Tragically, tens of thousands of children are sexually abused in the United States every year. Sometimes, access to the children is provided by the very institutions – universities, schools, churches or camps – that are supposed to be protecting them. Using their position of authority and trust, predators can be coaches, teachers or counselors who intimidate the child into not reporting the sex abuse.
For decades, the attorneys at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer have advocated for these children, working to hold responsible not only the abuser but also the institution that all too often turned its back on the child. Working with counselors experienced in assessing and counseling abused children, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer works to determine the long-term consequences of the abuse and the child’s needs for treatment. Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer’s fundamental commitment to maintaining client confidentiality is particularly important for the child and family. A goal in every case is not only to secure the child’s financial future but also to help ensure that this never happens again.
Victims of sexual abuse may be left with emotional, psychological, and sometimes physical scars. The compassionate sexual abuse lawyers at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer are dedicated to helping sexual assault and abuse victims to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. Both the perpetrators of sexual abuse and the institutions that fail to protect the people in their care should be held accountable. If you are the victim of sexual abuse, we may be able to help.
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse includes a variety of different types of unwelcome sexual contact and related actions, including:
- Displaying explicit images and pornography to children
- Taking inappropriate pictures or videos of children to distribute or for personal use
- Asking minors to take and send inappropriate pictures or sending inappropriate images of adults to minors
- An adult exposing himself or herself to children
- Oral sex
Sexual abuse cases typically include improper use of power by the perpetrator over the victim. These situations may include people who hold positions of authority that abuse others by taking advantage of the power difference, such as a teacher sexually abusing a student. In many cases, children are the victims of sexual abuse because they are not old enough to protect themselves. People abused as children are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and addictions as adults.
Some perpetrators of sexual abuse use their larger sizes to force smaller people, such as children, to engage in sex acts. Children, as well as those who are mentally disabled, may be coerced into sex acts and discouraged from reporting what has happened to them.
Effects of sexual abuse
Sexual abuse can cause devastating mental and emotional scars that can continue to impact the victims for a lifetime. People sexually abused as children often develop unhealthy beliefs about relationships that can result in emotional distress and destructive behaviors, including:
- Sudden behavioral changes
- Low self-esteem and depression
- Acting in sexually inappropriate ways for their ages
- Falling grades
Children who are sexually abused must be protected. Professionals must work to protect the safety and mental health of the children in their care.
Sexual assault includes unwanted sexual behavior or contact that happens without the express consent of the victim. This contact or behavior can include forced intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, attempted rape, fondling, or incest.
Victims of sexual assault may be afraid to report what happened to them. They may think that they will not be taken seriously, fear that the perpetrators will retaliate against them, or feel embarrassed about what happened.
What you should do if you are a victim of sexual abuse
If you have been sexually abused or assaulted, the first thing that you should know is that what happened to you is not your fault. Sexual abuse and assault are crimes. You should report what happened to law enforcement. Ask for a detective who has training in sexual assault cases to investigate your case. The police should provide you with referrals to people and agencies who can help you.
Go to a hospital to be examined immediately after a sexual assault. Do not take a shower, and bring the same clothing that you were wearing at the time of the attack. You will also want to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. If you wait to go to the hospital, critical evidence could be lost.
Make sure to seek counseling after a sexual assault or sexual abuse. Therapy can help you to deal with the psychological and emotional impacts that you may be facing. You should also get help from a civil sexual abuse lawyer. Even if the perpetrator is facing criminal charges, civil cases provide a way to hold the abusers accountable for their actions and may be easier to win.
Damages in a sexual abuse case
An increasing number of sex assault victims are filing civil lawsuits against their attackers and others. Lawsuits can be filed against the perpetrators even when a criminal case has been filed against them or when they have not faced criminal prosecution.
Third parties that may be liable include schools, businesses, athletic directors, Boy Scout leaders, foster care agencies, religious institutions, treatment centers, and other institutions or organizations that have a duty to protect people who receive services from them. These types of defendants owe a duty to protect people from foreseeable sexual abuse or assault.
Frequently, third-party defendants may be liable because they failed to properly train their employees to recognize the signs of sexual misconduct. Many companies try to prevent this problem by having policies and procedures in place for employees to report reasonable suspicions of sexual misconduct.
Unfortunately, many sexual assault victims do not receive the outcomes that they want through the criminal court process. Few perpetrators are criminally charged, and even fewer are convicted for their offenses. Civil litigation may provide victims with a way to hold their abusers accountable for their actions regardless of whether criminal charges are ever filed against them. Victims who file lawsuits will retain control of many of the important decisions involved in their cases. The burden of proof in a civil suit is lower than the burden of proof in a criminal case, making it possible to win a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator even if he or she is found not guilty in a criminal case for the same incident.
Holding businesses liable for sexual assault
There are some scenarios through which a business may be liable to pay damages to victims of sexual assaults on their premises. For example, hotel chains attract guests by advertising that they are safe and comfortable. Hotels may limit access to rooms with hotel keys and have security to prevent potential problems such as assaults, injuries, and thefts.
A hotel may be liable to a guest who is assaulted on the premises. For example, if the hotel allowed anyone to access all of the floors despite finding non-guests attempting to open doors, the hotel could be liable if a guest was subsequently the victim of a sexual assault. A hotel that provides a copy of a keycard to someone without checking to make sure that the person is a guest could likewise be liable.
In a situation in which a hotel employee assaults a hotel guest, the hotel may be liable if the hotel failed to perform a background check or hired the employee despite his or her prior record of assaultive behavior. However, the hotel may not be liable if it conducted a thorough background check and did not have any indications that the employee might sexually assault someone. The issue of hotel liability in this scenario will turn on whether the employee’s assaultive behavior was reasonably foreseeable.
Businesses such as bars located in areas with high rates of crime might have security on hand to protect their patrons from crimes. They might have several bouncers, make all patrons pass through metal detectors, and have good lighting. Technological advances have made security more affordable. When businesses fail to implement adequate security measures, they may be liable if their patrons are harmed.
Child sexual abuse by teachers
Reports of teachers sexually abusing children sometimes make the news. Any sexually abused child should be immediately protected. Child protective and law enforcement agencies should be immediately contacted. School districts have an additional obligation in Pennsylvania. Under the law of the state, administrators and teachers are mandatory reporters of suspected student sexual abuse by teachers. The Educator Discipline Act is a law that applies to all schools and contracted education providers.
The EDA was designed to take discretion away from school districts when they discipline teachers. Different school districts might handle teacher misconduct in different ways. While one district may discipline a teacher by firing him or her for moral turpitude, another district may only place a confidential reprimand in the teacher’s personnel file. Before the passage of the EDA, there wasn’t a requirement for a principal to notify the district administrators of sexual assault or abuse allegations. In some cases, a teacher accused of sexual abuse would simply get transferred to a different school without informing anyone about his or her misconduct.
The EDA does not allow districts to avoid reporting the misconduct through a confidentiality agreement.
The law relies on the awareness of school districts about its requirements. Educators and administrators should act when any conduct occurs that should trigger a report. Failing to file a report of an offense can result in disciplinary action by the PSPC. All chief education administrators are mandated to report the following within 15 days:
- Any teacher who has been notified of the school’s intent to dismiss for cause
- Any teacher who has been arrested for a misdemeanor or felony
- Any teacher who has been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony
- Any allegation of sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, or sexual exploitation against a teacher
- Any information which amounts to a reasonable suspicion that a teacher has negligently or intentionally caused a physical injury to a child
- Any teacher who has quit or retired following an allegation of misconduct
- Any teacher against whom the school has filed a report with child protective services
- Any teacher that the school knows has been reported for child abuse
More than half of teachers reported under the Educator Discipline Act were found to have committed sexual abuse or assaults of students. This statistic demonstrates that sexual predators do, unfortunately, exist in schools. Despite this, EDA offenses are underreported. The unfortunate outcome when school districts attempt to cover up the misconduct of teachers is that child victims will continue to be placed in an unsafe and unsupportive environment as they develop.
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