Child Sexual Abuse Resource Guide
At Andreozzi + Foote we want the clients we serve and their families to feel empowered every step of the way. The issues surrounding child sexual abuse are complicated and highly emotional and everyone’s reasons for coming forward are deeply personal. Once that decision is made and disclosures are reported, things can become incredibly hectic and confusing. There is no map on how to navigate all the various components of the path you and your family are enduring. We put together this guide in an attempt to give you that road map, to give you the tools necessary to understand what to expect, how to further prevent and how to recover and heal from sexual abuse. We hope this guide serves as a compass for you and your family as you travel this windy road of justice and healing. No one survivor experiences sexual abuse in the exact same way and therefore process and response cannot be a one size fits all approach. In this guide we provide a comprehensive understanding of all the various parts of the process and we encourage you to seek out the ones that work for you and disregard the ones that don’t. We are here to help in any way we can.
How Do I Protect My Child From Sexual Abuse?
Many people wonder how it is that every 9 minutes, government authorities respond to another report of child sexual abuse.
The pervasive nature of child sexual abuse is alarming at best and a national epidemic at worst. Yet, we still do not talk about it on that scale, maybe if we did, we would see significant reductions in those numbers. Child sexual abuse is any interaction between a child and an adult (or another child) in which the child is used for the sexual stimulation or gratification of the perpetrator or an observer. Sexual abuse can include both touching and non-touching behaviors. Non-touching behaviors can include voyeurism (trying to look at a child’s naked body), taking inappropriate photos or videos of children, or exposing the child to pornography. Children of all ages, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds may experience sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse affects all genders in all geographical areas of the country.
These statistics are scary and often parents ask, how can I protect my child? How can I know if my child is being harmed? We know that most childhood sexual abuse reports are not prompt, in fact, research and studies show that the average age of disclosure is 52 years of age. One way to decrease that impact and lessen the shame, guilt, and torture children go through as they enter adulthood in silence is to understand the tactics abusers rely on to prey on children in secrecy.
When stories break in communities about a child sexual abuse case involving a trusted member of the community, inevitably the story spins into myriad questions about how that person was able to get away with what they did and for as long as they did. Adults begin to question everything and blame themselves, how could they not have known this was happening? How did this person walk among their community with status and respect all while horrifically harming the community’s children? Sexual abusers are skilled, they are strategic, they are calculated, and know how to manipulate children and adults alike. They do this by way of a tactic called grooming. Grooming is any behavior one uses to gain trust and access to a child for the sole purpose of abusing them. Most acts of child sexual abuse do not start suddenly or randomly, over 92% of child abusers are known to the victim. They begin to groom them by first identifying and carefully selecting victims they have easy access to and those who they perceive to be vulnerable or more likely to easily trust them. They are usually incredibly charismatic, helpful, and fun to be around. They offer the child laughter, gifts, and access to skills or events that the child would not otherwise have access to, they create a bond between themselves and the child that starts out very innocently in the beginning, even though the intentions behind the acts are very intentional. They seek to gain the trust of the child and the parent, in many instances they are grooming the child and parent at the same time by taking a keen interest in the child’s life, athletic ability, education, or other aspects of the child’s life where they can assert their authority and offer their assistance. They begin to create distance between the child and the adult, by offering to watch the child, teach, tutor, or mentor a child. They present themselves as an asset to the child and family. Once they begin to spend time with the child, they use that time to continue to win over that child’s trust and to slowly erode their trust in other adults including their parents. The abuser will attempt to position themselves as the only person that the child can really trust or go to for help. They do this slowly by peppering in stories that are only shared between the abuser and the child. They will say things like “I could never say this to your mom or dad, but I am telling you.” “Let’s keep this between us” Usually this begins very casually and innocently, typically tilting at something the child likes and would not mind keeping a secret such as gifts they would not otherwise be able to get, additional screen time for viewing videos or movies that they could not watch at home, etc. the child is enticed because they are receiving something that they cannot get at home but desire so they are more likely to keep it a secret. They will emotionally manipulate the child by getting the child to believe that they understand them and talk about how it’s not fair that the child cannot do these things at home or get these gifts etc., placing themselves in more of a peer-like position emotionally to the child. This creates a secret bond between them that can run emotionally deep for the child. They feel seen, understood, and heard, maybe for the first time ever. As trust is established, the child begins to share frustrations and confides secrets of their own with the abuser who then in turn catalogs those things to use against the child later in the form of threats against speaking out. The abuser becomes the confidant for that child which further isolates that child from the real trusted adults in their lives. This is a highly effective tool to separate a child from a loving adult such as a parent or caregiver, the child will begin to feel misunderstood by them and only understood by the abuser.
Once a strong bond is established the grooming will begin to move into more of a physical or sexual nature depending upon the goals of that abuser. Remember not all abuse is physical, some abusers gain sexual gratification by photographing or videoing children. They may start by taking innocent photos or videos of the child all while complimenting them at how beautiful they are or how photogenic they are, “Have they ever thought of modeling?”, this is to build the victim’s self-esteem enough to have their further progress in photos that slowly become inappropriate i.e., shirtless, or in bathing suits and then eventually naked.
For abusers whose goal is physical sexual interaction, they will start with innocent touches or exposures to sexual topics, photos, and videos that can include things like tickling the child, wrestling with them, and showing them pornography to help them learn about sex. These behaviors slowly escalate from tickling under a child’s arms to slowly moving across the chest area or starting at the waist and slowly grazing the buttocks or genitals. These are tests and they are often done quickly and seamlessly to test the child’s reaction. This can include showering with a child, walking in while they are changing, or changing together in locker rooms after workouts to normalize being naked together. Over time, the abuser will linger longer on sexual parts to normalize the touch or desensitize the child to it so even the child whose internal “harm alarm” may be sounding will dismiss it as this is just how we play or wrestle or they will stay naked longer in front of the child, shower longer, etc. They want the child to think the behavior is normal for them so that when it slowly progresses, they are less likely to fight or immediately think what is happening is wrong. It’s a buildup of trust while tearing down the child’s own internal defense mechanisms. As the behaviors progress, the child may feel what is happening is wrong, but they will start to doubt themselves because over time this has just become the norm in this relationship and they trust, respect and in some instances love the abuser.
It’s important to understand that physical touching and actual sexual activity are usually the end stages of the relationship that an adult has with the child and that over the course of the entire relationship between abuser and child, the actual abuse is only a fraction of the relationship between them. This is what makes it so confusing for children who are in it and adults who later discover it. Because they have been emotionally manipulated into thinking this is a person they can trust, they will begin to question everything they know to be true and that is only if they have had adequate sexual education and awareness of things like “good touch/bad touch” while still today, many children do not receive. It’s hard to discern what is right and wrong behavior if you are a young child who has never been told and is now only getting this information from the one person-the abuser-who is seeking to manipulate and confuse them.
Once the child begins to resist the abuse or develops an ability to attempt to fight back, say no, etc., the abuser now weaponizes all the information they have collected over time and uses this to further the erosion or isolation of the relationship with other adults. The abuser will say things like, “If you tell anyone, they won’t believe you anyway” this is usually done as a show of their power or status within the grooming they have achieved with other adults. The abuser will often even test this in public to show the child the control they have by sharing something with that adult that makes the adult in turn show that they trust the abuser over the child.
They will threaten to expose other secrets that the child may have shared with them if they tell. They will play upon the child’s emotional confusion around the relationship by saying things like, “Don’t you love me?” “I thought we were friends, why would you want to hurt me? Or get me in trouble etc.” Shifting all the blame, guilt, and responsibility to the child.
These are the patterns abusers use, they are psychological, strategic, and often so cunning that even the most educated child and/or adult can fall prey to trusting them. They prey on their emotions; they identify weaknesses and capitalize on them. This is how abusers get away with abuse for as long as they do. This is how communities of highly successful and intelligent adults fail to see an abuser hiding in plain sight and therefore children stay silent for as long as they do.
Identify and Prevent
The hope in all of this is that we are now talking about these signs, we are encouraging our communities to know what grooming is, how to identify it, and how to stop it before it leads to significant harm and trauma for a child.
Warning signs parents should look out for are whether there are adults in their child’s life that have taken a unique interest in them. Are they spending more time with an adult than would be considered normal for their age? Has the child become withdrawn or distant, has the child stopped sharing information easily with you, are they acting out in ways that are not typical? Is the child sneaking around? Are they lying? Does the abuser appear to have control over your child either emotionally or psychologically? Is the abuser finding more ways to be alone with your child? Is your child spending more time online? Remember online predators are the fastest-growing method of sexual abuse and exploitation. These are all red flags that parents need to look out for and to educate their children about.
Talk to your child in age-appropriate ways about these forms of abuse, teach them about their bodies, teach them about consent, and how to recognize the signs that someone may be attempting to gain their trust for the wrong reasons. Talk about these things often, and normalize the discussion so that if the child has questions and encounters grooming, they are more likely to recognize it and report it immediately. Make sure you have parental controls on all their accessible devices so you limit what they can be exposed to and filter out adult sites and spaces online. Try to never shame, blame, or guilt your child into ever thinking there is anything they could have done or should do to avoid abuse. The blame always lies with the abuser-period. Create safe spaces for your child to learn about boundaries and how to verbalize them.
If you suspect your child is being abused you must report it to the proper authorities immediately, or want to learn more about resources to help educate your child please visit
or your local rape crisis center, child advocacy center, or victim service agency.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Child Sexual Abuse
Every 90 seconds a child is sexually abused in the United States. Child sexual abuse is a serious issue that affects millions of children worldwide.
According to Rainn, one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18.
93% of child sexual abuse victims know the person who sexually abused them. Only about one-third of child sexual abuse cases are reported to the authorities.
Disclosure for childhood sexual abuse can vary and may depend on several factors, such as the severity and frequency of the abuse, the relationship between the child and the abuser, and the child’s level of support and understanding of the abuse. Children with disabilities are 3-4 times more likely to experience sexual abuse than children without disabilities.
It’s important to understand that child sexual abuse can be difficult to detect, as children may not disclose the abuse or may not fully understand what has happened to them. The grooming that abusers engage in creates, confusion, shame, guilt, and in some instances threats from the abuser all impact a child’s ability to communicate about the sexual abuse they are enduring.
What Is Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse refers to any sexual activity with a child, whether it is physical or non-physical. It can cause a range of physical, emotional, and psychological effects that can last a lifetime. It’s important for parents, caregivers, teachers, and other adults to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse to protect children and get them the help they need.
Sexual abuse of children can take many forms, including fondling, oral sex, vaginal or anal penetration, or exposing the child to pornographic material. It can also include non-contact abuse, such as exposing a child to sexual acts or material or forcing a child to engage in sexual behavior or online sexual abuse.
Children can be sexually abused online in several ways:
- Online grooming: This refers to the process by which a sexual predator builds trust and rapport with a child online with the intent to sexually abuse them. This may include exchanging explicit images or videos or arranging in-person meetings.
- Sextortion: This occurs when a child is coerced or threatened into performing sexual acts online or sending explicit images or videos.
- Cyberstalking: This refers to repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, or threats directed toward a child online.
- Online exploitation: This refers to the distribution or sale of explicit images or videos of a child, often without their consent.
- Live streaming of sexual abuse: This refers to the live broadcast of sexual abuse or exploitation of a child over the internet.
It’s important to understand that these forms of online sexual abuse can have devastating and long-lasting impacts on a child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. It’s critical to educate children in age-appropriate ways about safe internet usage and to take steps to protect them from online sexual predators.
Only you know your child best and you will be able to detect when your child is deviating from their normal behavior. To be vigilant in doing this it is helpful to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse.
Here are some of the warning signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse:
- Bruising or swelling in the genital or anal area
- Pain, itching or bleeding in the genital or anal area
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Pregnancy, especially in young children
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
- Regression to earlier developmental stages (such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking)
- Changes in sleep patterns (nightmares or difficulty sleeping)
- Changes in eating habits (loss of appetite or overeating)
- Changes in behavior or mood (becoming withdrawn, aggressive, or anxious)
- Changes in school performance, a decline in grades, lack of desire to attend, no longer participating in activities such as sports and other previously enjoyed school activities.
- Self-harm, such as cutting or burning
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Emotional symptoms:
- Depression or anxiety
- Low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness
- Anger or aggression
- Shame or guilt
- Fear of certain people, places, or situations
- Difficulty forming relationships or trusting others
Sexualized behavior or knowledge:
- Engaging in sexual play with toys or objects
- Drawings or writings that are sexual in nature
- Sexualized language or behavior toward others
- Knowledge of sexual acts beyond what is appropriate for their age
Avoidance of certain people, places, or situations:
- Refusing to be alone with a specific person
- Refusing to participate in activities that were previously enjoyed
- Fear of a specific person or place
Many of these warning signs and symptoms can just be a part of a child’s natural developmental process or could be happening for reasons that are not child sexual abuse. Any deviation from your child’s normal behavior or regression of any behavior should give you pause and concern. This is the time to get curious with your child and to engage them in age-appropriate ways. Ask questions in a non-accusatory manner that lets that child know you care, you notice, and you are curious about what may be going on with them. Some children may not exhibit any signs or symptoms at all, making it even more challenging to identify abuse. This is where having those conversations with your children often and early is vital to give them the space, language, and feeling of support that will allow them to feel like they can disclose to you.
If you suspect a child is being sexually abused, it is essential to take immediate action. You should:
- Believe the child and take their allegations seriously
- Thank them for trusting you
- Tell them it’s not their fault
- Provide emotional resources and support and comfort to the child
- Teach Healthy Coping Mechanisms
- Report the abuse to the authorities or a trusted adult
- Ensure the child’s safety and well-being
It is also important to provide ongoing support to the child, even after the abuse has been reported. This can include counseling, therapy, or other forms of support to help the child heal from the trauma of abuse. Andreozzi + Foote has walked many parents and caregivers through the reporting process and can offer guidance and assistance as you enter the various justice systems.
Child sexual abuse can have long-lasting and severe impacts on a child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being and can impact cognitive and sexual development and impact relationships with others.
Children who have been sexually abused may experience physical health problems, such as pain or discomfort in their genital area, frequent urinary or yeast infections, and difficulty walking or sitting. They may also be at a higher risk for sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.
Children who have been sexually abused are at an increased risk for mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. They may also struggle with self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide.
Child sexual abuse can negatively impact a child’s cognitive development, causing difficulties with concentration, memory, and problem-solving. Children who have been sexually abused may also have trouble with relationships and may have difficulty forming healthy attachments.
Children who have been sexually abused may have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, both with peers and with romantic partners. They may struggle with trust, intimacy, and communication.
Children who have been sexually abused may struggle with their sexual development and may engage in risky sexual behavior or avoid sexual relationships altogether.
It’s important to understand that the effects of child sexual abuse are unique to each child and can manifest in different ways. No one person will experience child sexual abuse the same nor will they all have the same reactions or coping methods. Early intervention and support can help minimize the impact of child sexual abuse and promote healing.
Studies have shown a strong link between childhood sexual abuse and substance use. Some of the statistics related to this include:
- Increased risk of substance abuse:
- 10’x more likely to use hard drugs
- 3.4’x more likely to use marijuana
- 6’x more likely to use Cocaine
- Higher rates of alcohol use:
- Children who have experienced sexual abuse are more likely to engage in heavy drinking and drug use compared to their peers who have not experienced abuse.
One of the main reasons that individuals who have experienced sexual abuse may be more likely to engage in substance use is that they are often trying to cope with the psychological distress and trauma associated with the abuse. Substance use can provide temporary relief from the pain and anxiety associated with sexual abuse, which can make it a tempting option for those who are struggling to manage their feelings and emotions. However, this form of coping is usually only temporary and can lead to more significant problems down the line, including substance dependence and addiction.
Another factor that may contribute to the link between sexual abuse and substance use is the development of mental health disorders. Individuals who have experienced sexual abuse are more likely to experience a range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. Substance use can be a way for these individuals to self-medicate and manage their mental health symptoms, but it can also make their symptoms worse and increase the risk of addiction. It can also put them in additional vulnerable settings that can and often do lead to additional victimization. It is not uncommon for a victim of sexual abuse to have been victimized more than once.
It’s important to understand that substance use can have serious negative impacts on a person’s physical and mental health and can make it more difficult to recover from the effects of child sexual abuse. It’s critical to provide support and resources to survivors of child sexual abuse, including access to substance abuse treatment and other forms of support, to help them overcome their substance use problems and begin the healing process.
Child sexual abuse survivors experience significant rates of shame and guilt and when they also have co-occurring disorders such as substance use or mental health diagnosis, it can further exacerbate their shame and desire to escape. 33% of survivors will contemplate suicide at some point in their lives with 13% attempting suicide. This is due in part to the trauma and emotional distress that can result from abuse, as well as the difficulties these children may face in coping with the aftermath of abuse. Additionally, the stigma and shame associated with sexual abuse can further contribute to feelings of hopelessness and increase the risk of suicide. It’s important to note that not all children who have been sexually abused will attempt or consider suicide, but it is a significant risk factor. Many sexual abuse survivors will have impacted self-esteem, and self-worth and will possibly engage in self-harm as a coping mechanism.
Children need to feel heard, seen, understood, and supported. The more parents know about sexual abuse, the more likely children are to disclose early. Talk to your children, talk early, and talk often about age-appropriate awareness of their bodies, give them the proper terminology, discuss who is allowed to touch them and who is not, and talk about who should see their bodies and for what reasons. You can empower your child without scaring them just by talking often about these subjects, that way they are simply part of your overall family discussions as opposed to a frightening one-time sit-down conversation. Get curious with your children, It is ok to discuss these things with your child, in fact, it may save them from becoming a victim of sexual abuse.
Andreozzi + Foote believe it is everyone’s responsibility to protect children and when institutions fail to take every action possible to protect children, they can and should be held accountable. Our experienced attorneys can help your family in making these determinations and seek justice through the civil system.
How To Emotionally Support Child Sex Abuse Victims
When a child bravely discloses sexual abuse, as a parent or caregiver, you are thrown into a tornado of emotions. It is overwhelming and emotional to hear that someone you care about, especially a child, may have been harmed in this way. You may have your emotional response without even realizing it. If you have past trauma in any way, it can very easily trigger your emotional response from your past. Be mindful of this. First thing, breathe deeply in and out a few times to help center yourself before you speak or react. Try to stay as calm as possible, children take their cues from adults. If you are immediately angered or show signs of extreme emotional duress, the child will feel that and could very well shut down out of fear of hurting you or making you mad. The words and actions that follow a child’s disclosure can make a world of difference in their overall healing.
The first words out of your mouth should be that you believe them. Just saying, I believe you, can put that child at ease and reduce the anxiety and fear they are feeling at that moment. You will not have all the information, you may have a million questions swimming around in your head, and in time you can seek those answers but what that child needs from you more than anything else at that moment, is that you believe them. Many children wait weeks, months, and years to disclose abuse, this is the norm, and rarely do children speak up right away. There is a high likelihood that their perpetrator told them that no one would believe them if they spoke up, this is a common manipulative tool that perpetrators use to keep their victims silent. It is important that the child understand that you believe them. This will set the tone for how that child will react to you and any other adults who will need to speak with them down the line such as law enforcement, doctors, lawyer, etc. Try not to launch into an interrogation of that child, the questions you have are important and they can wait while you tend to the child’s emotional needs. If you launch right into all the questions you have, you could send the message that while you said you believed them, you do not, because you are questioning their story. This can and will make a child immediately shut down and they may withhold information out of fear. As a parent or caregiver, tending to their emotional needs first is the best approach.
Your immediate response may be to grab the child and comfort them physically, be careful here, as counterintuitive as it may sound, ask the child if they want a hug. Sexual abuse is a violation of personal space and boundaries, we want the child to feel in control of their personal space, by asking them if they want a hug, you are reaffirming that they get to choose how they are touched, when, and by whom. Let them know that it is ok if they do not want a hug, and reassure them that it is their body and their choice.
If the child is disclosing abuse that may have just occurred, it is important to seek medical attention. They could have injuries that you cannot see and may need to have testing done for sexually transmitted diseases. If your county has a Child Advocacy Center, that is the best place to start. Call them and explain what is happening and they can guide you. If there are no Child Advocacy Centers, contact your local rape crisis program, you can find your local rape crisis program here.
If the child disclosing is not your child or in your direct care and they are disclosing to you, safety is a huge concern for that child. If the abuse is happening in their home or an environment, such as school or activity, you will need to seek guidance on what you can do to assure that the child does not have to reenter that place. A few things you can do right away, contact the reporting entity in your respective state You can do this anonymously or by giving your name. If you do not know who to contact, call or text the Child help National Child Abuse Hotline (1.800.4.A.CHILD [1.800.422.4453]). They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Thank them for trusting you with this information.
When children are preyed upon and abused, their trust in adults is significantly manipulated and harmed. Remember that 93% of all child victims know their perpetrators.
Most children are very confused by what is happening to them because they most likely know the perpetrator and trusted that adult before the abuse began. Their trust has now been shaken and they are left unsure of who they can trust and who they cannot. The information they are giving you is a huge exercise in trust, please handle the information with care. Let the child know you can be trusted with this information and that you are not upset or angry with them. Do not make promises or reassurances that you cannot keep. It may seem comforting to tell a child that you will not tell anyone, but that is the opposite of what you should say to them. You will need to report the abuse to someone for the safety and well-being of that child and others. Let the child know that you will have to tell someone and report the abuse. Reassure them that they are not in trouble.
Normalize for them that talking about abuse is ok, it is healthy, and it can help them heal and recover from the trauma they are experiencing. Let them know that as more people are aware of the abuse they endured, they will have to talk to people such as law enforcement, lawyers, advocates, and others to share the details of what happened to them. Inform them that their voice is powerful and their story matters. Let them know that they are not alone and will never be alone in this process. Give them access to supportive services from local rape crisis agencies, books, and other written materials that can help them feel seen and heard, and online resources such as chat support and online support groups.
Tell them it is not their fault.
Most children who have been abused are feeling a significant amount of guilt, shame, and confusion. They think what has happened to them is their fault and are told this by their perpetrators. Explain to the child that what happened to them was not their fault, that as a child, it does not matter what they did, said, etc. no one should touch them without their consent. Also, let the child know that even if they were confused and did not know what was happening and think they allowed the abuse because they did not say no, explain to them that children cannot consent to any sexual activity due to their age. Explain to the child that everyone responds to being abused differently, some may cry, scream, or fight while others may go into shock and not be able to even talk let alone scream. Explain to them that no matter how they responded, it was not their fault. A child may think that just because they did not scream or say no or fight back that it means they allowed it to happen. Reassure that child that the way they responded to what was happening to them is ok, regardless of what they said or did. Child abuse is never the victim’s fault. Period.
When children are traumatized and hurting, they tend to act out. They often lack the verbiage to explain what is happening inside. If your child withdrawals, or begins to act out, monitor their behavior and be gentle with them as they are internally processing what happened to them.
A “trauma-informed” approach aims to understand behavior—not label it, blame someone, or accidentally shame them. Telling children that it’s OK to not feel OK, sharing with them that they are not alone, and telling them that you believe them are all powerful ways to offer a young person a safe space to navigate confusion around trauma.
Validate their feelings and response and empower them to understand that they are having very normal reactions to these abnormal things they have endured.
Information is power and when people have experienced trauma from sexual abuse, they have many questions and needs. One of the hardest jobs as a parent or caregiver is knowing that often, we are not the ones our children will turn to when they need to talk or want to ask questions. So, in normalizing the conversations around engaging tough topics, be sure to give them plenty of resources and acknowledge that you know it may feel odd for them to speak to you about whatever they need help with. Tell them that this is OK and give them some alternative names, places, and entities to whom they can speak, including trusted friends, family, advocates, or hotlines. By doing this, you are giving your child options that help return control to them.
Ask the child what they need, do not assume that you know exactly how they feel or what they need. Each child is unique as are the facts around every case. By asking the child what they need, you are once again empowering them to think about what they need and then, if they can ask for what they need. It’s second nature for many parents and caregivers to want to launch into an immediate plan of action, to offer advice or opinions-try to pause first and ask the child what they need from you at this moment. They may not want you to offer guidance or try to fix the situation, launching into a whole conversation or plan could overwhelm the child and shut them down. If you need help with these conversations, reach out to your local rape crisis program, child advocacy center, and or victim services agency for help. You as the parent are also not alone in this process.
Teach Healthy Coping Strategies
No doubt that the impacted child is going to need help in coping with the short and long-term impacts of sexual violence which include but are not limited to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance use, self-harm, anxiety, panic disorders, and more. If we can build resiliency in our children and teach them to feel feelings while normalizing trauma in a way that gives them space to talk, feel, heal, and deal with it, then they are less likely to reach for negative coping mechanisms. So often, negative coping comes from a lack of effective coping strategies.
Encourage children to use their words and permit them to be mad or sad by being there for them when they cry. Teach them to use tools such as meditation, deep breathing, and walking away when overwhelmed. Normalize common emotions by making them feel supported instead of isolated this helps to teach them how to process emotions in a way that makes them feel better. Continue to include the child in all typical family engagements and events, meaning, do not treat them differently and do not make decisions to exclude them because you think it’s too hard or uncomfortable. Rather, empower the child to make those decisions and for them to know that while this traumatic thing has happened, they are still a part of the family. This allows them to have a sense of normalcy in their lives such as continuing normal routines and allowing them to feel that not every aspect of their lives has been impacted by the traumatic event.
Check-in with the child about the incident and their feelings, and be mindful of how trauma impacts the brain, especially in developing children. Children are resilient and their brains have an incredible way of protecting them, but this can also make engagement about the trauma a challenge.
So, when you need to ask more probative questions, engage children when they are playing or during physical activity. A child’s brain and development are different and direct questioning does not always work, especially if you’re trying to get them to talk about something scary, fear-inducing, or traumatizing.
Sometimes, if a child’s brain is already engaged with coloring, drawing, or shooting hoops, it can be easier for them to talk about topics that are more emotionally overwhelming. Ask questions, let them know you love them, that you are always willing to hear anything, and that you will never judge them or shame them for anything they must share.
By giving children healthy coping tools, you are building a foundation for them when they can and will have hard feelings and you are permitting them to process those emotions without them wanting to escape.
There is no one path to healing; all survivors will need individualized support and resources to heal and find recovery from the trauma they have endured.
What To Expect After Your Child Discloses Sexual Abuse
One of the most heartbreaking conversations one can imagine happens when a child discloses sexual abuse to a parent. Depending upon the age of the child and the circumstances, the disclosure can take many forms. For example, younger children may struggle to find the words to describe the abuse. Intrafamilial abuse may involve cues and non-verbal acts which are a quiet cry for help. As a parent, there are many ways you can support your child through this difficult time.
However, you may wonder what must you do legally after a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse and what might come next.
There are both federal and state laws that cover mandatory reporting of sexual abuse that often apply to parents. But after the difficult process of making the report, the journey for a parent has just begun. An abused child will generally be required to give statements to law enforcement and child protection agencies. After these interviews are completed, law enforcement will assess whether a criminal case can be brought against the perpetrator. Furthermore, child protection agencies will ensure that the child is in a safe environment. Finally, parents will have to consider whether pursuing a civil case might be in the best interest of their child.
As it pertains to the observation of potential sexual abuse of a child, mandatory reporting laws generally cover the who, what, when, and how to report. Because state laws can vary on this issue, the following is designed to be a broad overview of issues commonly seen in different state laws. The violation of mandatory reporting laws can result in criminal charges, disqualification of professional licenses, and other civil fines and penalties. Most notably, the failure of a parent to report a suspected abuse of their own child may result in an investigation by child protection agencies and the loss of custodial or legal rights to the child.
WHO MUST REPORT
The biggest discrepancies between mandatory reporting laws are often who is required to report suspected abuse. Some states are very specific in the identification of persons obligated to report. We frequently see teachers, clergy, and healthcare providers on this list. However, the recent trend in mandatory reporting is to get away from specific professions or groups of persons and more broadly require all persons involved in the care and supervision of children to report abuse. Obviously, parents who have any custodial rights to their children fall into this category of reporters and thus should disclose the suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities.
WHAT TO REPORT
While other resources might address in more detail neglect and other forms of physical abuse, this article specifically addresses sexual abuse and a parent’s obligation to disclose it. In every state contact with a child’s genital, reproductive, or private area for no legitimate purpose generally constitutes sexual abuse. The term “legitimate” is often inserted in-laws because it allows contact for things such as bathing by caretakers and touching by health care professionals in the context of their job if done according to medical standards. However, touching other “non-private” areas of a child might also be considered some degree of sexual assault. For example, many states consider touching any part of a child’s body, if done for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, to be a sexual offense. These laws cover what is generally known as “grooming.” Grooming frequently involves non-physical contact but is done for the purpose of eliciting sexual arousal and is often a criminal offense.
WHEN TO REPORT
Obviously, the obligation to report sexual abuse does not attach to those who are completely unaware of the abuse. However, the reporting obligation is generally triggered when the person reasonably believes or suspects that abuse occurred or could be occurring. Even if you discover abuse that may have occurred several years ago, the obligation to report often continues, and for good reason. While the abuse of the child making the disclosure may have ended, the perpetrator may continue to abuse until he or she is brought to justice.
Generally, the report of suspected abuse should be made as soon as one can reasonably do so. If you temporarily don’t have the ability to make the report for one reason or another, you should not fear being prosecuted during that time. However, once you can make the report it should be made.
HOW TO REPORT
Most states have a dedicated number for a child protection service or agency that must be notified in the event of suspected abuse. The child protection service will generally notify law enforcement, however, that is not always the case so you should call the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over the area where the suspected abuse occurred. Many believe they should report to law enforcement where the victim lives. While that is better than not reporting, it’s likely you will be told to call the police department that has jurisdiction over the area where the crime occurred.
INVESTIGATION FOLLOWING THE REPORT
You should expect to be contacted by a person from law enforcement and likely a child protection agency. The police are likely to reach out and ask for assistance in the investigation of the sexual abuse of your child. This can be incredibly overwhelming and emotional. Ask for a victim advocate for you and your child to walk you through the steps you are about to take, you are legally entitled to this service. The next step often begins with a visit to the local hospital, child advocacy center, or health care center where a medical professional, often a S.A.N.E. (sexual assault nurse examiner) or doctor will examine your child for physical signs of sexual abuse. The examiner may take DNA swabs from your child. This can be emotionally hard for you both and having that advocate walk you through what is happening will help to ease some of this discomfort.
The next step in the process is often a forensic evaluation by a child forensic interviewer. The interviewer is often a social worker who is trained in questioning children in a non-directed way to get them to disclose information related to the abuse. The course of these evaluations can vary widely based on the age of the child. For example, young children might be provided drawings and asked to point to areas of the body where they were touched. Older children on the other hand might be asked more direct questions. Many municipalities have child advocacy centers that are staffed with designated professionals who perform these evaluations. Again, having your victim advocate with you is helpful to navigate you and your child through this process.
Assuming the child appropriately disclosed abuse in the forensic interview, law enforcement will generally progress with their investigation. The police might ask for articles of clothing or other evidence that might contain the DNA of your child or the perpetrator. If there were written or digital communications between your child and the perpetrator, police will often ask for documents, electronics, and passwords to social media accounts. Even if electronic communications have been erased, they might live on the hardware of the device and thus could be restored.
Investigators will also begin to question third parties who might have relevant information to prove your child’s allegation of abuse. We all know that a leopard doesn’t change its spots. Almost all abusers go on to abuse multiple victims. Therefore, the police will likely begin to search for other victims. This is good because there is strength in numbers. While offenders are likely to press forward with a case where there is only one person alleging abuse, they are unlikely to go to trial if there are multiple victims in line to testify against them. This can create time delays that can be incredibly frustrating for any parent and child.
In our experience, prosecutors are sometimes reluctant to bring cases where there is only one victim based solely on disclosure by a child. Where there is no DNA or other supporting evidence, one of the best ways to catch the perpetrator is to perform a “sting” type investigation. That often involves a recorded phone call, a monitored text message, or a video recording that seeks to obtain an admission from the perpetrator. Parents should not attempt this on their own but rather should suggest the idea to law enforcement.
We are often contacted by families who are frustrated by the lack of diligence by law enforcement. We do our best to help clients interact with law enforcement and gather evidence and information that will assist the prosecution. In fact, in one instance a client’s criminal case was dismissed by the court due to an issue related to improper evidence that was presented by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. We did our own digging in the case and found evidence that was overlooked by the D.A.’s office, supplied it to the client, and it ultimately led to the perpetrator pleading guilty.
INTERACTIONS WITH THE PERPETRATOR FOLLOWING THE REPORT
It is important that you limit any contact the perpetrator might have with your child during the investigation. Law enforcement will often assign a victim advocate to your child’s case. Victim advocates can coordinate resources for you to ensure your family is receiving all available support and is up to speed on the course of relevant investigations. You may need to seek a protective order which is a court mandate that the perpetrator stays away from your child. Under most circumstances, public and private employers of schools, daycares, camps, and other youth serving organizations will place the alleged perpetrator on administrative leave. That means that perpetrators should be removed from their place of work, generally with pay, until such time as his or her guilt or innocence becomes known.
THE CRIMINAL CASE
Law enforcement officers will review all the information compiled during the course of the investigation. Often in conjunction with a prosecutor, they will determine if they believe there is sufficient evidence to charge the perpetrator with a crime. Some states require law enforcement to execute what is called an affidavit of probable cause which outlines the facts of the case and the alleged crimes that were committed. After the presentation of this affidavit to a judge, an arrest warrant will generally be issued that allows the police to pick up the alleged perpetrator and place them in custody. The perpetrator will then be taken to an arraignment where bail might be set as well as a date for a preliminary hearing. While you may wish to hire your own attorney by this point, for several reasons it is generally best that they sit on the sideline and not interfere with the prosecutor’s case.
At the preliminary hearing, a determination will be made if there is probable cause to believe the crime was committed. This is a very low burden of proof, and it is generally met if there is any evidence of the crime that is credible, even if it is hearsay. In most cases, this hearing will be waived by the defendant, and child victims very rarely must testify at this time. However, if they do, a victim advocate or someone from the prosecutor’s office is generally there to prepare you for the hearing.
Assuming the judge finds probable cause, the case will then progress for many months and possibly years through the criminal court system. As a parent, obviously, your hope is that the perpetrator will eventually plead guilty, and thus your child never has to testify. The determination of whether the case will end in a plea or a trial is mostly dictated by the strength of the evidence. There are many different types of pleas. We often encourage victims not to agree to no-contest pleas. While no-contest pleas generally result in the same criminal punishment as guilty pleas, they are treated much differently in civil matters.
After a plea is entered, there is generally a sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing the judge may wish to hear from you or your child about the impact of the abuse and may consider this when sentencing the abuser. Often a victim advocate will ask you to prepare a victim impact statement that you or someone else can submit to the court for consideration. We are available to assist you with the preparation of the victim impact statement.
THE CIVIL CASE
The purpose of the criminal justice system is to hold the perpetrator accountable for his or her actions. The criminal justice system is necessary to protect the safety of the community by isolating individuals who are unsafe. However, the criminal system is quite limited in what it can do for the victim. This is evident by the fact that criminal prosecutions are generally brought by the state, not the victim. While the criminal justice system can provide the victim with restitution, it is generally considered woefully inadequate to make a meaningful impact on the life of the victim. Restitution does not take into consideration the long-term impacts of childhood sexual abuse and trauma which are estimated to be as high as $282,734 and that does not take into consideration pain and suffering.
Criminal cases do not always produce justice. We often see far too many juries come back with not-guilty verdicts in criminal cases due to many reasons, rape culture, the CSI effect, disbelieving in family members’ ability to abuse children, their own misguided perceptions, etc. In sexual abuse cases there often lacks evidence, many juries think that what they see on TV crime shows is what they will see in a local case and that is simply not true. Rarely are there witnesses to sexual abuse, and there is only physical evidence or DNA in less than 5% of all reported cases, this is due in part to delayed disclosures which is a norm in these cases, and finally, the impact of rape culture still permeates jury’s minds. Juries have a hard time believing that “trusted” members of their communities could commit such harm or that family members would abuse children.
The purpose of a civil justice system is to provide the victim with the resources he or she needs throughout their life. This might include money for medical services, therapy, education, or other conveniences throughout their life. The civil justice system also serves the additional purpose of holding institutions and organizations accountable. While a business, for example, cannot be put in jail, it can be publicly identified and held financially responsible if they fail to reasonably supervise children and this allows them to be sexually abused. The civil justice system can offer more information for the victim and their family that the criminal case will not and cannot publicly disclose. Victims and families find justice in the details, in the access to information, and exposure of that information. The civil justice system allows for depositions of the perpetrator and access to records that would never be admissible in a criminal court case.
Hearing a child disclose sexual abuse is scary and emotionally taxing, being empowered with information and having support through the options you and your family have available to you is vitally important. We are here to give you that support and more as you consider whether a civil case in your situation is right for you and your family. Please call today for a free consultation and we can walk you through every option.
Child Sex Abuse Victim’s Rights
Disclosing child sexual abuse can be a difficult and traumatic experience for the survivor, but it is an important step in the healing process and can lead to justice being served. While every state and jurisdiction will have different laws in place, different practices, and agencies performing various functions for sexual abuse victims, most cases follow a similar pattern, and this blog will walk you through a high level of what to expect when a survivor discloses sexual abuse.
Here is a general overview of what might happen after someone discloses child sexual abuse:
- Reporting the abuse:The survivor or someone else (such as a teacher, counselor, or family member) can report the abuse to the police or child protective services. If the survivor is under 18, a parent or guardian may make the report on their behalf.
- Medical examination:The survivor may undergo a medical examination to determine if there has been any physical harm, collect evidence, and provide them with appropriate medical care.
- Investigation:Police or child protective services may investigate the case, interview the survivor and any witnesses, and gather evidence.
- Prosecution:If there is sufficient evidence, the abuser may be arrested and charged with a crime. The case will then proceed through the criminal justice system, which may include a trial.
It is important to note that the specifics of what happens after disclosure of child sexual abuse can vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction, the survivor’s personal circumstances, and the nature of the abuse.
Victims of crime have certain rights that are protected by law, regardless of the type of crime they have experienced or the jurisdiction in which it occurred. These rights are designed to ensure that victims are treated with dignity and respect and that their voices are heard throughout the criminal justice process.
Here is a comprehensive overview of some of the key rights that crime victims may have:
- Right to information:Victims have the right to receive information about the status of the investigation, prosecution, and trial of the person who committed the crime against them. This information may include the arrest and release of the defendant, the scheduling of court proceedings, and any plea deals or sentences that are negotiated.
- Right to be notified:Victims have the right to be notified of significant developments in the criminal justice process, such as when the defendant is released from custody or when a trial date is set.
- Right to be present:Victims have the right to be present at all court proceedings in which the defendant is charged with a crime that was committed against them unless the court determines that the victim’s testimony would be materially affected by the victim’s presence.
- Right to be heard:Victims have the right to provide a victim impact statement in court and to have that statement considered by the judge during sentencing. A victim impact statement is a written or oral description of how the crime has affected the victim, including physical and emotional harm, financial losses, and any other impacts.
- Right to protection:Victims have the right to be protected from intimidation and retaliation by the defendant or anyone acting on the defendant’s behalf. This protection may include physical security measures, such as a restraining order, or legal remedies, such as contempt of court charges for violating the terms of a restraining order.
- Right to compensation:Many states have compensation programs that provide financial assistance to victims of crime to help cover the costs of medical expenses, lost wages, and other expenses related to the crime.
- Right to privacy:Victims have the right to keep their contact information and other personal information confidential unless they give their consent for that information to be released.
- Right to be treated with respect:Victims have the right to be treated with dignity and respect throughout the criminal justice process, and to have their privacy and safety protected by law enforcement, prosecutors, and other officials.
It is important to note that the specific rights that crime victims have can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of crime that was committed. However, all crime victims have the right to be informed about their rights and to have those rights respected and upheld throughout the criminal justice process.
Crime victims’ rights are essential for ensuring that victims of sexual abuse are treated with dignity and respect, and that their voices are heard throughout the criminal justice process. These rights provide a critical foundation for the healing and recovery of sexual abuse victims, and they play a vital role in promoting fairness and justice in the criminal justice system. Additionally, many jurisdictions have victim advocacy organizations that provide support, information, and assistance to crime victims, and these organizations can help victims assert their rights and navigate the criminal justice system.
Victim advocates are individuals who provide support, information, and assistance to victims of crime. They work within the criminal justice system and other organizations such as prosecutors’ offices, law enforcement agencies, probation and parole departments, child advocacy centers, and more. They are there to help sexual abuse victims understand their rights, navigate the criminal justice process, and access resources that can help them recover from the trauma of the crime. Victim advocates are essential to the overall experience a survivor will have during their time within the justice system as they are often the sole point of contact for the victim, they are the connection for that victim and their family to all the other aspects of the system. They make sure sexual abuse victims, and their families are up to date on what is happening in their respective cases, provide all the information and resources they need to understand what is happening and what will happen, they predict and prepare the victim of sexual abuse to the best of their ability. It is not uncommon for sexual abuse victims to have multiple advocates depending on how the entered the justice system and where they live. Every jurisdiction in the country has victim advocates but they do not all look the same.
There are two types of victim advocates: confidential victim advocates and non-confidential victim advocates. The key difference between these two types of advocates is the level of confidentiality that they provide to victims. It is important to fully understand the differences between these two advocates to ensure your protection.
Confidential Victim Advocates
Confidential victim advocates are individuals who provide support and assistance to victims while maintaining the strictest level of confidentiality. This means that the information that victims share with confidential victim advocates cannot be disclosed to anyone else unless the victim gives their consent or there is a legal obligation to do so. Confidential victim advocates are often found in organizations such as rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and other organizations that provide services to victims of crime. Confidential victim advocates play a critical role in supporting victims who may be reluctant to disclose information to anyone else, such as victims who fear retaliation or victims who are not yet ready to involve law enforcement in their situation. Confidential victim advocates can help victims access services such as counseling, medical care, and other resources that can help them recover from the trauma of the crime.
Non-Confidential Victim Advocates
Non-confidential victim advocates, on the other hand, may be required to share information with law enforcement or other agencies to provide effective assistance to victims. For example, non-confidential victim advocates may work within a district attorney’s office or a victim services unit of a police department. Non-confidential victim advocates can provide a wide range of services to victims, including assistance with filing a police report, obtaining a restraining order, and accessing compensation programs.
The key advantage of non-confidential victim advocates is that they can provide a more comprehensive level of support to victims, as they can collaborate with law enforcement and other agencies to help victims access the services and resources that they need. However, it is important for victims to understand that any information that they share with a non-confidential victim advocate may be disclosed to others, depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Both confidential and non-confidential victim advocates play important roles in supporting victims of crime. The choice between these two types of advocates will depend on a victim’s individual needs and circumstances, and on the level of confidentiality that they are comfortable with. It is important for victims to understand their rights and to choose the type of advocate that they feel will best meet their needs, to get the support, information, and assistance that they need to recover from the trauma of the crime.
Best Practices for Forensic Interviewing
Forensic interviewing of a child victim of sexual abuse requires special sensitivity and expertise to obtain accurate information and minimize further trauma. These interviews can happen in police stations, prosecutors’ offices and or other system-based settings, however, the best practice is to have them done in a child advocacy center to ensure the child feels safe and supported. In addition, a child should only be interviewed once if possible and that interview should be recorded by a professional. This avoids unnecessary retelling of the story on the part of the child which not only lessens the trauma they may experience every time they have to retell the story, but it also reduces the chance that a defense attorney will have multiple interviews to pick apart a child’s story.
Here are some best practices for a forensic interviewer:
- Trauma-focused approach:The interviewer should use a trauma-focused approach and understand the impact of trauma on a child’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development. The interviewer should be aware of the child’s emotional state and try to establish a rapport with them.
- Appropriate language:The interviewer should use developmentally appropriate language and terminology that the child can understand. Avoid using medical or legal terms that may confuse the child.
- Avoid leading questions:The interviewer should avoid using leading questions that may suggest answers or shape the child’s responses. Instead, they should use open-ended questions that allow the child to freely share their experiences.
- Minimize retelling of the story:The interviewer should minimize the number of times the child has to retell the story, as this can be traumatizing and can also lead to inconsistencies in their testimony.
- Provide breaks:The interviewer should provide breaks for the child as needed and allow them to take their time during the interview. The child should never feel rushed or pressured to answer any questions.
- Respect the child’s pace:The interviewer should respect the child’s pace and allow them to take their time during the interview. They should avoid pushing the child to disclose more than they are comfortable with.
- Provide support:The interviewer should provide emotional support to the child and offer to connect them with resources, such as a therapist if needed.
- Audio and video recording: The interview should be audio and video recording, with the consent of the child and their caregiver. The recording should be kept secure and used only for legal proceedings.
- Collaboration with a multidisciplinary team:The interviewer should collaborate with a multidisciplinary team, such as law enforcement, child protective services, and medical professionals, to ensure that the child’s well-being and safety are protected.
While this blog cannot cover every single practice in every jurisdiction in the country, we hope this helped you understand what to expect when a survivor of sexual abuse discloses, what the rights survivors of sexual abuse have, the various roles, the different aspects of the justice system play and what to look for and advocate for on behalf of yourself or your child. As always consulting a skilled civil attorney is best practice, even if you are unsure if you have a civil case, reach out to Andreozzi + Foote so we may provide a comprehensive overview of all your options in your respective case.
How Victims of Sexual Abuse Can Obtain Compensation
It may seem like an odd question to discuss compensation or money when talking about child sexual abuse but when you look at the average estimated lifetime cost that childhood sexual abuse has on a person, you may begin to appreciate its importance. Child sexual abuse is one of the single most damaging occurrences a person can experience, from the psychological, emotional, and physical impacts. There is one major impact that is not spoken of as much and that is the economic impact. While it’s impossible to truly know the full out-of-pocket economic burden a child victim of sexual abuse suffers, many estimate it to be at least $200,00 with the highest costs around a million dollars per person. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2018). Even more concerning, this estimate does not include “non-economic” damages including pain and suffering or emotional distress. The lifelong impacts of child sexual abuse are vast and include but are not limited to loss of earning potential, therapeutic costs, loss of educational opportunities, health care costs, substance use treatment, psychological treatment, childcare costs, and more. What should be universally understood is that the victim should never have to bear the costs of these crimes perpetrated upon them-that and should always lay at the feet of the offender who caused the abuse or the institutions and organizations who failed to protect them from abuse. There are many ways in which survivors can be compensated for the overall costs associated with childhood sexual abuse.
In the juvenile and criminal justice systems that those impacted by sexual abuse find themselves in, there are very few avenues for financial compensation or restoration. Restitution is a court-ordered payment on the offender convicted in a case ordered by the court for any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the victim.
Restitution plays a pivotal role in securing for the victim(s) the financial assistance that they need to begin to address the impact the crime has had and will continue to have on their lives. Restitution varies state by state so always check with a victim advocate or civil attorney on what you can and should ask for and when.
Restitution can cover the following:
- Past and Future Medical Expenses – this may include the cost of hospitalization, medication, therapy, and rehabilitation.
- Funeral Expenses-in the case of homicides.
- Property damage – if the crime involved damage to the victim’s property, such as a car, home, or personal belongings, the offender may be ordered to pay for repairs or replacement.
- Past and Future Lost wages – if the victim missed work due to injuries sustained from the crime or due to attendance at court appearances.
- Relocation Expenses/Housing Expenses- If the victim was forced to relocate and displaced because of the crime.
- Attorney/Legal fees – if the victim hired a lawyer to represent them in court or to assist in their recovery efforts, the offender may be ordered to pay for these legal fees.
- Transportation Costs – including those incurred by the victim because of the
offense or due to their participation in criminal investigations, prosecutions, or court proceedings.
Restitution in almost every jurisdiction does not include pain and suffering or punitive damages except for one state- California. In the case of child sexual abuse California will consider non-economic losses including the cost of psychological harm done to the child and order the offender to pay those estimated costs.
Restitution is also recognized as having a rehabilitative impact on offenders because it can help offenders confront the harm caused by their actions. Restitution is set up to help victims of crime with those expenses directly associated with the actions of the offender; however, state after state over the past decades has seen restitution create another form of victimization to the victim, and that is because it is rarely collected and enforced once ordered by the court. Victims leave court thinking they are going to be restored financially only to find that the prison, probation system, or the courts, in general, do not prioritize the collection of these payments and rarely have penalties on the offender for failure to pay. Rarely will an offender pay the full amount at once, usually there are payment plans set up for the offender to make monthly payments leaving the victim with small checks each month and that is only in the instances where offenders make those required payments.
Restitution in far too many cases has become yet another unfilled promise that our system makes to the crime victim. It cannot be relied upon and will never cover even a fraction of the lifelong costs associated with child sexual abuse. One of the biggest limitations of restitution is that it can only be collected directly from the perpetrator and not a business, organization, or institution that allowed the abuse to occur.
Government Sponsored Crime Victims Compensation Funds
In 1984 several laws and federal funding programs were created to ensure crime victims and their families were adequately engaged in the criminal/juvenile justice system and also created the Crime Victims Fund, a separate pot of money that is solely funded on the fines and costs assessed upon offenders at the federal level, these funds are then given to each state in the country to administer what is commonly known as Crime Victim Compensation Funds. These are funds unique to each state and usually administered by a state or local government entity; many states have adopted similar compensation programs funded by state fines and costs levied upon offenders at the time of sentencing. Like with restitution, what the crime victim’s compensation can and will fund varies from state to state.
These funds for victims can cover a wide range of expenses the crime victim incurs as a direct result of the crime, including
- Medical expenses – such as emergency medical treatment, hospitalization, surgery, and counseling.
- Lost wages – if the victim is unable to work due to their injuries or trauma, compensation funds may help cover their lost income.
- Funeral expenses – if the victim is killed because of the crime, funds may be available to help cover funeral and burial costs.
- Counseling and therapy – victims of crime may require ongoing counseling or therapy to help them cope with the psychological impact of their experience.
- Crime scene cleanup – if the victim’s property was damaged during the crime, funds may be available to cover the cost of cleaning and repairs.
- Legal fees – if the victim requires legal representation, funds may be available to help cover the cost of legal fees.
It’s important to note that crime victim compensation funds are typically only available to victims who have reported the crime to law enforcement and who have cooperated with the investigation and prosecution of the offender. Additionally, the amount of compensation that can be awarded is very limited, and certain expenses may not be covered depending on the specific rules and regulations of the fund.
Restitution and Crime Victims’ Compensation funds are quite similar, and many states will advise victims to access their Crime Victims’ Compensation fund first because they can fund these out-of-pocket expenses quicker than any other source made available. These funds are the payor of last resort, meaning there cannot be any other available funds for the victim to use for those expenses such as insurance, etc. As you have seen the things restitution and the Crime Victim’s Compensation Funds are similar, they cannot both be accessed, meaning a victim of crime cannot “double dip” and get the same item funded twice.
The victim of crime will be asked if they received anything from the Crime Victims Compensation at the time of the request for any court-ordered restitution and if they did, in most states, the court would then order the repayment of that expense from that offender back to the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund, holding true to its original purpose of holding the offender directly accountable for the harm caused.
If you intend to pursue a civil case against the perpetrator or an organization responsible for the abuse, you should consult with your civil lawyer regarding your repayment obligations for monies you might receive through Restitution and Crime Victims’ Compensation. Generally, there is an obligation to repay a victim’s compensation lien. Although the repayment of monies received in restitution does not necessarily carry that obligation, the defendant in a civil case could ask for an offset of damages it is responsible for paying.
As we have seen in headline after headline involving massive organizations such as the Catholic Church, The Pennsylvania State University, and many others, there have been compensation funds established. These are typically financed by the organization or institution that was made aware of or covered up harm caused to a group of people and could otherwise be held liable in court. They have become common in sexual abuse cases and are usually created to provide compensation to victims as part of a settlement agreement or as part of their efforts to address past abuses and prevent future instances of sexual abuse.
The purpose is twofold. First to compensate the victims for the harm the institution and offender caused, and second, to disallow the victim from seeking further damages in a civil proceeding which can typically provide a much larger compensation amount than set up by the fund. They are used to mitigate the damage to the organization and institution. That does not mean that they are wrong, they serve an important purpose and have helped thousands of victims of sexual abuse across the country, especially in instances where civil justice is not an option due to the statute of limitations. However, a victim must carefully consider all their options because if they reach an agreement with a claim fund, they are almost always precluded from seeking damages in a subsequent civil case.
These funds are generally administered by a “neutral” third party who is often selected by the organization. This third party is frequently a lawyer or retired judge who has experience with mediation and arbitration as well as the handling of sexual abuse cases. Either the administrator or the funding organization sets up criteria or certain factors that are to be considered in the distribution of monies available to the fund. Often these factors will include the scope or extent of the fault of the defendant, the nature of the abuse, and the impact of the abuse.
Finally, civil settlements are another way to ensure the organization and institution, and/or offenders are held accountable in a court of law. They allow for public exposure and transparency as long as they are not subject to a non-disclosure clause, often referred to as a gag order. Compensation in civil cases for sexual abuse can provide a means for victims to obtain justice and hold perpetrators and institutions accountable for their actions. It can also provide a way for victims to obtain financial support and resources that are disallowed by other programs such as Crime Victims’ Compensation and Restitution. In a civil case, the perpetrator or an organization can be subject to three main types of damages: (1) economic damages, such as medical bills that can easily be calculated; (2) non-economic damages, such as emotional distress that cannot be easily calculated; and (3) punitive damages which are designed to punish the defendant and dissuade future misconduct.
It is vital to have a highly skilled and experienced civil attorney who knows their way around complex legal issues including how to obtain maximum compensation. Andreozzi + Foote has successfully represented thousands of cases before various courts across the country. We have the trust, dedication, experience, and knowledge to make sure your rights are fully represented, and that you and your family are provided with the best outcome.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual abuse, call us toll-free at 1 (866) 694-2307 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.
How To Choose the Right Lawyer for a Sexual Abuse Case
Choosing the right lawyer to represent you or a loved one in a sexual abuse case can be difficult. Because sexual abuse cases often result in large settlements or jury verdicts, there are many lawyers who advertise for these cases. However, just because a lawyer advertises for a certain type of case does not mean the lawyer is skilled or experienced in handling that type of case. In fact, there are no ethical rules which prohibit a lawyer from advertising that they handle sexual abuse cases even though they have never handled one before. Personal Injury and class actions lawyers often begin to advertise for these types of cases as soon as they read about them in the news. Their strategy sometimes is to sign up as many cases as possible and try to figure out how to handle the cases, or else ship them off for a referral fee to a lawyer who focuses their practice on representing victims of sexual abuse.
You Don’t Want a Personal Injury Attorney
Ask yourself this question. If you were going to hire a doctor to perform heart surgery would you want to hire a general surgeon or a cardiac surgeon? Sure, a general surgeon might be able to perform the procedure. In fact, the general surgeon may have successfully performed the procedure a few times throughout his career. However, this experience cannot compare to the cardiac surgeon who spends every day performing heart surgery. Handling a sexual abuse case is not like handling a car accident case or a slip and fall. Sexual abuse cases are far more complex and require an understanding of complicated liability issues and psychological damages that are not present in personal injury cases. There are lawyers whose entire practice is devoted to representing victims of sexual abuse, you just need to know how to find them.
What to Look for When Searching for a Sexual Abuse Attorney
The law firm’s website is a great starting point. However, many firms will create landing pages to try to convince readers that they specialize in sexual abuse cases, when in fact it is only one of many different areas they practice. If you are uncertain if the firm really handles sexual abuse cases, do some more digging. Search Google for the lawyer or law firm you are considering and see if they have been in the news for cases representing victims of sexual abuse. DO NOT be afraid to ask questions. Specifically, ask the lawyer how many victims of sexual abuse have they represented. What types of cases – church, school, daycare, etc.?
Every lawyer wants to get you the largest settlement or jury verdict. The question is, can they? Ask for the results the lawyer has received in similar cases, and not just how much money did you get for your clients. Many survivors want more than money – they want change and they want answers to questions, like how could something like this happen to me? Make sure you feel that this lawyer will go to bat for you not just to get you a check, but to get you justice.
Don’t be Drawn in By Free Consultations or a Contingency Fee
It’s not that free consultations and contingency fees are bad. The reality is that every lawyer who handles these types of cases will give you a free consultation and offer you a contingency fee. Additionally, every law firm should agree to front all the costs of litigation and only seek reimbursement if the case is successful. If the lawyer you speak with does not, it is time to look for another lawyer.
More than Money-How Civil Lawsuits Empower Victims
There are many misunderstandings about why a survivor of sexual abuse would choose to file a civil lawsuit. Child sexual abuse takes away so much from the survivors and families impacted and, in our society, we are still struggling to find ways to repair the harm that has been done not only by individual perpetrators but also by organizations and institutions who have covered up child sexual abuse. Due to outdated statutes of limitations across our country, far too many survivors have been denied access to our courts for either criminal or civil justice.
Filing a civil case can be an important step for survivors and their families in their journey to slowly rebuild their lives and create pathways to healing. Motivation for filing a civil suit is often questioned and unfairly stereotyped as being “all about money. The concept of filing a civil lawsuit casts survivors as “money hungry” and is weaponized to shame and blame them even more. This couldn’t be further from the truth for survivors of child sexual abuse, the civil justice system offers victims more than just monetary benefits. It gives survivors access to justice, validation, exposure, confrontation, and ultimately some resolution that can allow the survivor of sexual abuse to fully understand and process what happened to them so they can begin to create a new path forward without confusion, questions, and fear.
Access to Justice
It has become common knowledge among professionals who work with child sex abuse victims that children do not come forward within the arbitrary time constraints that many states place upon these heinous life-changing crimes. Some studies reveal the average age of disclosure is approximately 52 years old. It takes a lot of courage to disclose to someone else the sexual abuse one has endured and even more bravery to start the healing process that often leads people to decide to access justice. Far too many child sex abuse victims who come forward and report, find themselves with no access to justice because the statute of limitations blocks them from filing criminal charges or a civil suit.
Providing access to justice for sexual abuse survivors acknowledges their experience. While the criminal justice system generally allows victims an opportunity to confront abusers, civil justice provides them with a vehicle to confront organizations that enabled the abuser and failed to protect them and prevent the harm they endured. By filing a civil lawsuit, the victim is taking a proactive step to seek justice and hold these organizations accountable. This action acknowledges the experience of the victim and sends a message that what happened to them was not acceptable. In many cases survivors have walked around with the pain and suffering of the harm done to them and have blamed themselves and felt like what happened to them must not be real or valid. By having the power to access justice survivors feel like there is a path forward to be heard and an opportunity to balance the scales of justice.
Access to Information
When children are abused at such young ages, they do not necessarily fully understand what happened to them. Civil lawsuits give victims of sexual abuse unprecedented access to information that they would not otherwise be privy to. We all know that knowledge is power, and this is especially true when it comes to victims of sexual abuse. While certain abuse-related information might be available to survivors through right-to-know requests or directly from law enforcement, those reports are truly the tip of the iceberg. The publicly available information they contain is almost always condensed and does not target specific information that the survivor is typically seeking.
Through the course of civil discovery, the survivor’s lawyer can acquire broad information about the history surrounding the abuse and force those responsible for allowing the abuse to answer very specific questions. This is typically done by sending subpoenas to third parties, interrogatories (written questions), and requests for the production of documents to the defendant that must be verified under penalty of perjury. The culmination of civil discovery, however, is the deposition. A deposition is a question-and-answer session wherein a witness must give sworn testimony that can be used in court. Depositions are frequently video recorded so a survivor can often watch as a key witness in their case is confronted with questions that have haunted them for decades.
Filing a civil claim against the person who sexually abused you and the institution or organization that failed to prevent that abuse can offer much-needed validation for sexual abuse survivors and their families. For many sexual abuse survivors, no one has believed them or acknowledged the harm done to them.
Validation is crucial for child sexual abuse survivors because they often experience feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. Accessing the justice system helps validate their experience and helps them feel heard, seen, and understood, which can promote healing and recovery. Perpetrators of sexual abuse are also skilled at manipulating children into thinking what happened to them is their fault and they use this tactic to keep victims silent. When survivors finally have the courage to confront their abuser it is confirmation that what happened to them was wrong and they will no longer stand for it. The validation process can be even more powerful for the survivor when it comes to organizations that may have allowed the abuse to occur. Quite often these organizations played a fundamental role in the young life of a victim and helped to shape the identity of their childhood. When survivors gather the strength to speak out against these organizations, they are able to send a powerful message that no entity is beyond reproach.
If you ask most child sexual abuse survivors why they come forward and pursue cases against the perpetrators and institutions or organizations who harmed them and failed to protect them, you will find one primary motivation- to prevent future harm to other children. It is the biggest thing that will keep them up at night and creates serious emotional duress. Once child sexual abuse survivors begin to understand the impact and the horror of what they experienced, they feel a great responsibility to speak up as they cannot fathom that happening to another child. By holding perpetrators and other responsible parties accountable, the civil justice system is often the only option survivors have to enable exposure of the person or persons who harmed them which can help prevent future instances of sexual abuse.
In the context of a civil case, the perpetrator and/or the organization that allowed the abuse to occur is named as a defendant in a lawsuit. In most states, the victim can remain anonymous or use a pseudonym like “Jane” or “Jack Doe.” In addition to identifying those responsible for the abuse by name in the lawsuit, the victim may also state exactly what the organization or person did that caused or allowed them to be abused. This information can be very powerful. When serious allegations of abuse and cover-up are made in lawsuits, they are often reported upon in broadly disseminated media outlets. In the digital age, perpetrators and responsible organizations are rarely able to hide from their misconduct after the suit is filed and the proverbial cat is out of the bag. Even if the press does not pick up on a story, a copy of the lawsuit is kept on record at the local courthouse. Someone searching for information about the organization or perpetrator could inevitably find the allegations in the lawsuit.
Survivors of child sexual abuse are often left feeling incredibly powerless and helpless in the aftermath of the abuse they have suffered. The emotional impact of abuse often leads survivors down paths of maladaptive coping which do not aid in their healing. Once a survivor gets to a place where they are ready to confront the abuse and those who created the harm-the healing process can begin. Confronting someone on your own can be very scary, create more emotional trauma and harm and possibly be incredibly dangerous. While it may seem like a good idea to walk up and confront your abuser to seek the answers you need or to try and expose them or hold them accountable, it is not advisable that you do this alone or without support.
Filing a civil lawsuit with an experienced sexual abuse lawyer can offer you the opportunity to confront your abuser and any institution or organization that failed to protect you or prevent the abuse from happening in a strategic, safe, and empowering manner. Having a civil lawsuit filed enables the disclosure of vital evidence that proves the abuse happened and allows the survivor of sexual abuse that moment of confrontation in the most empowering way. The confrontation can be done through the lawyer, in open court during testimony, in the media, or in some cases when done through a trained restorative justice practitioner, face-to-face in a dialogue. This may seem counterintuitive to many people but these types of restorative methods such as apology letters or face-to-face dialogue have proven to be a safe and emotionally healing process for survivors and their families to engage in. This can be a powerful and healing experience for the victim, as it can help them to feel acknowledged and validated.
The goal of the resolution is to provide the sexual abuse survivor with some form of justice and compensation for the harm they have suffered, while also holding the perpetrator and any responsible parties accountable. Research has shown that child sexual abuse costs the survivors hundreds of thousands if not close to a million in costs over their lifetime. Things such as medical expenses, trauma therapy, and treatment, drug and alcohol support, lost wages, lost educational opportunities and more are often left as the sole burden upon the survivor of sexual abuse. When you factor in the issue around the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims, it often limits their recourse through things like restitution or any Crime Victim’s Compensation Funds.
By filing a civil lawsuit, a court of law can help determine and award those damages for the sexual abuse survivor or a negotiated settlement can be entered between all parties that will provide adequate financial assistance for the survivor to rebuild their lives and have access to the supportive resources they require but could not otherwise afford.
Resolution in a civil lawsuit can also lead to other non-monetary outcomes that really empower survivors and that is by way of public or private policy changes. Filing a civil lawsuit often reveals many missteps and failures on the part of organizations and institutions who are being held accountable such as failure to report in a timely manner, the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence survivors and protect the abuser and the organization or institution or active cover-ups that have led to repeated harm to more children. The settlement of a civil lawsuit may involve an agreement to make changes to their policies or procedures to prevent future instances of child sexual abuse such as transparency in the process, mandatory reporting policies or laws, adding therapeutic support for survivors, and or ensuring survivor involvement within organizational or institutional leadership. This can be an important step in protecting other potential victims, preventing future harm, and empowering the survivor of sexual abuse with the knowledge that they were a part of creating substantial change in overall systems of power.
All these reasons and more are why filing a civil lawsuit can be the gateway to healing for sexual abuse survivors and their families. Having access to justice, receiving validation that what they experienced was wrong, exposing the person or persons who caused them harm, confronting that person or persons, and getting a resolution can make such a powerful impact and can aid in that survivor’s overall healing. It helps to restore a sense of purpose, safety, and peace in that survivor’s life and those are the tenants necessary to begin a new start.
Why is the Statute of Limitation Reform So Important to Ending Childhood Sexual Abuse?
The issue of child sexual abuse has been a longstanding problem in many societies around the world. For decades, survivors of such abuse have struggled to get justice, with many offenders going unpunished due to a variety of reasons, including statutes of limitations. In recent years, there has been a growing movement to reform these statutes to give survivors of child sexual abuse a better chance of getting justice.
Statutes of limitations are legal time limits that govern when a victim can file a lawsuit or criminal charges against an alleged perpetrator. These limits vary by jurisdiction and depend on the nature of the offense. In cases of child sexual abuse, the statutes of limitations have often worked against the survivors, as many victims do not come forward until many years after the abuse occurred. In the past, many states had relatively short statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, often requiring that charges be brought within just a few years of the abuse occurring or the victim reaching the age of majority. These laws assumed that evidence and memories would rapidly deteriorate over time and that it would be difficult or impossible to prosecute cases that were brought years or even decades later.
However, as society’s understanding of the effects of childhood sexual abuse has grown, many states have taken steps to extend the statute of limitations for these cases. Some states have eliminated the statute of limitations entirely for child sexual abuse, while others have extended the time during which charges can be brought or created “look-back windows” during which survivors can file suit, even if the statute of limitations had previously expired.
The history of the statute of limitation reform for child sexual abuse can be traced back to the 1990s when several survivors began to speak out about their experiences. Having no axis to justice states began to use a tool that would crack open the secrets that protected abusers for decades-grand juries. Grand juries play a unique role in our justice system in that they enable prosecutors to investigate criminal conduct to determine whether there is enough evidence to move forward with an indictment or to review crimes that would otherwise not be prosecutable anymore but can reveal facts. This key prosecutorial tool is where many survivors have found their voice and truth and while the first reports focused heavily on the Catholic
Church, as time went on, more and more organizations and institutions were exposed. Starting in the early 2000s states like New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, and Pennsylvania all releases various grand jury reports that exposed predators and the orchestrated and callous coverups that led to thousands of children’s sexual abuse by the Catholic Church. While these grand juries were incredible tools for these survivors to expose the abusers and institutions in their cases, they still were barred from taking them to court to obtain any real justice. This is when the concept of a statute of limitation reform by way of creating a “look back window” began to gain momentum.
Connecticut attempted to provide some access to justice in 2002 by allowing the revival of previously time-barred child sexual abuse claims for victims who had yet to reach their 48th birthday.
In 2003, California was the first state to successfully open a “look back window” for child sexual abuse survivors for one year. This was followed by several other states, including Delaware, Oregon, Guam, and Hawaii.
Report after report continued to expose the Catholic Church as being one of the worst offenders and after movies like Spotlight and Grand Jury Reports in states like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania proved widespread knowledge and proof of cover-up all the way up to the Vatican, a national conversation began about the need to reform the statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse cases.
Today, many states have enacted reforms that extend or eliminate the statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. However, there is still much work to be done. Some states have yet to reform their statutes of limitations, and survivors in these states may still be unable to pursue justice for the abuse they suffered. Additionally, many survivors face significant barriers to coming forward, including fear of retaliation, shame, and trauma.
Despite these challenges, the movement for statute of limitation reform has made significant progress in recent years. By extending or eliminating these statutes, survivors of child sexual abuse have a better chance of getting justice and holding their abusers accountable. While there is still much work to be done, the reforms that have been enacted are an important step forward in the fight against child sexual abuse.
It’s important to note that the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse can vary greatly from state to state, and it’s always a good idea for survivors to seek the guidance of a qualified attorney to understand their rights and options. The lawyers at Andreozzi + Foote have navigated these confusing laws across the country with a great deal of success.
In total, 27 states and territories, Michigan, Georgia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, N. Mariana Islands, Guam, Utah, and Maine have passed legislation to open “look-back windows” that have become the gold standard in righting the injustices caused by the arbitrary statute of limitations, yet among these states, the degree of the “look-back” window varies, Child USA does a great job of breaking these states down to provide a more comprehensive understanding. From Michigan ranking as the worst in SOL Reform to Maine, Vermont, Guam the North Mariana Islands ranking the best according to Child USA.
FIND OUT YOUR STATE’S STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS HERE
So far in 2023, 20 other states are currently seeking to amend, or eliminate both criminal and civil statutes of limitations for sexual abuse victims and those include Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Rhode Island, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Nebraska, Montana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Hawaii, Connecticut, California, and Arkansas.
10 other states that are currently seeking to open some form of revival or “look-back” window, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington.
It is worth noting that the two states that are considered ground zero when it came to the exposure of the Catholic Church- Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have yet to successfully open “look back windows” for survivors.
While the statute of limitation reform is sweeping the nation there is still a lot of misinformation when it comes to the importance of civil lawsuits for sexual abuse survivors, and it is actively creating barriers for those 30 states to achieve the reforms they are seeking. It comes down to misperceptions and misunderstandings of why we need them. These “look-back windows” have created avenues for survivors to pursue their cases in civil courts allowing for the disclosure of predators and the exposure of the institutions and organizations that actively knew of and cover up child sexual abuse. Civil lawsuits are too often touted as a monetary gain for lawyers and survivors when most of these cases, when settled; produce far more than money. In civil court, lawyers have access to more opportunities to fill in gaps that survivors and families need for their own emotional healing. Even when sexual abuse survivors have access to and move through the criminal justice system, they often do not get the answers they are looking for due to the limitations of criminal court rules. Civil courts allow for more access to records that will enable the survivor and their family to understand what happened in their case, who knew what and when, and what they did with that information. In civil court, discovery is used to gather evidence and information related to a legal dispute between private parties, such as individuals or organizations like the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, etc. The purpose of civil court discovery is to allow each side to obtain information from the other side that may be relevant to the case so that they can prepare their arguments and evidence for trial. The scope of civil court discovery is generally broader than criminal court discovery, as the parties are allowed to obtain information on any matter that is relevant to the case, even if it is not admissible at trial.
In criminal court, discovery is used to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial by providing the defense with information that the prosecution has gathered in preparation for trial. The purpose of criminal court discovery is to prevent surprises at trial and to allow the defense to prepare a defense strategy. The scope of criminal court discovery is generally more limited than civil court discovery, as it is focused on providing the defense with access to evidence that is directly relevant to the charges against the defendant. This may include witness statements, police reports, and other physical evidence but will not provide access to other records that can reveal much more of what was happening in that survivor’s case.
It is also important to note that in criminal court, the prosecution has a constitutional obligation to provide the defense with certain types of evidence, such as exculpatory evidence that may help to prove the defendant’s innocence. This obligation does not exist in civil court. Civil lawsuits also allow the survivor of sexual abuse to have their day in court and tell their story, which can be an important part of the healing process. In a criminal case, the prosecution represents the state and is responsible for proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the sexual abuse survivor’s role is more limited, and they may not feel as though they have as much control over the proceedings and are very limited in participation regarding what and when they can speak-if at all.
People often forget or overlook the biggest reason sexual abuse survivors and their families want to access civil court-that is to make sure no other child ever experiences what they did. The accountability that comes with exposing the perpetrator in a sexual abuse case saves lives. Period. According to research done by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the Office of Justice, 70% of child sex offenders have between one and 9 victims, while 20% have 10 to 40 victims. We have seen this play out in headline after headline in recent years when one brave sexual abuse survivor steps forward, it often opens the door for so many others to come forward The more access to justice we give to sexual abuse survivors, the more offenders we expose and the more children we save from being harmed by that person. This is why statute of limitations reform is such a necessary tool in ending the epidemic of child sexual abuse and why these changes have become the cornerstones of advocacy by survivors, their families, and child protection organizations as they have been aimed at addressing the ongoing impact of childhood sexual abuse and giving survivors a path to justice.
We need every state in the country to not only eliminate their current statute of limitations for both criminal and civil cases, but we need these “look-back windows” to provide a comprehensive restoration for sexual abuse survivors and to prevent further victimization. Visit www.childusa.org for the status of this work in your respective state. For far too long the burden to change these laws has landed squarely on the shoulders of those who have already been impacted the most, and while this work can be healing for sexual abuse survivors and their families, it can also produce a great deal of stress and further trauma. We have seen sexual abuse survivors used by politicians as political pawns and have seen promise after promise broken by the same politicians. Sexual abuse survivors’ stories make the most impact when states are looking to extend, modify or abolish the statute of limitations but we must also be mindful of the cost that has for the sexual abuse survivor and their families. When we ask sexual abuse survivors to continuously show up and share their most horrific experiences, it opens those wounds and can create more harm than good-especially when the changes do not happen.
This is why we need everyone in the fight to protect children from sexual abuse. I cannot think of a more worthy cause to throw your support and energy into than the protection of our most vulnerable population. If we all come together and collectively hold our legislatures accountable, we will see these laws pass much faster in some of these states where efforts have failed or stalled for years, keeping predators hidden and putting countless children at risk of sexual abuse.
Andreozzi + Foote has been at the center of advocating for these legal changes across the country and bringing forth claims in states where we can, we encourage you to join us in the fight. Contact your local representatives and learn about your state’s laws. And as always, call us for a free consultation to learn more about your respective case and your state’s laws.
How to Identify Safe Organizations for my Child?
Crime needs opportunity and what we know about child sexual abuse is that the abuse takes place in isolation, any environment where an adult or youth worker would have one-on-one time with children puts that child at the greatest risk. You want to find environments that have a high level of monitoring. When seeking a place for your child(ren) treat it much like an interview and know that you have a right to access information and ask as many questions as necessary for you to feel comfortable.
Below are some tips for parents and caregivers to look out for when placing their child(ren) in the care of an organization or agency.
Every youth-serving organization or facility should have clearly outlined screening processes for staff and volunteers. These processes should include a full criminal background check, a child welfare background check in the respective state you are in, and if that person has lived in any other state in the past ten years, a child welfare check from that respective state. There should be extensive interviewing processes with pointed questions about child safety and protection. There should always be professional recommendations or references given by multiple persons both from the person’s professional life and personal life. A lot of camps and youth-serving organizations use adult volunteers and or older youth, often returning from summer break for employment or those needing internships for disciplines such as becoming a teacher or social worker, etc. Programs should deploy the same due diligence in screening for any and all adults or older youth staff or volunteers, regardless of whether or not they are getting paid, their access to the children in that program is the same so the screening and rules should be applied equally. Many states have various laws and regulatory requirements around these screenings, so it is also good to be familiar with what your state requires and then ask for proof that those requirements are being upheld in that organization or program. You would be surprised how many organizations and agencies are not in full compliance and get away with it due to staff shortages and overworked state agencies. Childwelfare.gov offers quick and easy search functions to find your state and its applicable laws and oversight.
Staffing ratios to child enrollments are another key indicator to know when considering where to place your child(ren). As we indicated that most child sexual abuse and grooming happens in isolation, it is vital that the environment where you are placing your child does not allow for one-on-one time between staff/volunteers and the children they are serving. You want lots of supervision and monitoring happening in the environment where your children will be, the more staff and volunteers, the more eyes and ears there are to ensure nothing inappropriate is said or occurs. Staff and volunteers will have a higher level of accountability when there are more of them around. If something does happen to a child, the response time will also be much quicker when there are plenty of staff and volunteers to respond to a child in need. Finally, having high staffing can serve as a deterrent for would-be offenders. Remember, just as you are choosing where to place your children for safety reasons, there are, unfortunately, those who are looking for opportunities to gain access for the sole purpose of preying upon children.
Ask about their ratios and how they maintain them when staff/volunteers call out sick or are otherwise unavailable. How do they handle staff breaks and who substitutes to watch the children? How do they handle bathroom breaks for the children? As a rule, children should always go to most places in groups, and for bathroom breaks, children should be given age-appropriate privacy in the bathroom, for younger children who need help in the bathroom there should be a strict open-door policy. No adult or younger youth should ever be in a closed bathroom alone with a child. For infants, all changing of diapers and cleaning should be done out in the open where others can observe and monitor.
Mandatory Reporting Policies
Every youth-serving organization, agency, school, etc. should have mandatory reporting policies. Mandatory reporting for child abuse is a legal requirement that certain professionals, such as teachers, doctors, social workers, and other individuals and volunteers who work closely with children are required to report any suspected or known cases of child abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities.
In most jurisdictions, the legal requirement for mandatory reporting is in place to protect children and ensure that they receive the necessary support and services to address any abuse or neglect they may have experienced. Failure to report suspected or known cases of child abuse can result in legal and professional consequences for the individual who failed to report.
The exact requirements for mandatory reporting can vary depending on the jurisdiction, but typically the report must include information such as the child’s name, age, and location, the nature and extent of the suspected abuse or neglect, and any other relevant information that may be helpful in investigating the report.
With recent highlighted child sexual abuse cases in the news around the country many jurisdictions revised their legal requirements around who is a mandatory reporter and when. In an abundance of caution, many organizations, schools, and youth-serving agencies have taken those requirements seriously and applied them to all staff regardless of how the law reads.
One area to know is who is to report, to whom are they to report, and when. These are vital pieces of information, as it has been uncovered in far too many child sexual abuse cases that cover-ups thrive where these policies lack. The reporting line should go all the way up to child welfare services, not the boss or CEO. Each mandated reporter should have to make a formal report that gets filed with the state, simply reporting to a supervisor or manager is no longer the best practice as that is often how and when cover-ups happen.
Training for Staff
All the policies and procedures are great to have but if staff and volunteers are not trained on them, they are useless. The next area you should seek to understand is the training staff and volunteers receive. What is the frequency of training? What is required and what is not required? Do they have minimum training standards? Do they offer advanced training opportunities to keep up to date on best practices and new areas of law? Do they have proof of the training received by staff and volunteers? These are great questions to ask when you are interviewing about a new place for your child(ren). Good agencies, schools, etc, will have all this information documented and readily available. If they do not, that is a major red flag.
Many states offer accreditation and or certification for youth-serving places such as childcare, schools, etc. It is important to know how the place you are seeking for your child(ren) ranks in these areas, are they certified or accredited by the appropriate entities? Many states will have ranking abilities for organizations and schools, knowing where your place falls within that ranking structure, such as in Pennsylvania there is Keystone STARS, a responsive system to improve, support, and recognize the continuous quality improvement efforts of early learning programs in Pennsylvania. This system is one with various rankings dependent upon the quality of the entity, the higher the stars the better the program. Look in your state for systems such as this that are built into your state’s child welfare or education departments.
Quality of Materials and Facility
They say you should never judge a book by its cover, however, in child supervision and monitoring, we believe differently. You should do a virtual and physical walk through of the place you are looking into for your child(ren). When looking online, look closely at the webpage, is it up to date with current staffing and information, and does it contain much of the information we spoke of in this blog? Are there policies and procedures online? Do they cover child safety and reporting? Look for Google reviews or other reviews of that facility, you can do this simply by googling the name and the word “reviews” or “experiences”. Always seek ones that are not necessarily on the provider’s webpage as they are only going to put their best foot forward. Ask around if others have experiences with that provider on Facebook etc.
Always do a physical location visit before placing your child in any program or provider and take note of how the place looks, and whether it is child friendly or appropriate. Are there plenty of toys, games, art supplies, and colorful and engaging items around? Observe what shape those items are in and ask how they obtain items. Make sure equipment isn’t outdated, rusted, or broken. Ask about maintenance and cleanliness protocols. If the provider does not take care of the belongings and items that your child(ren) will be using, how can you have any confidence in the care they take in staffing?
Lastly, you can inquire as to whether or not the provider you are looking into has ever been sued or found out of compliance with the standards in your jurisdiction. To find out if anyone has ever been sued, you can go down to your local courthouse and simply ask. Those records are open and accessible to you and anyone else who wants to know, make sure you have the current name of the provider you are looking at and any known names they have operated under in the past. Do Google searches with key terms like “sued” “found responsible” “guilty” etc. around that provider and staff as the internet holds so much information these days and reports are often online.
You can also check your respective state board for a database to find out if that organization has any regulatory infractions. Simply visit childwelfare.gov to find your respective state and then locate the oversight agency in your state. They will have the information somewhere on any compliance issues or regulatory findings as they must be made public.
We realized how scary it is to trust anyone with your child or children. We hope these tips help you navigate finding a place you feel comfortable with in a way that is helpful to you and your family. Remember, you have the right to ask as many questions as you want, do your research, request information, and above all else trust your gut if you think a provider is out of compliance or practicing in a manner that places children at risk of abuse or neglect, report them immediately. If a provider balks at your requests or questions? That is a clear indication that they are not going to be a place your child(ren) will be safe in. Any provider should be transparent and willing to engage you in these vital conversations. It truly does take all of us to ensure the protection and safety of our children.
Therapeutic Options for Victims of Sexual Abuse.
Life after trauma is both confusing and overwhelming not only for those who have suffered the harm but for families, caregivers, and those who love and support survivors. Surviving sexual assault is hard, there is no way around the pain, in order to heal and recover, one must walk thru the pain. We often only hear about the pain and abuse survivors experience and rarely as a society do we focus on the healing aspect of trauma. There is hope. There is healing. There is a place beyond the intense emotional experience of suffering the abuse and that is called post-traumatic growth.
Post-traumatic growth is a much lesser-known concept in our society as it refers to the positive changes that can occur in individuals who have experienced significant trauma or adversity. Some individuals are able to emerge from their experiences with a renewed sense of purpose, meaning, and resilience. This is often achieved through tremendous emotional and therapeutic work on the part of the survivor. It does not mean they have found “closure” or have “gotten over it” it simply means they have traveled through the pain and found methods that have enabled them to heal parts of themselves that provide them with newfound freedom and emotional growth. They are not the person they were prior to the crimes and they never will be. However, they can arrive in a new place that allows them to live with a greater sense of stability and well-being. This does not mean the trauma is gone, they can and will still have triggers or actual experiences of the trauma associated with their experiences, but those events will be more like blips instead of major life disturbances. They will be able to recover and rebound quicker. Post-traumatic growth is obtained through therapy of some kind that allows them to explore their experiences in a healthy and healing way.
This work can and should only be done with a trusted trauma therapist, counselor, spiritual guide, or someone who has the knowledge, training, and experience to help you and your family. As indicated in his guide there are devastating statistics surrounding the possible issues in the aftermath of sexual violence and those can and are real. However, they do not have to be the whole story and for many survivors, they are not.
There are many different healing modalities and options that can be helpful for sexual abuse survivors, and the most effective approach may vary depending on the individual’s needs and preferences. While talk therapy is the most commonly known of all the modalities, it is not effective in children or younger teens unless it’s incorporated with one or a combination of the other types of alternative therapies. Children often lack the cognitive ability to simply talk about events, feelings, or experiences. And all survivors experience trauma on some level which impacts the brain in ways that can disallow the survivor to make verbal and emotional connections easily. We know that the right side of the brain is our nonverbal side where emotions and creativity reside while the left side is where our verbal side resides and where thought and our ability to reason or analyze happens. When talk therapy is combined with art, play, music, or movement the right brain becomes engaged in that activity and can help to regulate or ease the emotions the survivor is feeling, this can allow for the left brain to engage in a way that is non-threatening and reduces anxiety and stress.
Therapeutic options to consider include:
Talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or psychodynamic therapy, can help survivors and families work through their trauma and develop coping skills. A therapist who specializes in trauma and has experience working with sexual abuse survivors may be particularly helpful. This is most effective for older youth and adults.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that involves focusing on traumatic memories while also engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or tapping. EMDR has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD in sexual abuse survivors. EMDR is often used on survivors 6-8 years or older as they have a better cognitive ability to engage. Older teens and adults benefit greatly from this treatment.
Art therapy can be a helpful way for survivors to express their emotions and explore their experiences in a non-verbal way. This can include activities such as drawing, painting, or sculpting. Art therapy provides individuals the ability to use a variety of art materials and techniques to explore their emotions, thoughts, and experiences. These materials may include paints, clay, collage materials, and drawing materials. The therapist may guide the individual in the creative process, but the focus is on self-expression rather than creating a finished product.
Yoga can be a helpful way to manage stress and anxiety and may be particularly effective for survivors who experience physical symptoms because of their trauma. Trauma-informed yoga classes may be a good option, as they are designed to be sensitive to the needs of survivors and guide them through a series of poses that allow for the physical and spiritual release of the trauma that is often stored in the body. These are usually very gentle poses that are held for longer periods of time much like restorative yoga. This type of yoga should only be done with a trained trauma-informed person as it can bring up lots of emotions and if someone is not properly trained they may not understand how to engage those responses and could also push the person beyond their comfort level causing harm rather than help. Trauma-informed yoga can help with all ages.
Movement therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses movement and physical expression as a means of promoting emotional, social, cognitive, and physical well-being. Movement therapists work with individuals or groups to facilitate self-awareness, emotional regulation, self-expression, and interpersonal connection through movement and body-based practices.
This includes a wide range of movement-based activities, such as dance, yoga, tai chi, drama, and other forms of physical expression. The therapy is based on the premise that the mind and body are interconnected and that emotional and psychological experiences can be expressed through physical movements. This therapy can be used by all ages and incorporated with other talk-based therapies.
Group Therapy or Support Groups:
Group therapy and support groups can provide survivors with a sense of community and connection with others who have had similar experiences. This can be especially helpful for reducing feelings of isolation and shame. Many rape crisis programs run support groups and group therapy as well as many therapists’ offices.
A form of psychotherapy that uses play as a means of communication and expression for children who may have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. It is often used with children ages 3-12 who are experiencing a wide range of emotional, behavioral, or social difficulties, including anxiety, depression, trauma, and relationship issues. While play therapy is typically reserved for younger children, it can work in teenagers with developmental challenges as well as neurodivergent young people. Play therapy is often used in conjunction with other forms of therapy and may be part of a comprehensive treatment plan for children who have experienced trauma. Young children may not have the language skills or cognitive ability to talk about their experiences. During play therapy sessions, children are encouraged to play with a variety of toys and materials in a safe and supportive environment. The therapist observes the child’s play and interacts with the child in a way that helps them to feel understood and accepted. The therapist may use a variety of techniques to engage the child in play, such as role-playing, storytelling, or games. Through play, children can explore their feelings and experiences in a way that is developmentally appropriate for their age and stage of development. They can also learn new skills and strategies for coping with difficult emotions or situations. Play therapy can help children to develop a stronger sense of self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-regulation.
Music therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses music as a therapeutic tool to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. Music therapists use a range of techniques and interventions, such as singing, playing instruments, listening to music, and composing music, to address specific treatment goals. Music therapists use a range of techniques and interventions, such as singing, playing instruments, listening to music, and composing music, to address specific treatment goals. These goals may include reducing anxiety or depression, improving communication and social skills, enhancing memory and cognitive function, or managing pain and stress. One of the unique aspects of music therapy is its ability to engage the whole person, including their emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations. Music can also be used to facilitate self-expression, create a sense of safety and connection, and promote a state of relaxation or calm.
As a non-traditional form of therapy meditation and mindfulness help bring a sense of overall well-being, calm, and a better sense of the connections between emotions, the body, and the mind. Sometimes this therapy can be hard for those who have experienced trauma as sitting still can be very triggering. It’s important to note that even short periods, i.e., 2-5 minutes of mindfulness or meditation can have significant benefits.
By writing thoughts, feelings, and experiences down, survivors can release the chaos in their heads and create a sense of control over it while being about to objectively observe their own thoughts. This helps to take the power many of their thoughts and feelings can have over them when one is overwhelmed or feeling flooded with emotion.
The use of support animals has been a concept that has been around for decades for persons with medical issues, it has been only of late that the criminal justice field and victim services fields have begun using them. We are now seeing court dogs in courthouses all over the country, in domestic violence shelters and child advocacy centers. They are trained dogs who help provide emotional comfort, safety and a sense of protection for the person who is being interviewed by court personnel or having to take the witness stand and give live testimony. Emotional support animals also help ease anxiety, lower blood pressure and provide for a more balanced nervous system. Emotional support animals are rarely paid through insurance however, they can be paid for by compensation funds or through a resolution in your civil case. There are also some organizations that train animals for this purpose and donate them as well. Check your local area for resources. While dogs are the prominent animal used, many people have used other types of animals such as cats, birds, goats (goat yoga has become very popular), etc.
Equine therapy has been used for decades to help children who have suffered trauma and or who have neurodivergent needs. Working with the horse, caring for it, and learning to ride all help build a sense of trust, and safety and help reshape a person’s confidence.
Sexual abuse takes control away from its victims and therapy of all kinds is meant to restore that control back to the survivor and impacted families in whatever way meets their needs. For children, specifically art, play, and music therapy are excellent tools to assist in the overall healing journey of the child and can work for any age if desired. It’s important to note that healing is a personal journey, and what works for one person may not work for another. Many people find they have to try a few different approaches or a combination of approaches before they experience some relief. While this can be discouraging please be gentle and patient with yourself and your loved ones. You never know what will work or when a person will be ready to begin the healing process. Many people will start and then stop and start and stop again. It’s a process. Trust that process. Recovery from abuse is a lifelong journey and no one ever arrives at the end.
We want to thank you for taking the time to read through this guide, we hope that you and your loved ones have found it helpful and educational. As a law firm experienced in working with survivors of sexual abuse, we are keenly aware that our services are one piece of the overall journey our clients go on. We want to empower you and your loved ones to find justice, hope, and healing. You are not alone on this journey. We are here for you every step of the way. Here are some excellent resources that can help you on your own journey.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
National Child Advocacy Center
Suicide Prevention Resources and Online Support
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children -CyberTip Line
US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
Stop It Now – parental resources including online support groups and communities