Church Abuse of Minors
One of the greatest betrayals of trust happens when children and teens are sexually assaulted by religious leaders. But whether the sexual assault victim was you, a close relative, or a friend, you have the power to take action against the abuser and their enablers.
The Catholic Church has faced a decades-long reckoning with its history of knowingly tolerating, and, in many cases, concealing abuse by clergy and other church officials. The allegations have involved dioceses all over the globe and have been the subject of numerous lawsuits and criminal prosecutions. Lives have been destroyed by abuse, and many perpetrators have escaped consequences.
In Pennsylvania, the Catholic Church was the subject of a two-year grand jury investigation into abuse allegations that concluded in 2018. The investigation identified more than 300 abusive priests and thousands of victims in a handful of Pennsylvania counties and found that church officials had knowingly engaged in a systematic coverup of widespread sexual abuse. In some cases, clergy who were known abusers were allowed to continue serving in close contact with children, or moved to other dioceses to conceal their crimes and evade accountability.
The Catholic Church is not the only religious institution to face such allegations. Similar scandals have erupted in Baptist denominations, Orthodox Jewish communities, Muslim religious communities, and other faith groups. The insular nature of many religious communities may facilitate abuse and make it harder for misconduct to be detected. Clergy often have great power over their community members and enjoy enormous trust. That trust is sometimes betrayed, to the great detriment of victims, and institutions may be complicit in that betrayal.
The law puts sexual assault survivors in the position to make perpetrators and facilitators pay for their terrible actions. Both criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits can uphold your rights and ensure others do not fall victim to your abuser.
Regain your voice by sharing your story with Melissa Hague. We believe you and are ready to fight for you. Schedule your free, confidential consultation with Melissa today, and you’ll have a warrior on your side.
What Rights Do Sexual Assault Victims Have?
The civil legal system provides recourse for abuse victims to both recover compensation to rebuild their lives, and to hold perpetrators accountable. Taking action against abusers or the institutions that protect them may help prevent others from being victimized in the future.
The civil legal system resolves disputes between parties through lawsuits. In most cases, you will seek damages and even changes to the church’s structure or governance to get justice for your sexual assault injury.
In a typical case, your sexual assault attorney may begin the process by sending a letter to the church outlining your accusations and identifying your demands. The church’s leadership will pass the letter to their lawyers and insurers.
Occasionally, the church will do the right thing and attempt to resolve the case. If the case is not resolved pre-suit you will need to file a lawsuit. A lawsuit places strict deadlines on both parties. It also allows you and your sexual assault lawyer to gather evidence from the church.
Your lawyer will use this evidence to fight for you. The lawyer will present this evidence to a jury. If you and your lawyer prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence, the jury will award you damages.
A civil suit can give you the ability to regain your voice. Melissa Hague has built her practice around listening to stories from church abuse victims. She believes her clients and fights for justice on their behalf. Schedule your free, confidential consultation today.
Getting Damages for a Sexual Assault Injury
You can recover damages from any person or entity that breached its legal duties to you. A civil lawsuit can give you the compensation you need to help manage the effects of the emotional trauma. It can also push the church to make the changes necessary to protect future generations.
Time Limits for Civil Lawsuits
A “statute of limitations” can place time limits on the filing of civil lawsuits in Pennsylvania, but there are many elements involved in determining what that time limit is. The considerations may include the victim’s age when the abuse occurred, the victim’s age at the time of the lawsuit, and numerous other factors.
You should contact a sexual assault attorney as soon as possible upon deciding that you want to pursue a civil lawsuit. The lawyer will analyze your circumstances and make sure you comply with any statutes of limitations in your case.
Legal Theories for Recovering Damages
Your case is about more than the abuser. Entities like churches have many controls in place to prevent these awful situations from arising. Depending on your particular circumstances, you might have claims against the following parties:
- The abuser
- The abuser’s supervisor
- The church
- Other church members
Some legal theories you can use to pursue your claims include:
Battery includes any form of offensive or harmful touching.
Assault happens when the abuser causes fear of an imminent battery.
You can claim false imprisonment if an abuser wrongfully detains you without your consent.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
You suffer from intentional infliction of emotional distress when an abuser or the enablers do something so outrageous that it causes you emotional distress.
Negligence happens when someone fails to act with a reasonable degree of care. As a result, you suffer an injury.
You will typically allege negligence against the abuser’s enablers. Some common negligence claims include:
- Negligent hiring and retention
- Negligent supervision
- Negligent investigation of abuse
In many cases, the evidence might not clearly show whether the church’s failure to stop or prevent abuse was deliberate or merely negligent. By alleging negligence, you can prove your case without having to establish anyone’s intent.
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
Negligent infliction of emotional distress happens when a church’s negligence causes you emotional distress.
Amount of Damages Recoverable
In a church abuse case, you can recover damages for:
- Medical bills for physical, mental, and emotional injuries
- Lost income due to your injuries
- Diminished earning capacity from long-term disabilities
- Physical pain
- Mental anguish
- Reduced enjoyment of life
Calculated over your lifetime, you could suffer considerable damages. These damages would justify your sexual assault lawyer seeking substantial compensation in your case.
Hiring a Sexual Assault Attorney
Sexual assault lawyers are dedicated and skilled lawyers with the compassion and experience to fight on behalf of survivors. Most sexual assault attorneys offer a free consultation to review your case.
To schedule your free, confidential consultation with a lawyer prepared to fight for you, contact Melissa Hague today.