. You want action taken, both to seek justice for the survivor and to help prevent future sexual abuse and assault. An attorney can help you understand your rights, including how much compensation the sexual abuse and assault survivor should seek.
An attorney can serve as your representative. Sexual assault and abuse usually prove incredibly traumatic for the survivor. Reliving it, even for a judge and jury, can stir those feelings back up and make it difficult to move forward. An attorney, however, can help prevent the survivor from having to retell that story again and again, or having to deal with the school, the school’s insurance company, or other individuals who may increase those feelings of helplessness and make it difficult for the survivor to process through them. Ultimately, an attorney can help reduce trauma to the survivor and provide the survivor with a sense of comfort, as well as shielding the survivor from unnecessary interactions.
The Far-Reaching Impact of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse and assault, particularly in teenagers, can have far-reaching impacts in every area of the survivors’ lives.
Not only can the survivor face consequences like STDs and unwanted pregnancies, but also the trauma from the event can cause emotional difficulties, including:
Flashbacks. Some survivors have flashbacks that take them back to their sexual abuse and assaults, in which case they must relive their suffering. Many survivors have nightmares that involve their sexual abuse and assault, while others may suffer waking flashbacks that make them feel as though they have gone back in time.
Guilt. Many survivors of sexual abuse and assault suffer extreme guilt. Victim shaming, which is unfortunately common, can increase the severity of this guilt. In a school environment, teachers and students alike may attempt to shame the survivor. Consider the following statements: “Well, she shouldn’t have been wearing that.” “He should have been able to fight the attacker off.” “She must have wanted it.” Words like these can cause many survivors to experience strong feelings of guilt and isolation, and they can struggle to carry on. Alarmingly, 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults involve an attacker that the survivor knows. Knowing their attackers can increase feelings of guilt and shame in survivors.
Depression and anxiety. As a result of sexual abuse and assault, many survivors suffer from increased depression and anxiety. Some survivors may struggle to move forward with their lives or may not want to participate in activities that they usually enjoy. Others may seem increasingly anxious or struggle to interact with other people.
Challenges in future sexual relationships. Sexual abuse and assault can make it difficult for survivors to process future sexual relationships. They may not like the idea of being vulnerable in front of new partners or may struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. The survivor may refrain from engaging in future romantic or sexual relationships, especially if an acquaintance perpetrated the sexual abuse or assault.
PTSD. Some survivors of sexual abuse and assault suffer from severe PTSD, including difficulty going past the place where the events took place. In a school environment, PTSD can prove particularly difficult: students need to continue their education to prepare for the future, but they may struggle to interact with other teachers or to appear in environments similar to the one where sexual abuse or assault took place.
Increased risk of substance abuse and self-harm. To cope with the impacts of sexual abuse or assault, many survivors turn to drugs, alcohol, and self-harm. These techniques do not actually decrease the psychological effects that a survivor may face as a result of the abuse or assault, and in fact can exacerbate them, but some survivors may attempt to use such coping mechanisms anyway.
Seeking Compensation Following Sexual Abuse and Assault at School
Sexual abuse and assault can, unfortunately, take place anywhere. Teachers’ classrooms often remain relatively private environments. School bus drivers may not pay adequate attention to what happens behind them as they drive kids to and from school. Schools may have unsupervised corners where one student can assault another without faculty or staff noticing. While schools should provide safe environments, unfortunately, they can actually pose a significant hazard to many students.
Determining Liability Following a Sexual Abuse and Assault at School
Who bears liability when a student suffers sexual abuse or assault at school? The attacker, of course, bears primary liability for the assault. In some cases, however, the district and/or the school may also share liability.
The school did not take adequate security precautions. The school, for example, knew about a particular student’s tendency to cross the line with other students, including future harassment claims, but did nothing about it. The school might not have taken care to protect a female student after she shared her fears about another student, or might have failed to take adequate precautions to protect a student after a past incident. If the school failed to protect a student in the face of clear warnings, the school may bear liability for the incident.
The school lacked effective policies about student/teacher interactions. Modern schools may, for example, need policies that protect against students and teachers staying in rooms alone together, or about students and teachers who engage in inappropriate interactions. If the district lacks appropriate policies to protect its students, it may share liability for sexual abuse and assault in the school.
The school allowed a teacher to continue working despite credible allegations. Allegations of harassment or inappropriate behavior against teachers should undergo thorough investigations. To protect the students, the administration should take steps to remove any teacher or administrator who poses a danger to those students, including a teacher who shows signs that could indicate future sexual abuse or assault against a student.
The school failed to provide adequate supervision. Staff at schools must take care to prevent sexual violence in schools, including taking steps to adequately supervise all students in the school. This includes having faculty members available at after-school activities, as well as observing student interactions before, during, and after the immediate school day.
How Much Compensation Should You Expect After Sexual Abuse and Assault at School?
A personal injury claim following sexual abuse or assault cannot make up for the trauma that the abused student experienced. It can, however, provide students with the means to move on. A civil claim can also provide greater odds of resolution than a criminal claim; often, the survivor must provide less evidence for a civil claim than for a criminal case.
The compensation a student eventually receives will depend on several factors, but students who suffer sexual abuse or assault at school often claim:
Medical expenses. Some survivors have substantial medical expenses following sexual abuse and assault—not just an immediate rape kit, but also treatment for any STDs or unwanted pregnancies. Survivors may choose to include psychological counseling to help them overcome the trauma that they’ve suffered due to sexual abuse and assault.
Pain and suffering, including trauma. Sexual abuse and assault can have serious long-term psychological consequences for the survivor. In a sexual abuse or assault claim, pain and suffering may represent a larger percentage of the claim. Survivors may not have serious long-term medical bills, but they may experience ongoing trauma and suffering due to their sexual abuse and assault.
Other financial expenses. Some students may find themselves unable to return to school after sexual abuse or assault, whether due to trauma or their peers’ treatment of them. Students may, in particular, struggle to return to school if the assailant remains at the school. Survivors may have the right to claim the difference in tuition, including transfer fees, if they must move to another school due to sexual abuse or assault or the trauma that results from it.
Do You Need a Sexual Abuse Attorney?
If you or someone you love suffered sexual abuse or assault in a school, you should retain one of our attorneys to handle your case. Working with Gomez Trial Attorneys will provide you with sufficient time to focus on your child’s recovery. Legal claims are complex and time-consuming, and you can better spend your time caring for your child. Let our compassionate, empathetic legal team seek justice for you. Contact Gomez Trial Attorneys today at (619) 237-3490 to learn more about your rights.