Child Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
Sexual abuse of children is a difficult topic for most people. We all want to believe that our children are safe and their innocence protected. But, child protective service agencies nationwide substantiate or find strong evidence to support allegations of molestation of about 63,000 children each year. More than 1/3 of these victims are under the age of 12.
Who Commits Sexual Abuse of Children
While parents, schools, and other caretakers take great pains to warn children away from strangers, adults unknown to the victim account for just 7% of molestation cases. The vast majority of perpetrators are family members, teachers, coaches, priests, and other trusted adults. In the 63,000 cases per year described in the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) data, 88% of abusers were male. Other studies have placed that number as high as 96%.
While most sexual abusers are adults, nearly 20% are between the ages of 12 and 17. Juvenile sexual abusers are more likely to act in groups and are less likely to continue abusive behavior in adulthood.
The High Cost of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse takes a serious toll on the emotional and physical health of the victim. Every child responds differently, but some concurrent signs that may alert a parent or other caregiver of sexual abuse include:
- Bed wetting
- Recurring physical complaints, such as stomach aches or headaches
- Sore or reddened genitals
- Mood changes, especially fear and sadness
- Acting out
- Resistance to being left alone with certain people
- Inappropriate sexual behavior
- Exhibiting age-inappropriate sexual knowledge
In the longer term, childhood sexual abuse can have serious emotional and psychological consequences, which may in turn trigger physical symptoms and problems with relationships, employment, and other aspects of adult life. For example:
- Victims of childhood sexual abuse are four times as likely to abuse drugs as the general population
- Victims of childhood sexual abuse are four times as likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as adults
- Victims of childhood sexual abuse are three times as likely to experience one or more major depressive episodes
Recovering from childhood sexual abuse often requires expensive, long-term therapy.
Suing for Childhood Sexual Abuse
In some cases, child molesters are tried and convicted of a crime, or plead guilty to criminal charges. Seeing the abuser convicted is often helpful to the victim, in part because a criminal trial may afford the victim an opportunity to confront the abuser and hold him accountable. However, criminal conviction typically leaves an important piece missing: financial compensation that will allow the victim to obtain therapy and otherwise address and heal from the childhood abuse.
In other cases, the abuser was never prosecuted at all. Perhaps the victim didn’t come forward at the time, or the prosecuting attorney was unable to assemble enough evidence. Or, maybe the prosecutor did take the case to trial, but the abuser was acquitted. Many victims of sexual abuse believe that if the prosecutor was unable to win a conviction or didn’t believe there was enough evidence for a conviction, they cannot hope to successfully pursue a civil claim. However, the burden of proof is quite a bit different in a civil case, and it may be possible to sue and win even if the abuser was never charged or was found not guilty.
Sexual Abuse Timelines
Compared with most civil claims in Pennsylvania, child sexual abuse claims have a very long statute of limitations. Recognizing that child victims may not feel able to speak up about their abuse, and that memories of abuse are often repressed, the legislature has expanded access to justice for those victims. If the victim was a minor at the time of the abuse, the window during which that individual can file a sexual abuse lawsuit extends 12 years beyond the victim’s 18th birthday.
An Experienced Sexual Abuse Attorney Can Help
Facing an abuser and fighting for your rights can be difficult, both technically and emotionally. A knowledgeable and compassionate guide can make all the difference. If you were the victim of child sexual abuse or you are the parent of a child who has been abused, you have rights. Scheduling a free consultation is a quick and easy way to learn more about those rights and how we can help you assert them.