ADULT SURVIVORS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE: EMOTIONAL COSTS/LEGAL REMEDIES
The problem and its consequences
Sexual abuse against children permeates our society. According to a 2004 study, as reported by the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, it is estimated that one of four girls and one of six boys experiences a sexual offense before they reach 18. A sexual attack on a child is frightening and devastating, producing the following common reactions:
- Anger, perhaps the emotion that is most difficult to manage because, when you were abused, you were powerless and your anger did not affect your abuser. Now, as an adult, you may feel that your anger may not be helpful.
- Flashbacks and memories.
- Guilt and shame.
- Lack of self-esteem, feeling isolated, and inability to engage in normal sexual relations.
- Not being able to mourning and grieve for your losses (for example, innocence, trust, normal family relationships), and not being able to trust others.
The Tennessee Code requires the reporting of suspected child abuse; it is a misdemeanor for the knowing failure to make such a report.
Despite the statute, however, many cases of child abuse are not reported, either deliberately or through ignorance. In addition, the above-listed reactive factors may lead a victim not to reveal the abuse or seek treatment until he or she reaches adulthood. Besides then seeking medical and/or psychological treatment, what legal remedies should the victim consider?
The first avenue is to pursue filing criminal charges, even if the abuser seems treatable. Even professionals in the field often feel that jail time is appropriate for treatable offenders, or may feel that the criminal process is an avenue to ensure that the offender takes responsibility for his offending behavior, which includes entering into treatment. A criminal prosecution may also be important to offer protection to the victim, his or her family and society at large.
Filing a civil suit will be worthwhile, although care may need to be taken. A suit can be empowering for the survivor and important for his or her healing. A suit, however, may also be time consuming and have a number of unpleasant consequences. Victims who testify in court have to face their abusers, and may have to be cross-examined in depth and reveal experiences that they consider shameful to a wider audience.
However, they are a great number of possible pros to filing a lawsuit, including the following:
- The exposure of wrongdoing.
- Vindication, punishment and acknowledgement.
- Monetary compensation for medical bills, and for pain and suffering.
- Healing and recovery, including being supported by friends and family.
If you, or someone you know, are an adult survivor of a child abuse incident, you should consider seeking medical treatment, but should also consider your legal remedies, both criminal and civil. On the civil side, you may want to consult an experienced personal injury attorney, who can investigate the facts of your case and best determine the compensation to which you are entitled.