Child Sexual Abuse
Sometimes the greatest risks to the well-being of our children rests with those in whom we entrust their care. These could be teachers, coaches, schools, universities, foster parents, clergy, juvenile delinquency officers and day care providers.
Any instance of sexual assault or abuse on a child or young person demands immediate and thorough investigation. Not only must offenders be apprehended and held accountable, so to must the entities and individuals who negligently hired, failed to supervise, or didn’t take swift action against such violators. There may also be a strong case for vicarious liability, which holds employers responsible for actions of their workers, regardless of whether the employer acted with direct negligence.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, we understand well the difficulty and complexity of these cases. Our experienced, knowledgeable team works resolutely to ensure victims’ voices are heard, their rights are protected and their interests are upheld at each stage of the legal process.
A report by the White House Council on Women and Girls reveals that while sexual assault can be committed against victims of all ages, young people are especially at-risk.
- Half of all female sexual assault victims were raped before they reached the age of 18.
- One-quarter of male sexual assault victims were targeted before they reached the age of 10.
- On college campuses, 1 in 5 female students is sexually assaulted during the course of their enrollment.
Undocumented immigrants, foster children and those with disabilities are at especially high risk. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence revealed adolescents between the ages of 14 and 17 were the most vulnerable to sexual abuse, with more than 16 percent victimized in the last year.
These crimes can devastate not only the individual, but their families and loved ones too.
Organizations are most often found liable for child sexual assault based on:
- Failure to take preventative steps
- Failure to provide awareness training on the issue of sexual misconduct
- Failure to act on warnings
- Choosing to act in a deliberately indifferent manner
Cases against local governments – such as a school district or state welfare agency – can result in extra complications due to strict notice requirements.
Individuals may also be held personally liable for such egregious acts against children, not just in the criminal justice system, but also in a civil case. This can result in monetary gain, but sometimes settlements and trials are as much if not more about bringing the truth to light – especially if a criminal case was unsuccessful or was never filed.Restitution vs. Civil Liability
There are many differences with the way the criminal and civil justice systems handle the issue of child sexual assault.
The criminal justice system is focused on penalizing the offender, and the state of Florida takes these crimes quite seriously. That’s why sexually motivated crimes against children are often met with lengthy prison terms, stringent probation and prohibitive sex offender registries.
In fact, F.S. 794.011(2)(a) holds that a person over 18 who commits sexual battery (or attempts to commit sexual battery) on a child younger than 12 commits a capital felony. Victims and their families may be relieved by a criminal conviction in that it often means the offender will spend many years – if not the rest of his or her life – in prison.
Defendants who were in a position of trust or authority over the victim may face additional penalties, as this is considered a serious, aggravating factor.
In some criminal cases, the court may order restitution. This may be ordered to require the defendant to pay certain expenses incurred by a victim and/or survivors. However, there is often a lack of enforcement on these orders. Additionally, there are strict limitations on the amount that may be ordered, so restitution often falls far short of what is necessary to meet the victim’s needs.
There may additionally be an option for recovery of damages through the Florida Bureau of Victim Compensation. This may provide the following types of compensation:
- Wage Loss
- Loss of support
- Treatment expenses
- Mental health and grief counseling
- Domestic violence relocation
- Sexual battery relocation
- Human trafficking relocation
This is a valid form of compensation victims should explore. But it shouldn’t be the only one. That’s because the criteria are strict, and damages are often far less than one might receive in civil litigation.
With a civil lawsuit, the primary goal is restoration of the victim (should liability be established).
Potential causes of action in child sexual assault civil lawsuits might include:
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Negligent infliction of emotional distress
- False imprisonment
- Negligent hiring or retention
- Failure to supervise
Legal theories are not limited to these causes; these are just a few of the most common.
In civil lawsuits, damages are based primarily on the amount of pain and suffering the victim endured and continues to endure. In some cases, judges will allow for punitive damages, which are intended to punish the offender/institution.Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is the window of time one has in which to file sexual assault litigation in civil court.
Prior to 2010, victims of child sexual assault generally had between four and seven years in which to file a claim (depending on their current age and the age they were when the alleged abuse occurred). That may still be the case for many sexual assault victims – unless the crime occurred before they turned 16.
In those cases, the legislature has specified per an update to F.S. 95.11 that there is no statute of limitations and torts can be brought at any time.
This change to the law recognized not only the unique nature of childhood sexual abuse, but also that the associated stigma and the likelihood of repressed memories requires the time limit to be extended indefinitely.
That does not mean decades-old cases will be easy to win. Success will require a talented team of dedicated and experienced Fort Myers injury lawyers.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of child sexual abuse or sexual assault in Southwest Florida, contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.
Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation