Sexual Abuse Victims Are Standing Up, But Who Is Liable for Damages?

man's fist pointing to a woman, personal injury lawyer

Cases involving sexual abuse can give rise to various legal actions and while it’s common for abusers to be criminally prosecuted, victims can also file civil lawsuits to hold the offender liable for pain and suffering and other damages resulting from the abuse. In the past few months, sexual abuse victims have come forward en masse to share their stories and speak up against alleged perpetrators.

Whether the victim was a woman sleeping in her home or a trusting patient with an unscrupulous doctor, victims of sexual abuse are eligible for restitution for both emotional and physical damages from the perpetrator, third parties involved, or insurance.

Victims Are Standing Up in Large Numbers

Research suggests that perpetrators are usually people very close to the victims. In many cases, trusted individuals like doctors, teachers, and even coaches are the culprits.

The USA Swimming and Olympic leaderships have come under the limelight for increased cases of sexual abuse within the organizations since the 1990s. An Investigation on USA Swimming found that hundreds of athletes have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of officials and coaches. Many in positions of leadership within the organization knew of the accusations but took no action to protect swimmers.

Chuck Wielgus, the former USA Swimming executive director, who died in 2017 was informed of several sexual abuse allegations against a world-renowned coach who had abused a female swimmer from when she was 12. The organization did nothing about the allegations and in fact, the coach was allowed to continue to have access to the swimming facilities, training center, and events. The coach was only banned more than a quarter-century later after pleading guilty to sexual assault. Under the management of Wielgus, at least 252 officials and swim coaches were arrested, charged, or disciplined for sexual abuse. There are at least 590 alleged victims.

Another case that has hit the headlines is one involving Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor who has treated America’s foremost women, Olympic gymnasts. More than 150 women who have been sexually abused by Nassar over the past two decades stood up to confront a man they were told they could trust. Nassar admitted to using his trusted medical position to molest and abuse young women under the guise of medical treatment.

Emotional and Physical Effects of Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse has become rampant throughout the country and each year, too many individuals are left to suffer the consequences of this horrific crime.

Although physical injuries are common, the emotional effects of sexual abuse often last longer than any physical scars that might be visible. These effects often leave the victims to struggle with months and even years of PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues that require therapeutic counseling. While counseling helps many people overcome the effects of abuse, it can be a painful process and costly treatment option. The stress of missing work and paying for therapy can make recovery more difficult.

With the help of personal injury attorneys, many victims file civil claims against the offenders and other responsible third parties to recover compensation to cover the costs of counseling and specialized, costly treatments. Although the suffering of victims cannot be priced, monetary compensation can give the victims financial relief.

Who is Liable?

Due to the atrocious nature of these offenses, the judge will often award very high damages, especially when the abuse involves multiple victims. The primary liability goes to the perpetrators and they can be required to pay a lot of money to cover the costs of treatment, pain, and suffering, and more. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to collect damages from the defendant if he or she is not particularly wealthy. Another option would be the abuser’s liability insurance policy but since most policies do not cover intentional acts, a personal injury lawyer might pursue other avenues to recover compensation on behalf of the victim.

In some cases, a civil suit can be filed against a third party in addition to the perpetrator. For instance, if the sexual abuse occurred at school, at a place of business, or any other institution, the entity could also be held liable based on failure to provide adequate security or duty of care to prevent the abuse and harm suffered by the victims. In the examples above, for instance, the Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and USA Swimming may be held liable for the damages brought about by the sexual abuse that thrived due to their inaction.