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Nobody wants to talk about child sex abuse. It’s an act that’s so vile that it’s hard to comprehend, let alone discuss. Unfortunately, child sexual abuse is a very real problem in San Diego and across the United States.
When abuse happens, you and your child have rights. The law allows you to pursue charges in the criminal system, as well as civil charges—but please note that the outcome of one doesn’t necessarily affect the outcome of the other. Read on to learn more about the law from an experienced San Diego Child Sex Abuse Lawyer.
To learn more about your rights in California civil court, contact the Childrens’ Rights lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys today.
When you hire a child sex abuse lawyer, choose one you can trust. At Gomez Trial Attorneys, we know child sex abuse can overwhelm anyone, and we make it our mission to provide comfort and guidance to our clients. Not only do we get results—including a $1.25 million school sex abuse verdict—with nearly 20 practicing attorneys at our firm, we work to find the right match for every one of our clients.
While we have offices in San Diego and throughout California, we believe our job extends beyond the office. We constantly look for opportunities to give back, and we participate in several local charities and events. By connecting with our community, we not only have the opportunity to help those in need but also to build a stronger relationship with the members of our community. Whether we are in the office or out at a local event, we strive to make San Diego a place that residents feel proud to call home.
As personal injury attorneys, there’s nothing worse than to hear the heartbreak from the parents that come to us for help after they become aware of their child’s abuse. At the same time, there’s nothing that makes us fight harder. Child sex abuse is one of those crimes that you just can’t understand. It’s one that doesn’t discriminate, and one that can have life-lasting effects. Unfortunately, child sexual abuse is a problem that continues to occur at alarmingly high rates. Sadly, the majority of the time, it comes at the hands of someone the child knows already.
Recent data reveals:
These numbers indicate that parents should always remain aware of any signs of sexual abuse. Often, the abuser is someone the parents know and trust. If you suspect abuse, or if your child reports abuse, listen.
California takes the safety of minor children very seriously. There are laws in place to prevent abuse and punish those who are guilty. Sexual abuse goes beyond just sex. It covers a wide range of sexual activities and inappropriate behavior.
The following acts constitute sexual abuse in California:
Don’t let abusers excuse their behavior by saying that they were just playing or that it was an accident. The fact is, if it makes you feel uncomfortable or your child uncomfortable, it’s likely abuse. To learn what charges you can file against your aggressor speak with an experienced child sexual abuse attorney about all instances about what child sexual abuse is.
Sadly, too many cases of abuse go unreported. For children, they may feel shame, feel fear, or do not realize that what happened constitutes abuse. That’s why it’s important to watch for signs that may indicate that something is wrong.
Signs of sexual abuse may include:
If you suspect abuse, it’s important to take immediate action. Remove your child from any situation where you feel like he or she is unsafe. You should also try to get your child to talk to you. Children may not want to open up, and that’s okay. Don’t pressure them. Rather, make them feel comfortable, and allow them to go at their own pace. For more information for how to help those effected by sexual abuse speak to an experienced attorney about your case today.
Sexual abuse is not something from which children can just recover and move on. For many survivors, the trauma is one that they continue to relive for several years after the assault. Follow-up care and counseling can benefit child survivors. Common long-term effects of sexual abuse that can impact adulthood include:
Anxiety.org defines anxiety as the “mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations.” Anxiety is a mental health disorder, but it often manifests with both mental and physical symptoms. Persons who suffer from anxiety may experience extreme worry, fear, or apprehension. Major anxiety can interfere with a person’s day-to-day life and the ability to do everyday activities.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
Mental health counseling and/or medication may help people who deal with anxiety. If your child exhibits any of the above sexual abuse signs, contact his or her doctor to learn more about your options.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), like anxiety, is the mind and body’s response to stress. However, PTSD can be more intense and may involve nightmares or flashbacks of the abuse. A doctor will make a diagnosis of PTSD if your child exhibits symptoms of PTSD for at least one month. PTSD is very common effect on the brain of survivors of sexual abuse possess. People who experience PTSD may experience intrusive or negative thoughts. As such, it’s vitally important to watch for signs of PTSD and make sure that your child gets appropriate care.
Unfortunately, the numbers show that survivors of sexual abuse are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), survivors are four times more likely to suffer from drug abuse than those who have not been the survivor of abuse. Psychology Today reports that survivors often use drugs or alcohol to forget about the incident or numb the pain. The average age that survivors of abuse begin using non-recreational drugs is 14.
In addition to the above-mentioned mental health disorders, survivors of sexual assault may experience depression or thoughts of suicide. Watch for signs of withdrawal, isolation, or sadness.
Other symptoms of depression include:
Survivors of sexual abuse in California now have more time to take legal action against their perpetrators. Effective January 2020, California law has provided survivors of child sexual abuse a three year period until January 2023 to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator and any affiliated organization, like a Church, Boy Scouts, or any other entity. The new law also provides the opportunity to bring a civil case until their 40th birthday to file a civil suit for damages. This is an extension of 14 years from the previous time frame.
It is not unusual for survivors of assault to delay reporting the crime or taking any action against their abusers. It’s important to understand that this statute of limitations is different than the statute of limitations for criminal charges. The result of a civil case does not depend on the result of any criminal case. Even if the criminal charges are pending, were dismissed, or never filed, you may have the right to file a personal injury suit. Please call us today to discuss your options.
The law permits survivors of sexual abuse to file personal injury claims against the abusers. If the survivor is a minor, a parent or guardian can file a suit on behalf of the child.
A personal injury suit allows you to recover damages related to the assault, which may include:
For survivors of sexual assault, it’s easy to feel alone. It’s important to know that there are many resources available in California and online for survivors and their families. If you need help, reach out.
The following resources help connect you with providers, explain your rights, and advise you of local laws:
Survivors of child sexual abuse who step forward to reveal their history of trauma deserve strong, committed legal support. At Gomez Trial Attorneys, we believe that one aspect of providing that support involves educating clients and potential clients about their rights. Below, we have collected some of the frequently asked questions we receive concerning survivors’ legal options for seeking justice and compensation from child sexual abusers and those who enabled acts of abuse. To learn more about these topics, contact an experienced, compassionate San Diego child sexual abuse attorney today.
In our experience, the bulk of the experience survivors of child sexual abuse have with the legal system relating to their abuse, when they come to us for help, has been with criminal law (prosecutions of their abusers) and, perhaps, family law (addressing custody issues arising out of a situation of abuse). Many survivors may not realize that because of their past trauma, they may also have substantial rights to seek justice, accountability, and compensation in California civil courts; to sue, in other words.
The fact is, under the law, sexual abuse is a type of personal injury. California law gives survivors of childhood sexual trauma the right to take legal action for damages against anyone who caused them harm, just as would victims of any other type of personal injury resulting from, say, a car accident or a slip and fall. By this, we do not mean to minimize the trauma a child sexual abuse survivor has endured. Rather, we mean to make clear that child sexual abuse survivors have full legal rights to sue for damages, if they choose to do so.
Yes, it is very possible you do, even if you have previously been told that you missed your opportunity to bring a claim. In the past, survivors of child sexual abuse found themselves shut-out of California civil courts because of the amount of time that passed between the abuse and when they were finally ready and able to reveal and publicly confront their trauma. But that has changed.
A new California law that took effect on January 1, 2020, expands the amount of time survivors of child sexual abuse have to take legal action against their abusers and anyone who facilitated the abuse, to seek justice, accountability, and damages in California courts.
In a significant change of the law, survivors can start any of the following types of lawsuit up until their 40th birthday or within five years of when they “discover or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring after the age of majority was caused by the sexual abuse”:
The new law also opened what is known as a look back window, which will remain open until December 31, 2022, that revives any of the three types of legal actions above that had already expired as of January 1, 2020. This means that adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse who previously found that had been shut-out of the courts because of the passage of time now have a three-year window of opportunity to take legal action against their abusers and any individual or institution who facilitated, enabled, or covered up the abuse.
You can sue your abuser, of course, but that is not all. You may also have the right to sue any person or institution whose actions intentionally or negligently made the abuse possible. That can include individuals who knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it. It can also include the abuser’s employer (such as a church institution) or an entity for which the abuser volunteered (such as a scouting organization), if the abuser’s conduct was known or should have been discovered.
Do not assume, in other words, that just because your abuser is deceased or in jail, or has no money with which to pay damages, that you have no rights. An experienced San Diego child sexual abuse attorney can help you investigate whether others who knew, or should have known, of the abuse and did not prevent it, can potentially be held liable. If those individuals or institutions exist, then you may have significant rights against them for compensation.
In the California civil legal system, the principal remedy for righting wrongs is the payment of money damages. Like other people who suffer a personal injury, survivors of child sexual abuse can seek money damages to pay for economic and non-economic harm done to them by the abuse. This may include costs of medical care (including mental health counseling) and damages for pain and suffering. Additionally, the new law that went into effect on January 1, 2020, also entitles survivors to obtain treble damages (that is, three times the amount of damages proven) from individuals or institutions who enabled the child sexual abuse by covering up evidence.
We recognize that money cannot erase the past. It does not remove the trauma a survivor endured in childhood. What money can do, however, is help to support the survivor in getting the counseling and care he or she needs. Liability for money damages can also serve as a powerful incentive for institutions to take steps to ensure that other children do not suffer the same trauma in the future. In other words, by taking action for money damages against abusers and abuse-facilitators, survivors help the effort to keep all San Diego children safe.
In some cases, survivors of child sexual abuse may also have the option of seeking what is known as injunctive relief. An injunction is a court order for a person or entity to act, or not to act, in a certain way; for example, an order to train staff or volunteers in sexual abuse prevention. Speak with an experienced San Diego child sexual abuse attorney to learn whether you may have the option of seeking injunctive relief in a legal action.
You may have seen news stories about lawyers who have instituted class action lawsuits against certain organizations, such as church entities and scouting organizations, seeking damages for those institutions’ failures to prevent sexual abuse of children in their care. A class action is a type of lawsuit in which a group of similarly situated victims of some type of harm band-together to file one big lawsuit against a wrongdoer, instead of dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of individual lawsuits. It is, sometimes, a more efficient and effective way to seek justice and accountability.
Class actions have special rules, however, governing how they must be managed and conducted, and what it means to be a member of the class of people seeking damages. We cannot advise you whether you are a class member of any existing class action lawsuit without knowing more about your story; we do, however, advise you to speak with an experienced San Diego child sexual abuse attorney first before making any decision about joining a class action lawsuit, as this can affect your legal rights.
Unless you’ve already reviewed the offer with your attorney, the answer is almost always NO.
In light of the recent significant changes in California law, survivors of childhood sexual abuse may encounter the uncomfortable (to say the least) situation in which an institution or insurance company offers them a settlement payment in exchange for giving up their right to sue for damages. To some (but by no means all) survivors, this unwelcome intrusion into their lives may feel like free money and a quick way to move on from past trauma.
We certainly understand that potential impulse, but we urge any survivor to exercise extreme caution before accepting any unsolicited settlement offer relating to past abuse. The strong likelihood is that whatever amount of money the insurance company offered, it is far too little and does not reflect what the survivor has the legal right to recover. At the very least, speak with our experienced San Diego child sexual abuse attorneys before agreeing to any settlement.
In our view, yes.
To be sure, in one sense, a lawyer who represents survivors of child sexual abuse in seeking justice, accountability, and compensation in California courts resembles any other personal injury attorney. The lawyer’s job, in a nutshell, is to obtain compensation (and perhaps other remedies) for the survivor from the individuals and/or institutions legally responsible for causing the survivor’s sexual trauma.
In another sense, however, a child sexual abuse attorney plays a more unique role compared to other types of personal injury matters. Unlike car accident victims or people who injure themselves on a slippery floor, child sexual abuse survivors often must overcome significant emotional and practical hurdles in revealing the harm that was done to them. A lawyer for these brave survivors must have the awareness to allow them to move forward at the pace that feels comfortable for them, while advising them of their legal options at every turn.
The lawyer must also know the still-developing aspects of California law affecting survivors, and with the complexities and considerations in assessing a client’s rights as an individual plaintiff or as a member of a class. Finally, the lawyer should have a working knowledge of how to coordinate a civil action for damages with any still-pending criminal matter in which the survivor may act as a witness.
In short, as you confront the process of seeking justice, accountability, and damages through potential legal action against sexual abusers and their facilitators, it helps to have an attorney on your side who knows the legal ropes, and is sensitive to what it took just to get to the point of being ready to come forward.
First and foremost, obtain the support you need. In our experience, survivors of child sexual assault can benefit from having a strong support system in place before taking the significant step of seeking justice through legal action. All litigation can feel emotionally challenging for parties, but litigation concerning past sexual trauma can compound the emotional toll. In the past, our clients have benefited from having the help of family, friends, and mental health counselors throughout the legal process.
Second, if you have records or other relevant evidence of your trauma, then keep it and make sure you alert your attorney to its existence (if you do not have any such evidence, that is fine, too). Particularly in cases addressing sexual abuse that occurred years in the past, even a small piece of evidence that helps to corroborate a survivor’s account of the abuse can prove immensely helpful.
Finally, we advise all of our clients to stay off of social media whenever they have a potential legal action in mind. Insurance companies and defense attorneys monitor social media accounts looking for posts that, when taken out of context, may seem to contradict a person’s claims. For now, we urge you to take a break from social media, so that others cannot misconstrue your words to try to undermine your important legal rights.
At Gomez Trial Attorneys, we understand that sexual assault is a sensitive topic. Whether you survived assault, or you are filing a suit on behalf of your child, there is no doubt that this will be a difficult process. At our firm, our number one priority is to make you feel safe and secure. We are here to support you and fight for your rights. This means that everything will go at your pace. We won’t pressure you or force you to do anything with which you are not comfortable.
Trust is important. If you don’t feel comfortable with the first attorney you meet with at our firm, that’s okay. Our goal is to make you feel comfortable, and if that means finding another attorney in the firm, then we will work with you to find someone new. If there is anything we can do to make this process easier for you, we’re here to help in any way that we can. While money won’t make the abuse go away, it can help you and your family get the care that you all deserve. To show our dedication to finding sexual abuse victims justice we are at the Gomez Trial Attorneys below are some ways we stay involved in fixing these issues.
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