Children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an older, trusted adult often feel shame. The abusers encourage that, because shame brings silence, and silence allows the abusers to find, groom and assault more victims. Survivors of sexual abuse need to know: You have done nothing to deserve shame. We are here to help you and other victims — to break the cycle of shame and silence and sexual violence.
Sexual assault happens far too often in our country. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.
Unfortunately, these sex crimes often go unpunished by the criminal justice system. The overwhelming majority of perpetrators are never prosecuted, let alone sent to jail for their crimes. Yet there is a way to get justice: through filing a civil lawsuit against your abuser or the institution that enabled the abuse.
These types of lawsuits can be complex but are vitally important in order to hold those who harmed you responsible for their actions (or inactions) and to spur the institutions to better police their ranks so that future abuse is prevented. A legal claim can also provide you with the compensation that you need to heal and recover from abuse. If you are a victim or survivor of sexual abuse, a compassionate sexual abuse attorney can help you bring a claim against the individual or organization that harmed you.
When Is Sexual Abuse a Crime in Washington, D.C.?
Like all other jurisdictions in the United States, sexual abuse is a crime in the District of Columbia. Sexual abuse can include a sexual act, which may include physical penetration, or sexual contact, which involves touching or fondling. Importantly, both types of acts are prohibited under D.C. law.
In addition to laws that forbid a range of sexual abuse, such as engaging in a sexual act with a person who is unconscious, D.C. specifically prohibits sexual abuse of a child. This is typically defined through reference to the age of the abuser and the victim. For example, it is illegal for an adult to engage in a sexual act with a child who is under the age of 16 if that adult is 4 years or more older than that child.
However, D.C. law also prohibits adults from engaging in any type of sexual activity with a person who is under the age of 18 if that adult is in a “significant” relationship with the child. Generally, a significant relationship means that the adult is in a position of trust or authority over the child. This may include parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, guardians, romantic partners of a parent, priests or pastors, Boy Scout leaders, school employees, counselors, bus drivers, and coaches.
These laws are critical, as they ensure that children are not abused by the very people entrusted to care for them. A youth group leader who manipulates a teenager in his group into a sexual relationship could be prosecuted under these laws, even if the teen is over 16. If that same teen got involved with a 20-year-old acquaintance, it may not necessarily be a crime. It is because an adult in a position of authority over children has power and control over them that sexual relationships are forbidden.
The topic of consent often arises in sexual abuse cases. Importantly, children cannot consent to sexual activity with an adult. Even if a child believes that he or she loves the abuser or that he or she has entered into a relationship voluntarily, the law makes it clear that children cannot consent to these types of relationships.
Can Victims of Sexual Abuse File a Lawsuit in Washington, D.C.?
If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, you may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the person responsible. In some cases, you may even be able to file a claim against an institution that failed to protect you from harm or that covered up sexual abuse. A good example of this type of case is lawsuits against religious schools and churches and the Boy Scouts of America.
A sexual abuse lawsuit is a type of personal injury case. In this claim, you will request monetary damages for the harm that you have suffered as a result of a person or organization’s negligent or intentional misconduct. Damages may include compensation for medical treatment, as well as for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other psychological harm.
Importantly, the perpetrator of your abuse does not have to be charged with or convicted of a crime in order for you to file a sexual abuse lawsuit. In fact, the basis for many lawsuits against organizations is a cover-up of sexual abuse that enabled an abuser to continue to harm people (usually children) for years.
The vast majority of abusers will never spend a day in jail. According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), for every 1000 sexual assaults in the United States, 995 perpetrators will not go to jail or prison:
- 230 are reported to the police;
- 46 of the 230 police reports result in an arrest;
- 9 out of the 46 cases are referred to a prosecutor for criminal charges;
- 5 out of 9 cases result in a felony conviction; and
- 4.6 rapists will be incarcerated.
In far too many cases, the only way that an abuser can be brought to justice is through the civil legal system.
A lawsuit for sexual abuse can be incredibly difficult for victims and survivors and may reopen past traumas. Your abuser — or the abuser’s institution — may challenge your credibility. Because most sexual abuse lawsuits involve a claim for damages related to mental health, they may also use your treatment records to argue that you cannot be believed. In these situations, it is critical to work with a Washington, D.C. sexual abuse attorney who can zealously advocate for you — while treating you with compassion and understanding.
Is There a Time Limit to File a Sexual Abuse Case?
Sexual abuse lawsuits are unique, in that they are often filed long after the abuse occurred. Many victims repress the memory of what happened to them, and may only remember their abuse years or even decades after the fact.
All personal injury lawsuits have a deadline for filing a claim. This is known as the statute of limitations. If you don’t file a lawsuit within this time period, then your claim will likely be barred.
The statute of limitations in Washington, D.C. for sexual abuse claims used to be relatively short. This changed in 2018, with the passage of the Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations Amendment Act. Under this law, victims can file a lawsuit:
- If the abuse occurred before the victim was 35 years old: until age 40, or 5 years from when the victim knew or reasonably should have known, of the sexual abuse, whichever is later.
- If the abuse occurred when the victim was 35 or older: 5 years or 5 years from when the victim knew or reasonably should have known, of the sexual abuse, whichever is later.
- After the passage of this law, individuals whose lawsuits were previously barred by the statute of limitations have until May 3, 2021, to file a lawsuit utilizing these rules.
This new law is important because it allows victims to file a legal action within 5 years from the date the abuse is discovered (or remembered). For example, if John was sexually assaulted at age 14, but only remembered that this happened when he turned 37, he can file a lawsuit within 5 years of when he recalled his abuse (up to age 42).
If you have any questions about whether you can file a sexual abuse lawsuit based on the statute of limitations, consult with an experienced sexual abuse attorney. In addition to advising you of your rights, your lawyer can counsel you on your options and provide support during a challenging time.
Don’t Hesitate to Call. We’re Here for You.
Sexual abuse happens far too often in the District of Columbia and across the country. In recent years, there has been greater recognition of the toll that this type of abuse takes on victims. As a result, the D.C. Council and other legislative bodies have taken action to expand and modernize laws so that victims can seek justice for the harm that they suffered at the hands of their abusers.
At Patrick Malone & Associates, we have substantial experience handling a range of personal injury cases — including ones that primarily involve psychological harm, like sexual abuse lawsuits. We aren’t afraid to take on even the biggest organizations — and can use our knowledge and skill to fight for you. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today at 202-742-1500, or email us at any time.