If you or a loved one were abused as a child, civil legal action may be possible. Organizations who facilitate child sexual abuse or fail to address it can be held accountable through a private lawsuit.

  • Schools and daycare centers
  • Churches and other religious organizations
  • Boy Scouts, YMCA and other youth groups

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Any organization that allows abusers to victimize children should be held accountable in the strongest terms. 

— Brian Kent, Esq.
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Every school, religious organization, daycare center, after-school program and summer camp has an ethical and legal duty to protect children from sexual abuse. Yet thousands of children suffer horrific abuse every year at the hands of the people they trust. Some survivors and families may be eligible to pursue civil action, filing suit for compensation against institutions that allowed abuse to occur or failed to follow up properly on complaints.

Children Have The Right To Be Protected

Any organization that takes over the care of a child has numerous opportunities to prevent that child from suffering abuse. Schools, churches and other groups that work with children exert a great deal of control over who they work with and how those employees or volunteers are allowed to interact with kids.

Child Hiding In Box

Needless to say, every potential employee should undergo a thorough background screening. Managerial staff should monitor the interactions between children and employees or volunteers. And complaints of sexual abuse should be forwarded to law enforcement authorities immediately.

We can all agree that these are common-sense measures that could clearly protect the safety of children, but it's astounding how many organizations neglect their duty.

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Touching & Non-Touching Sexual Abuse

We should distinguish between two forms of child sexual abuse: touching and non-touching activities. Touching forms of sex abuse probably come to mind first - forcing or coaxing a child to engage in sexual activity. When physical contact is involved, from penetrative rape to rubbing a child over their clothes, it's touching sexual abuse.

Non-touching abuse is often harder to identify, but just as insidious and damaging.

  • showing a child pornography
  • exposing one's genitals to a child
  • encouraging a child to behave in a sexual manner
  • taking photographs or making videos of a child in sexualized positions

Both touching and non-touching forms of sexual abuse are crimes, punishable by law.

Abusers & The Organizations That Hide Them

Sexual predators often seek out positions of power and authority, hoping to gain a measure of control over their potential victims. Pedophiles take advantage of organizations that provide them access to children. That's why it's unsurprising, though immeasurably tragic, that child abuse appears to be so common in religious organizations and schools, both private and public.

Exploiting Power & Trust

Ascending to positions of dominance in these institutions allows predators to "groom" young children, while maintaining a sense of trust with the wider community, including parents. We all trust that our religious leaders and school professionals are trying to do right by our children. In most cases, our trust is completely deserved.

The vast majority of religious leaders and teachers will never harm a child, let alone abuse them sexually. Statistically, we should trust these people and it would be unhealthy to look at every priest and every principal with suspicion. Unfounded allegations can ruin a professional's life.

At the same time, we must recognize that sexual predators are drawn to these environments, in which they can often schedule "alone" time with children without raising any eyebrows.

The Myth Of "Stranger Danger"

Most child sexual abuse survivors, up to 93% according to the Rape & Abuse Crisis Center, know their abuser; "stranger danger" is largely a myth. Your child has a million-in-one chance of being abducted by a stranger. Far more likely is that they suffer abuse at the hands of someone they know and trust, a family member or acquaintance. And surprisingly, up to 40% of abuse victims are molested not by adults, but by older adolescents.

How Organizations Conceal Evidence Of Sex Abuse

Invested with the confidence of a religious or academic community, along with the undeserved support of their employers, pedophiles can quickly dismiss any complaints of sexual abuse as the wild fantasies of a child.

In our own work, we've seen this process play out time and time again. Legitimate accusations are raised, either within the organization or with the police, and the community quickly "closes ranks," drawing a line of protection and denial around a dangerous predator.

If you've followed the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, you've seen this process, too. The Church concealed overwhelming evidence of rampant abuse for decades, shuttling pedophile priests from one parish to the next, lying repeatedly to parents, parishioners and the public at large.

Religious Institutions & Schools

The Mormon Church may be facing a similar day of reckoning now, as more and more survivors step forward to accuse the organization's leadership of hiding sexual abuse from the authorities. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been accused of similar misconduct.

Likewise, private and public schools, including some of the nation's most-prominent boarding academies, have come under fire for allowing teachers and older students to abuse and torture young children. It often seems as though these institutions are more interested in protecting their own reputations than the health and well-being of their young charges.

Civil Lawsuits Promote Accountability & Justice

The deceit eventually falls away. Crimes this horrific can't be hidden forever, but in many cases, it's not the work of law enforcement officials that exposes all of the lies and ultimately leads to justice. The civil justice system is just as important.

Many of the most-publicized sex abuse scandals that have rocked religious organizations and schools in the past few decades were started through private legal actions - by parents and abuse survivors, now adults, who decided to hold the responsible parties accountable on their own terms.

Stopping The "Epidemic" Of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse has been called an "epidemic" in America. A terrifying number of children will suffer abuse before reaching the age of 18, as many as 1-in-5 girls and 1-in-20 boys, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. This horrific wave of criminal activity must end, but how can we confront child sexual abuse, bring the perpetrators of abuse to justice and provide full support to the survivors of abuse?

It requires courage. Few cases of childhood sex abuse are ever reported to law enforcement officials. Some families hide dark secrets for generations. And some organizations actively attempt to conceal their history of sexual abuse. Many civil lawsuits against responsible parties are only filed after the victim has become an adult, growing up and gaining the courage to speak out. This is an extraordinary act of bravery, one that we wish no person ever had to make.

Why Do Survivors & Parents File Private Suits?

Civil lawsuits have, at their center, a focus on the victim, the survivor of childhood sexual abuse. The goal in pursuing civil action is two-fold. One the one hand, survivors hope to hold their abusers accountable and force organizations that facilitated the abuse to answer for their negligence.

At the same time, civil lawsuits offer thousands of victims the ability to secure valuable financial compensation, damage awards that can help to cover mental health counseling, medical expenses, lost wages and the pain and suffering of having endured sexual violence during childhood.

Full & Fair Compensation For Your Trauma

Compensating victims is not a priority for the criminal justice system. While many courts now impose restitution awards on convicted criminal offenders, ordering abusers to reimburse their victims, few cases of childhood sexual abuse ever reach the sentencing phase of legal proceedings.

Even in those rare cases when the offender can be convicted, restitution awards are strictly limited to certain financial expenses. Emotional trauma and physical pain are left outside the court's calculations. A full range of damages is only available by pursuing a civil lawsuit, in which survivors and their loved ones are given the opportunity to take control over a tragic situation and demand accountability.

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