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Sexual Abuse FAQ

Answers To The Most Frequently Asked Questions In Sexual Abuse Cases

1. Who can bring a lawsuit in California for sexual abuse?

Anyone can bring a lawsuit if they have been sexually abused by another person. This includes males, females, adults and children.

2. What if the sexual abuse is perpetrated by a member of the same sex?

It does not matter. Same sex abuse is prohibited.

3. Can adults bring cases of sexual abuse?

Yes. Adults can bring cases for sexual abuse that occurred when they were children or sexual abuse that occurred while they are adults as long as they bring the case within the statute of limitations (see below).

4. What is sexual abuse?

There is no one specific definition for sexual abuse. Whether or not an act will be considered sexual abuse under the law depends upon the circumstances under which the act occurred and the age of the participants.

5. How does the law define sexual touching?

There are a number of different definitions. Sexual touching is generally defined as the touching of or the touching by an “intimate part” of a person which includes “the sex organ, anus, groin or buttock of any person or the breasts of a female.”

6. Does the sexual touching have to be nonconsensual to be considered abuse?

In most cases, a plaintiff will have to establish that they did not consent to the sexual contact to prevail in a case for sexual abuse. The hallmark of most sexual abuse cases is the existence of unwanted or unwelcome sexual touching.

However, there are certain classes of people who are protected from any sexual touching whether or not they consented and whether or not the touching was welcomed. For instance, it is absolutely prohibited for an adult to have any type of sexual contact with a minor; i.e. a child under the age of 18, welcome or unwelcome. The same rule is true for people who are found to be so mentally incompetent that they are not able to give consent as long as the perpetrator knew of the level of the person’s incompetency. Further, all licensed healthcare providers are prohibited from engaging in any type of sexual contact with patients during the time of treatment, and psychotherapists are prohibited from engaging in any type of sexual contact with a patient during the time of treatment and at least two years thereafter. In these cases, consent is irrelevant.

7. Can someone beside the perpetrator be sued for sexual abuse?

Yes. If the abuse involved sexual harassment in the workplace, the employer may automatically be held responsible if the abuse was perpetrated by a supervisor and will also be found responsible if the employee can establish that the employer knew or should have known that employees were at risk of harassment or abuse from the co-employee.

A plaintiff, under certain circumstances, may also be able to bring an action against the employer of a perpetrator or someone who failed to take sufficient action to protect the public from a perpetrator. This can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.

8. How long do I have to bring a case for sexual abuse?

A minor has at least until his or her 26th birthday to bring a case for sexual abuse which occurred while the plaintiff was under 18. Further, if the plaintiff can establish that he or she did not discover injury from unlawful conduct until after they were 26, they have until three years from the date of discovery. (An important exception to this rule is that a claim against a governmental entity such as a school may have to be brought within six months, or at the latest one year from the act of sexual abuse.) An adult has two years from the date of discovering harm from the sexual abuse to be able to bring an action. There are many exceptions to the statute of limitations and, therefore, an attorney should be consulted before initiating or giving up on a potential sexual abuse case.

9. What damages can I recover if I have been sexually abused?

If a plaintiff can prove sexual abuse, he or she is entitled to recover damages for past and future medical treatment, past and future wage loss, damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress, and, if the plaintiff can establish bad enough conduct on the part of the perpetrator or company, punitive damages (i.e. damages intended to punish the perpetrator or the employer).

10. Do I need an attorney to bring a sexual abuse case?

Although technically a plaintiff can bring a case without an attorney, sexual abuse cases require the skill of a good attorney more than almost any other type of case. It is important that the plaintiff’s attorney is aware of the special protections provided to sexual abuse victims in litigation and that the attorney understands the serious, life-long consequences that frequently flow from sexual abuse. Further, in cases against psychotherapists and healthcare providers, it is particularly important that an attorney understands why the law recognizes that a patient can never consent to a sexual relationship under the circumstances.

11. Will my sexual abuse case settle out of court?

Probably. Most sexual abuse cases settle. Sometimes they can even settle very early because of a defendant’s fear of publicity.

12. Will I be able to recover under the perpetrator’s or some other person or entity’s insurance policy?

Maybe. You will probably not be able to recover against the perpetrator’s insurance policy for sexual abuse, but there may be acts of negligence which will afford coverage. Also, if a third person or entity is responsible for the abuse as a result of their negligence, you will probably be able to obtain coverage under their insurance policy.

Most legal questions require complex answers. The answers provided here may not be complete or fully accurate but attempt to provide consumers with abbreviated answers. For more detailed answers to these questions, a consumer should check out other articles in this section of this website, research other legal articles and texts on the subject matter or consult with an attorney.

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