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Fighting for Survivors of Sexual Assault

comforting a sexually assaulted woman

Sexual assault cases are some of the most serious and important ones we handle. Unfortunately, fear and social stigma often prevent survivors of these types of crimes from coming forward.

Recognizing Sexual Assault and Abuse

Whether it is referred to as sexual assault, sexual abuse, or sexual violence, sexually motivated crimes are generally defined as any forced, manipulated, or coerced sexual activity unwanted by the victim.

This umbrella covers a wide range of criminal acts like rape, molestation, forced sexual touching, etc. The following are examples of potential situations that may be considered sexual assault:

  • For years, a minor child is touched in an inappropriate sexual manner by a trusted family adviser.
  • A person uses force or manipulation to carry out a sexual act on an unwilling partner (rape).
  • A person tries to force an unwilling partner into sex but gives up after a struggle (attempted rape).
  • A person intentionally intoxicates a date so they can coerce them into sex (“date rape”)
  • A college student is forced to perform a sex act on someone who is blackmailing them with compromising information (“sextortion”).
  • Coworkers who have been fondled by their boss are terrified they will lose their jobs if they say anything.

The Serious Effects of Sexual Abuse and Violence

sexual abused woman stressed out

Sexual assault of all kinds can impact a survivor’s physical, neurological, and behavioral health. In the short term, sexual assault can have physical effects like pain, bruising, bleeding, and discomfort, as well as enormous mental and emotional distress. As the weeks and months go on and any physical trauma heals, however, the long-term effects and emotional trauma often become more apparent.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Physical injury or reproductive damage
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger, irritability
  • Intense fear of intimacy
  • Stress-induced illness, ulcers, etc.

Situations of Special Concern

The difficult truth is that this abuse can occur in any situation where a perpetrator has the opportunity to force or manipulate a victim—at home, at work, at school, or even in a place of worship. Certain organizations and situations have seen a worrying prevalence of sexual abuse, allegations of cover-ups, and misconduct. Below are three such situations that are of special concern to society and lawmakers

Religious Organizations and Priest Abuse

Though we turn to our spiritual leaders for guidance and support, shocking evidence of sexual abuse in religious organizations has raised serious questions about their structure, authority, and reporting habits.

The Catholic church has long faced a flood of allegations that church officials have covered up countless cases of known child abuse. Over years of investigation and legal battles, the church has admitted to many cases of abuse—but not to the full extent of its role in their mismanagement. As of late 2018, new cases continue to be filed and investigators continue to uncover new evidence that church entities hid (and may still be hiding) crucial information.

Another devastating example is that of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Their leader, Warren Jeffs, is currently serving life in prison for a variety of crimes, including incest, rape, and sexual contact with multiple minors. Jeffs also sanctioned marriages between adult men and underage girls within the FLDS, enabling a host of other crimes.

College Campus Assaults

Sexual assault on college campuses has been another major area of concern in recent years, particularly with regard to incidents of rape and how they are handled—or mishandled—after the fact. 

Many allegations of rape on college campuses have concluded with what seems to many like a slap on the wrist; despite four sexual assault charges, an ex-frat president at Baylor University was offered a deal involving only three years of probation, counseling, and a meager $400 fine. The underwhelming outcomes have only served to create an even more hostile social environment for students, who already tend not to report such incidents.

Despite concerns that colleges have not been properly handling sexual assault allegations, the U.S. Department of Education under President Trump recently developed new policies for these cases which would effectively lessen the responsibility on colleges in most cases. The proposed changes have been met with strong opposition, but, if the policies are confirmed, victims of college sexual assault may need to take outside legal action. 

Workplace Assault and Harassment

Despite companies’ strong attempts to create safe and equitable environments for all employees, sexual harassment and assault are still all too common, occurring in all kinds of industries and work environments.

The high-profile case of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein brought workplace harassment and assault back into the spotlight, leading women and men across a variety of fields to share their own experiences of unwanted advances on the job. Unfortunately, many individuals never report workplace assault due to fear that it will negatively affect their careers. 

Understanding the Statute of Limitations

hour glass counting down statute of limitations

An important aspect of sexual assault litigation is something called the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a law set by the state that dictates how long a person has to file legal action against someone for a given crime. In cases of sexual assault, the details of this statute may vary, depending on whether the crime was a misdemeanor or a felony.

What this means for you as a survivor of sexual abuse or assault is that you may only have a limited window of time in which to take legal action. This might sound unfair, but the idea behind the statute is to protect innocent defendants, as well as ensure that any evidence and witness statements are sufficiently recent to be reliable at trial. After the statute of limitations has passed, the evidence may have deteriorated and memories might have faded.

If you are thinking about bringing a case against someone for sexual assault, make sure you look into your state’s statutes for the crime. If you’re not sure which statute applies to your case, you might want to consider legal help. 

You’re Not Alone: Statistics and Current Cases

Consider these harrowing statistics:

If you’ve experienced sexual assault or abuse, it’s important that you know you aren’t alone. Not only are there loved ones and professionals who can help you, but there are also other strong survivors fighting beside you. Here’s what’s been happening in others’ cases.

Think You Might Have a Case? Here’s What You Need to Show

Identifying and proving sexual assault in court can be challenging, due to the often private nature of these crimes. Because there are rarely eyewitnesses, and there isn’t always reliable physical evidence, cases of sexual assault and abuse often come down to showing that the acts were forced, manipulated, or coerced. 

For victims of rape, it is generally a good idea to be examined by a medical professional and have evidence collected using a sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kit, also known as a “rape kit.” It isn’t required, but it may provide valuable physical evidence.

In a criminal case, that you’ll have to meet a strong burden of proof to show that the defendant deserves to be incarcerated and registered as a sex offender. If your case is a civil case rather than a criminal case,  the burden of proof for liability is much lower. The plaintiff must simply show that it is more likely than not that the assault occurred.

How Compensation Works in Civil Sexual Assault Cases

Criminal sexual assault cases typically focus on holding the perpetrator accountable, but civil cases can lead to monetary compensation. Unlike cases involving property damage, medical costs, and other such financial concerns, the damages caused by sexual assault don’t necessarily have a clear monetary value. Instead, the court will determine the amount of compensation based on factors like physical harm, emotional damage, pain, and suffering, 

You’re a Survivor—We’ll Help You Be a Fighter, Too

If you or someone close to you has been the victim of rape, child sexual abuse, or another form of sexual assault, we want to help you. We know it can be difficult to come forward after such a traumatic experience, which is why we at Saunders and Walker, P.A. are dedicated to helping survivors understand their rights and hold their abusers accountable.

Call us today at (727) 579-4500 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced sexual abuse lawyer.

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Saunders & Walker
3491 Gandy Blvd
Pinellas Park, FL 33781
Phone: (727) 579-4500
Phone: 1-800-748-7115

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