Sexual abuse is devastating, and when it occurs in an educational institution, a supposed safe space, it represents the school’s failure to safeguard children. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, there were about 14,938 cases of sexual violence in K-12 schools between 2017 and 2018, compared with 9,649 from 2015 to 2016, representing a 55% increase. While school administrators and teachers should report the cases, many fail in their responsibilities, allowing the abuse to go unchecked and unreported. Sometimes, a teacher or school administrator might be the perpetrator. Whatever the circumstances, the Sex Crimes Attorney understands this can be difficult to discuss, but we can listen to you and your child and offer compassionate and sound counsel. We can work aggressively to hold the California institution that failed your minor child and family accountable for its negligence and actions.
What is School Sexual Abuse?
Since your child cannot lawfully consent, the law deems all sexual acts involving children sexual abuse. Typically, sexual abuse includes the following:
Sexual assault comprises many acts, including the following:
- Penetration of the anal opening or genitals using objects or a body part, regardless of how slight (It does not matter whether there was ejaculation or not).
- Gang rape.
- Lascivious or lewd conduct.
- Having sexual relations with a student.
- Touching of intimate body parts, including genitals or the clothing covering the child for sexual gratification or arousal.
- Masturbating in front of a minor.
- Sexual intercourse involving a juvenile.
In other words, sexual assault involves an act that includes the unwelcome touching of your child’s body.
Sexual exploitation involving children can depict a child engaged in any sexual assault act. It also includes an adult promoting, coercing, persuading, or using a minor to participate in or assist another with a life sexual performance, prostitution, or nude modeling.
It involves offering money to convince a minor to participate in a sexual act or sexual trafficking.
Typically, sexual harassment ranges from promising a school-going child good grades in return for sexual favors to uninvited gesturing, touching, and inappropriate jokes.
Sexual harassment does not always have to be “sexual.” It can also feel or look like intimidating, teasing, or offensive comments based on stereotypes or bullying a person based on gender identity, sex, or sexual orientation. There are no requirements that the sexually harassing persons derive sexual pleasure from their conduct or were sexually attracted to the victim.
Here are essential issues to know about school sexual abuse:
- It counts as sexual abuse if the act made your child feel uncomfortable or unsafe, violated their body, or was unwanted. It does not matter whether the perpetrator thought it was not sexual, harmless, okay, or “welcomed.”
- It is considered sexual abuse even if your child did not immediately say “no” or “stop,” or any other word to notify the perpetrator what they were doing was inappropriate or uninvited.
- It is not your child’s fault that they were sexually abused. You should not allow anyone to shame or blame your child.
Signs of School Sexual Abuse to Check Out in Your Child
Common perpetrators of school sexual abuse include teachers, coaches, administrative staff, aides and assistants, fellow students, Boy Scout leaders, and the clergy.
Since the defendant is generally a trusted and reliable authority figure or familiar adult, minors might feel unsafe disclosing their abuse. Additionally, most abusers use threats against the children or their families to keep them quiet.
Regrettably, these factors increase the likelihood of the child failing to report the sexual abuse after it happens. The Child Abuse Prevention Center outlines signs that can indicate possible abuse.
Some of the warning signs to monitor in younger children include the following:
- Facel soiling or bad and pants wetting.
- Overly compulsive behavior.
- Eating disturbances.
- Challenges concentrating.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Usual phobias or fears.
- Regressive or pseudo-maturity conduct.
- Changes in school performance.
Sexual abuse indicators in teens and older children include the following:
- Drug or alcohol abuse.
- Changes in school performance.
- Intentionally making themselves unattractive through poor hygiene.
- Overly delinquent, antisocial, aggressive, or compliant conduct.
- Overly self-conscious about their body.
- Eating disorders.
- Crying without provocation.
- Excessive bathing.
- Chronic depression, apathy, and fatigue.
- Poor social skills.
- Running away.
- Chronic tardiness.
- Failing to participate in activities.
- Inappropriately seductive conduct.
- Running away.
Specific traits are typical among school sexual abuse victims. Nevertheless, one trait does not point toward sexual abuse. Therefore, it is wise to schedule therapy appointments for your baby if you notice any of these traits over a short duration:
- Challenges sitting or walking.
- Torn or bloody undergarments.
- Pregnancy or STDs.
- Advanced sexual conduct for their age.
- Unusual genital discharge.
- Setting fires.
- Self-destructive behavior or depression.
Impact of School-Related Sexual Abuse
Some of the effects of school sexual abuse include the following:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
One effect of school sexual abuse and assault is PTSD. Typically, PTSD follows a traumatic incident, leaving the victim immensely frightened and feeling helpless.
Your child might have relieving symptoms, which are the recalling of trauma through nightmares or flashbacks. PTSD can also manifest as avoidance of situations and feelings. The child can also experience hyperarousal whenever they are alert.
Sexual abuse can have immediate effects or manifest later in life. The effects vary from one minor to the next.
Immediate psychological effects can include fear, shock, denial, confusion, and guilt. During childhood, the victim might experience the following:
- Low self-esteem.
- Behavioral challenges.
- Depressive symptoms.
- Developmental delays.
- Neurobiological changes.
Effects of school sexual abuse experienced in adolescence include low self-esteem, eating disorders, early sexual initiation, and anxiety.
Unluckily, most minors do not exhibit these symptoms, increasing the risk of developing social adjustment and enduring psychological challenges. The issues might carry over into adulthood.
Poor School Performance
Sexual abuse victims have lower memory scores and cognitive abilities than their classmates. It increases the risk of minors underperforming at school.
Challenges with Relationships
School sexual abuse can affect your baby’s ability to form and maintain relationships.
If they keep the experience to themselves, they can close themselves off from family and friends. If they have children, they might feel like they are not safe parents. Regarding romantic relationships, survivors might be reminded of the abuse, be likely to put up emotional barriers, and not trust their partners.
Child Victim Act (Assembly Bill 218)
In January 2020, California Assembly Bill 218 became effective and expanded the statute of limitations (SOL). SOL sets a timeframe to bring your lawsuit and request the court for remedies for the wrongdoing. If the SOL applicable to your lawsuit has elapsed, the judge will only consider the case if an exemption to extend the limit applies.
Before the legislators passed AB 218, the SOL for civil cases over sexual assault and abuse that happened when the victim was a child were as follows:
- Within eight years of the minor turning eighteen (in short, when the juvenile is 26), or
- Within three years from when the victim learned or reasonably ought to have learned that psychological illness or injury that happened following the child turned eighteen was due to school sexual abuse.
AB 218 loosens the restrictions and allows more school sexual abuse victims and survivors to seek justice. Today, the SOLs are as follows:
- Twenty-two years from when the survivor turned 18 (In short, when they turn forty), or
- Within five years from when the victim discovers or ought to have learned that psychological damage suffered after 18 was due to sexual assault.
AB 218 Expands the Definition of “Duty of Care” and “Abuse”
Assembly Bill 218 changed the legal definition of “sexual abuse” to “sexual assault.” Sexual assault is any conduct committed against a victim as a minor and deemed a crime under the relevant penal code section. It includes the following:
- Physical sexual abuse acts.
- Child pornography.
- Lascivious or lewd conduct involving a minor below 14.
It also defines the civil liability of an organization that owed the plaintiff a duty of care. Schools and educational institutions have a legal obligation to protect children from abuse. Otherwise, the institution will be held liable for the misconduct of teachers, students, school administrators, and employees.
The Act holds schools liable when they:
- Are aware or have reasons to be aware of wrongdoing creating risks that a worker will commit school sexual assault, and
- Did not implement or take reasonable safeguards or steps to prevent school sexual assault.
The law needs more than nominal acts from schools regarding reasonable safeguards and steps to avoid or prevent sexual abuse by people working around and with children.
Please note that requiring or offering counseling classes is in and of itself insufficient to constitute a reasonable safeguard or step. The law requires schools to go beyond this.
Certificate of Merit
Although the act favors the plaintiff, it creates procedural obstacles to closing the lawsuit if the plaintiff is at least 40. In this case, the plaintiff must file a certificate of merit along with the complaint. A complaint is an initial document filed in civil court. It informs the court and the defendant of your intent to seek a legal remedy for your child’s losses.
In the certificate of merit:
- The plaintiff’s lawyer should declare, under oath, that they analyzed the case facts, consulted more than one trained mental health expert, and as a result, concluded the school sexual assault claim is meritorious.
- A certified mental health professional who has never treated the survivor should declare, under oath, that they interviewed the survivor and believed that the survivor is a school sexual abuse victim.
If bringing your certificate of merit would be unreasonable considering the impending lawsuit, your attorney should have a sworn declaration indicating so. They should also file the complaint certificate of merit within sixty days of filing the lawsuit.
Damages Awarded in School Sexual Abuse Claims
Bringing a sexual abuse lawsuit goes beyond receiving financial compensation. It allows the survivor to speak out against the perpetrator, hold the perpetrator liable, obtain closure and justice, and move on. The monetary compensation awarded in sexual assault cases compensates the plaintiff for related losses. The damages can be classified into the following:
School sexual abuse is an offense that inflicts harm on the alleged victim emotionally and physically. It also comes with a financial toll. Also known as special damages, economic damages can include:
- Medical expenses, including medications, forensic examination, and emergency care.
- Mental health attention, including counseling and therapy.
- Traveling cost.
- Lost income from missed work when pursuing your child’s legal claim.
- Repairs for damaged properties.
Determining the economic damages involves analyzing pay stubs, receipts, and bills. Additionally, it entails estimating future costs in your child’s life, like prescription medications or ongoing counseling. A qualified forensic accountant can help you determine the cost of these damages.
Childhood sexual assault is a traumatic wrongdoing that causes most survivors to endure intangible effects like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. It can also result in a significant loss of life enjoyment and missed opportunities at school and work.
Typical noneconomic damages awarded in California include the following:
- Pain and suffering.
- Mental anguish.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of consortium.
- Reduced quality of life.
- Depression, anxiety, stress, or fear.
Also known as exemplary damages, punitive damages seek to punish the perpetrator for their negligent, malicious, or wrongful conduct. Due to the nature of school sexual abuse, punitive damages are more common in childhood sexual assault lawsuits than in other civil cases. These damages increase the overall settlement award by making the perpetrator pay additional money as punishment.
Punitive damages also serve as an example to deter other people from committing the sex offense in the future.
Effects of a “Cover-Up” on Your Damages
If the defendant engaged in any “cover-up” conduct concerning your child’s harm, then the defendant is responsible for treble damages. In other words, the court could order the defendant to pay three times the compensable losses from sexual abuse. For example, a $200,000 damage settlement award would amount to $600,000 under the triple damage cover-up section.
AB 218 describes a “cover-up” as a concerted attempt to conceal proof related to the school sexual assault. It can include:
- Failing to meet the legal requirements to report any sexual abuse instance.
- Attempting to dissuade the victim from coming forward.
What to Do If You Believe Your Child is a School Sexually Assault Victim
If you believe a minor is a school sexual abuse victim, you might be unsure what steps to take. Whether a parent or a guardian, you are responsible for making positive differences in your child’s life.
Discussed below are the steps to take:
Recognize Child Sexual Abuse Signs
Child sexual abuse signs are not always apparent; learning them could be a lifesaver. These signs were previously listed above.
Speak with Your Baby
When talking to the juvenile, consider the following to create a calm environment and increase the likelihood of the minor being truthful:
- Select your place and time carefully — Pick a place your son/daughter is comfortable. You could even inquire from them where they would like to speak. Avoid speaking in the presence of the perpetrator.
- Consider your tone — Ensure your conversation is as casual as possible to put the juvenile at ease and ultimately offer accurate details. If you begin your discussions sternly, you might scare the minor, and they might tell you what they believe you want to hear instead of the truth.
- Ask questions or talk in your child’s vocabulary. However, ensure the questions are vague. For instance, you can ask them if someone has touched them. While “touch” could imply various things in this situation, it can be what your baby knows. Then the minor can answer with a comment or question that assists you in determining the status of the affair. Please note that the sexual abuse could feel okay to the juvenile, so using a word like “hurt” might not provide the details you seek.
- Listen attentively — Let the minor speak freely. Allow the child to pause before following up on points that make you feel suspicious.
- Reassure your child — Ensure the minor understands they are not in trouble. Let them know you are asking the questions because you have the best interest.
- Be patient — This conversation can be terrifying for the minor. Most perpetrators threaten children should any person learn about the abuse.
- Avoid blame and judgment.
Report the School Sexual Abuse
Reporting school-related sexual abuse is not easy and can be overwhelming. Remember, it allows you to protect a person who cannot defend themselves.
- Before reporting the matter, do the following:
- Tell your son/daughter you will talk to someone who can assist. The minor might ask you not to report the matter, particularly if the defendant threatened them.
- Ensure your child is safe. If you are worried about their safety, discuss your concerns with the authority when making your report.
- Prepare your thoughts. The authority will ask you for identifying details about your child, your relationship with the minor, and the nature of school sexual abuse. While providing anonymous tips is an option, providing an identified report increases the possibility of filing charges against the defendant.
Where to Report Child Sexual Abuse
If you believe your child is a sexual abuse victim, you should report the crime to the relevant authorities, like Child Protective Services. Where you report in California depends on your county of residence.
You are not supposed to submit evidence when reporting. Any person who makes a good faith report based on reasonable grounds is immune from prosecution.
If the abuse happened within the last 72 hours, your child should undergo a medical evaluation at your county medical center’s emergency department or your local child advocacy center. A sexual assault nurse examiner will conduct the medical evaluation.
Additionally, you can text or call the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline at 800-422-4453 to reach an experienced volunteer. While the counselor will not make a report on your behalf, they can guide you throughout the process.
What to Do After Reporting
If you fail to see or hear signs of immediate investigation, you can call again to follow up in a few days. However, it depends on your relationship with the juvenile and the agency’s policies.
Finally, remember to practice self-care. Good self-care allows you to take better care of others. Some aspects to consider are maintaining your lifestyle, discussing what happened, and relaxing.
Should You File a Criminal Charge First or Just Bring the Civil Lawsuit?
The law neither requires a police report nor a criminal conviction for you, the plaintiff, to seek compensation.
You might be terrified about reporting the offense to the police. You might think that no person will believe your child or that the police will blame your child for the sexual abuse. Most California law enforcers treat sexual abuse victims and their families with dignity, and their investigations can be beneficial even when no criminal charge is brought.
It may be discouraging when you report a school sexual abuse, and the prosecutor chooses not to pursue the charges, proceeds to trial and engages in plea bargain negotiations for lesser charges. However, that does not imply you should not file your civil lawsuit.
The Burden of Proof in School Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
In your civil claim, you should prove responsibility by a “preponderance of the evidence.” The plaintiff should demonstrate that it is more likely than not that the perpetrator sexually assaulted your child.
It does not imply you will receive compensation if there is a “he said/she said” situation. However, it means the jurors can find the perpetrator responsible if they find it more likely that your side of the story is true.
Only nine of the twelve jurors in civil trials should agree that the defendants are accountable.
Find a Compassionate and Aggressive Civil Case Attorney Near Me
Generally, the damages caused by school sexual abuse are far-reaching and can last a lifetime. They can include physical injuries and psychological damage like mental anguish and PTSD, affecting your child’s school performance and self-esteem. Luckily, school sexual abuse victims in California are lawfully entitled to take legal action against the defendants in civil lawsuits. You can also sue the school that negligently allowed the abuse to happen.
However, navigating the claim process can be challenging, and you could have many unanswered questions. At Sex Crimes Attorney, we believe you and your child do not have to suffer in silence due to fear of uncertainty, humiliation, and retribution and can help your child seek justice and restore their life. We can gather the necessary evidence to prove the case, hold the defendant accountable, and win you a satisfactory settlement. Please call our office at 888-666-8480 to book your no-obligation initial consultation.