The following blog contains references to sexual abuse and violence that may be challenging for some readers
Every 73 seconds someone in America experiences sexual abuse or violence. If this life-altering experience has happened to you or a loved one, it can be daunting and overwhelming deciding whether to come forward. You likely have many questions and concerns while you decide your next steps. Whether it occurred recently or decades ago, there are some considerations that may help give you a better understanding of what to expect if you choose to come forward.
What is Sexual Abuse or Violence?
Sexual abuse and violence happen in every community and affect people of all genders, races and ages. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, it is any type of unwanted sexual contact, including words and actions of a sexual nature against a person’s will and without their consent. A person may use force, threats, manipulation or coercion to commit sexual violence.
Civil vs. Criminal Actions
In a criminal case, state or local authorities investigate and prosecute the perpetrator in an attempt to punish them by putting the them in jail or under other government supervised restrictions to protect the public. Initiating a criminal proceeding requires notifying the local police in the location where the abuse occurred. This can typically be done by filing a police report at the station or can sometimes even be done online or over the phone, depending on the police department.
In a civil case, the survivor initiates a private proceeding against the perpetrator and/or institutions that allowed the abuse to occur to obtain monetary compensation for the harm they endured - and will continue to endure - as a result of the abuse. To begin a civil proceeding, contact an attorney you trust. Some firms like ours have teams specifically devoted to litigating sexual abuse claims and will be able to guide you through the process as easily as possible. Most often these cases are settled outside of court and survivors do not need to go to trial. As a side note, while it can be helpful to your civil case to have a police report filed and criminal proceedings underway, it is not always necessary. Your civil attorney can discuss that with you.
Statutes of Limitations
Statutes of limitations are state laws that govern how long a survivor has to bring a claim against a perpetrator. This time frame varies state-to-state. It is widely recognized that survivors of sexual abuse and violence, particularly childhood survivors, may wait years or even decades to come forward. For too long, many of these survivors were time-barred from seeking justice. However, today, most states recognize the long delay in coming to terms with childhood sexual abuse and that most survivors do not come forward until well into adulthood. These states have since extended the time period to bring a lawsuit for something that occurred as a child, or recognize special exceptions or “tolling theories” that pause the statute of limitations clock from ticking. It is very important that if you think you may have a claim that you contact a knowledgeable attorney as soon as you feel comfortable to discuss this issue of time.
Many survivors of sexual abuse are understandably concerned about their privacy and about personal details becoming public. If you would like to consider a legal claim but are afraid of your identity becoming public, consult with your attorney. Conversations with your attorney are privileged and your name will never be released to anyone without your permission. Additionally, most courts in most states allow privacy protections so survivors can proceed under a fictitious name such as “John or Jane Doe” so their identity remains private.
Resources for Survivors
If you are someone you love is ready to come forward about sexual abuse or violence, another important step can be to seek the support of a survivor’s resource group, a social worker or psychiatrist. If you don’t know where to find a therapist or counselor, your attorney can help. Attorneys who specialize in sexual abuse cases should be able to get you in touch with trusted and qualified treaters.
Dealing with the pain and trauma from sexual abuse and violence can be extremely difficult. If you’d like to connect with organizations dedicated to supporting survivors you may want to consider the following organizations:
Our legal team has deep experience representing survivors of sexual abuse and violence and know that each survivor and each situation is different and requires compassion and a personalized approach. If you would like to talk confidentially with someone about your legal options, please reach out to 312-458-1000 for a conversation.
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