Institutional Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
Sexual abuse always involves an abuse of power, whether that power comes from superior physical strength, authority, or intimidation. Institutional sexual abuse takes that imbalance of power to a whole new level. In institutional abuse cases:
- The abuser is often charged with authority over or care of the victim
- The victim is generally not free to leave at will, and may be physically unable to do so
- The victim may have limited access to other people who could help
- The victim’s status may make reporting difficult, or result in skepticism
- The victim may feel especially unsafe in reporting the abuser, given the inability to distance himself or herself
This type of abuse is so serious that Pennsylvania law makes institutional sexual abuse a felony. In addition to the prohibitions on forced sexual contact and sexual contact with a person incapable of consent, such as a child, the institutional sexual assault law criminalizes even consensual sexual contact between certain parties. Some examples include:
- Correctional officers and inmates in their custody
- Employees and volunteers at juvenile detention facilities and their charges
- Mental health or mental retardation center employees or volunteers and their residents
- School employees or volunteers and students
- Child care center workers or volunteers and children
While the perpetrator of institutional sexual abuse may be sentenced to a significant prison term, incarceration of the abuser does not necessarily address all of the wrongs, damages and liability associated with the sexual abuse. In addition, institutional sexual abuse cases may be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, since the victim may be a child, suffer from a mental disability, have a criminal history that calls his or her credibility into question or otherwise be viewed as an unreliable witness.
Civil Institutional Sexual Abuse Litigation
When the perpetrator of institutional sexual abuse is arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned, the victim may experience some relief. Testifying against the abuser can help restore the victim’s sense of personal power and help to restore lost confidence. The knowledge that the abuser is incarcerated may help the victim feel safe. The police, prosecuting attorney, and judge who take action against the abuser can help rebuild the victim’s trust in a system that allowed the sexual abuse.
However, criminal prosecution alone neglects two important issues for victims of institutional sexual abuse.
Compensation for Damages
Victims of sexual abuse often suffer severe psychological trauma, requiring long-term therapy that can be expensive and time-consuming. Sometimes, the after effects of the abuse make it difficult or impossible for victims to hold certain types of jobs or pursue other everyday activities. Although the Pennsylvania criminal courts may order an abuser to make restitution to a victim, most incarcerated criminals do not have sufficient assets to pay restitution.
Holding All Responsible Parties Accountable
In an institutional sexual abuse case, the perpetrator is rarely the only person to blame. In an institutional setting, supervisors, other employees and even the institution itself are responsible for the care and safety of the residents, patients, students, or inmates. It would be very difficult for an abuser to pursue sexual contact with a victim in a well-run facility where everyone was faithfully performing his or her job and there were clear and effective policies in place to protect those in the care or custody of the institution.
For example, an institution may have put the victim at risk through:
- Negligent hiring
- Inadequate supervision
- Failure to implement safeguards
- Disregard of allegations of abuse
A civil lawsuit allows the victim to hold the institution accountable as well as the abuser, provides a source of compensation for the victim, and may help to protect others who may have fallen victim due to the same shortcomings.
Get Legal Help Today
If you’ve been the victim of institutional sexual abuse, have a loved one who is currently confined to an institution and being abused, or have a child who has been abused by a school or juvenile detention center employee, help is available. Schedule a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you fight back.