We Represent the Rights of Victims and Hold Molesters Accountable
Across the country, victims of molestation and other forms of sexual abuse are speaking out and holding their abusers accountable. The message is clear: No longer will America tolerate sexual assault. The schools, workplaces, businesses, and other public venues of this country will no longer serve as forums for unwanted sexual behavior. Now, more than ever, it is important for survivors to hold abusers accountable for their dangerous—and often criminal—activities. An experienced personal injury attorney can help survivors of molestation access compensation for their injuries, and protect other innocent victims from an abuser’s actions.
How California Law Defines Molestation
Section 243.4 of the California Penal Code prohibits unwanted sexual touching. Under the statute, this is called sexual battery, and it can constitute either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the unwanted touching. The statute also provides for fines that increase in proportion to the severity of the criminal offense. For example:
- Any person who touches an intimate part of another person (against the will of the person touched, and for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse) is guilty of misdemeanor sexual battery. This offense is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by both fine and imprisonment.
- If the victim is an employee of the defendant employer, the court can impose an additional fine of as much as $1,000 on top of the $2,000 fine (for a total fine of up to $3,000). Additional fines that exceed $2,000 are distributed to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing for the purpose of enforcing sexual harassment laws in the workplaces of California. Of course, this is in addition to the money that may be awarded against an employer in a lawsuit that can end up being millions of dollars in the right case.
- If the victim is: (1) unlawfully restrained by the defendant or an accomplice, (2) institutionalized for medical treatments and seriously disabled or mentally incapacitated, or (3) unaware of the nature of the sexual act because the defendant fraudulently represented that the touching served a professional purpose, then a defendant faces stricter penalties. These penalties may include imprisonment for two, three, or four years, and fines of between $2,000 and $10,000 (or both fines and imprisonment).
Once criminal charges are filed against a person accused of sexual battery, the victim gains certain legal protections and rights under the California Constitution. These include the right to have the court consider the victim’s safety (and that of family members) when setting bail or other release conditions for the defendant, the right to protection from unnecessary dissemination of personal information to the defendant, and the right to refuse a pretrial interview by the defendant (and attorneys or representatives of the defendant).
Victims also have the right to request conferral with the prosecutor about the charges that are filed, notice of any public hearings and proceedings at which the prosecutor and defendant are entitled to appear, and information about any pretrial disposition of the case (such as a plea agreement or the dismissal of charges by a prosecutor).
Victims may also request to address the court at any hearing involving a plea, sentencing, post-conviction release, or at any other hearing at which the rights of the victim are at issue. Importantly, a victim must assert these rights. To properly invoke all the rights available under the California Constitution, many victims hire a victim’s rights attorney to represent their interests to the court throughout the criminal proceedings against the defendant. This attorney facilitates effective legal communications with the prosecutor, presents the strongest case possible for enhanced sentencing of the defendant, and can help victims prove the restitution to which they are entitled.
Molestation Is Often a Predatory Scheme Enabled by Institutional Failures
Molestation has recently made national headlines with the conviction of Dr. Larry Nassar. A former training doctor to both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, Nassar molested hundreds of underage women under the guise of medical exams during the decades in which he worked with these young athletes (many of them national champions, world champions, and Olympic champions). The New York Post reports that more than 265 women accused Nassar of sexual abuse and that recently, the first male victim came forward. Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges. According to CNN, once the federal sentence runs, he also faces two separate sentences out of two separate county courts in Michigan. An Ingham County sentence places Nassar in prison for 40 to 175 years. Another sentence out of Eaton County places Nassar in prison for 40 to 125 years. (In the event that Nassar lives long enough to serve out the Michigan sentences, they will run concurrently.) All told, it is almost certain that Nassar will die in prison.
Winer, McKenna & Burritt senior partner John Winer was asked to comment on the Nassar case by various national media outlets. He took the position that perhaps the most vulnerable population of girls in the country to sexual molestation are girls with Olympic aspirations who have been taught to obey and follow their coaches’ and doctors’ every command and who can’t possibly turn in the coach or doctor, because it will certainly destroy their chances to compete in the Olympics. That is why Dr. Nassar should have been more carefully monitored.
Nassar’s story is far too common: An adult violates a position of trust to perpetrate sexual abuse against a series of underage victims. This is, in fact, what caused the downfall of the coaching staff of the Pennsylvania State University football program. CNN reported that grand jury testimony accused assistant coach (and defensive coordinator) Jerry Sandusky of sexually abusing eight young boys during a 15-year period.
This testimony triggered investigations of The Second Mile—a group home for troubled boys started by Sandusky in 1977, which eventually developed into a not-for-profit organization to “help young people achieve their potential.” The organization was found to have facilitated further abuse by Sandusky. According to Reuters, the organization shut down in the wake of the Penn State scandal, and a Pennsylvania judge approved its formal dissolution in 2016. Sandusky was eventually found guilty on 45 counts of sexual assault and sentenced to a prison sentence of 30 to 60 years.
Both the Nassar and Sandusky cases saw an institutional failure to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of children. Nassar’s actions have subjected Michigan State University to millions of dollars in lawsuits. USA Gymnastics is threatened with decertification as the country’s gymnastics organization unless it drastically changes its response to the institutional failures that led to Nassar’s perpetration of abuse.
Meanwhile, CNN reports that Sandusky’s actions caused the NCAA to levy historic penalties against Penn State. The NCAA levied a $60 million fine, a four year ban on postseason competition, and vacated all wins from 1998 to 2011. The NCAA also took away 20 scholarships per year for four years. The Big Ten Conference also ruled that Penn State’s share of bowl game revenue for the next four seasons (about $13 million) would be donated to charities that work to prevent child abuse.
These remedial actions cannot, of course, undo the permanent damage caused by two sexual predators who ruined hundreds of young lives. They do, however, send a message to the institutions that fail to stop such vile conduct: When it comes to the sexual assault of children, America will no longer tolerate ignorance in its sports institutions.
Predators Here in Oakland
It is not just sports institutions that turn blind eyes to the abuse of sexual predators. Here in Oakland, prosecutors have given the title to a defendant charged with sexually assaulting his stepdaughter and raping another woman, as well. The East Bay Times reports that the man was convicted of all 12 counts of sexual assault, including rape, sodomy, and intercourse with a child younger than 10. His crimes started just three days after he married his wife, at which point he was accused of raping and sodomizing another woman while her child was present. Shortly thereafter, during an eight-month period spanning 2012 and 2013, he was accused of repeatedly raping and sodomizing his nine-year-old stepdaughter. The prosecutor described him to a jury as a man who “doesn’t take no for an answer,” who attacks violently because—in his own words—he “needs sex badly.”
How Victims Can Hold Abusers and Institutions Accountable for Sexual Assault
So many cases of horrific acts of sexual abuse can easily discourage us about protecting future victims from acts of molestation. But victims can take many different actions to hold their abusers accountable for criminal sexual conduct. Victims can also hold institutions, companies, and other parties responsible for the roles they played in covering up abuse or allowing it to continue. While it may feel that a single case does not have much impact, it can make a world of difference to the potential future victims whom survivors can protect from abuse. More importantly, the combined effect of many different victims holding many different abusers accountable has a staggering effect on sexual abuse prevention.
The shocking testimony of 156 different women against Larry Nassar rocked the foundation of an international institution. It is causing sports organizations, national governments, and the Olympics themselves to radically change. The #MeToo movement has caused the entertainment industry to face a day of reckoning, and this has led to unprecedented change for women hurt by sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
The movement has, in fact, demonstrated so much power that its effects are spreading to other industries as well. Technology firms are also calling out sexual harassment in their male-dominated field. Vanity Fair reports that at Uber, a single female engineer’s statements led to the downfall of its CEO, who was ousted by Uber’s Board of Directors, leading to vast changes at the company. Uber fired more than 20 employees as a result of its own internal investigations. Former Attorney General Eric Holder conducted a separate audit of the company to identify issues of sexual harassment. And according to Forbes, the California Legislature is currently considering legislation that would add venture capital funding to the list of business relationships that sexual harassment laws would protect.
Brave men and women who were courageous enough to tell their stories brought about all of these important social changes. It may not seem like much, but accountability is a critical step.
Experienced lawyers have many different legal tools for holding a person accountable for molestation. First, reporting criminal conduct to local law enforcement is crucial. Following the criminal process and providing strong testimony and evidence is difficult. It can take an extreme emotional toll on the victim, but it is also the most effective way to hold someone accountable for sexual abuse, rape, or molestation.
Next, a victim can also file a civil lawsuit to obtain compensation for the devastating losses that sexual abuse caused. Victims can file civil lawsuits against their abusers, and in some cases against other companies and legal entities. For example, an abuser’s employer can face responsibility for subjecting innocent clients to sexual abuse. This is why Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics face such extensive liability for the criminal acts committed by Larry Nassar.
A legal entity (such as a university, sports program, or company) that covers up the abuse can face lawsuits. This is what made Jerry Sandusky’s conduct so devastating to Penn State’s reputation. Not only had Sandusky preyed upon a series of victims in the context of his employment with Penn State, but evidence showed that various Penn State officials knew about his crimes—and made affirmative efforts to cover them up. All of this conduct plays a role in allowing sexual abuse to occur. It is also legally prohibited and subjects those who allow the abuse to occur or continue to legal liability.
Call Us Today to Speak With an Oakland Molestation Lawyer
There are many individuals, companies, or other legal entities that may face liability for allowing sexual abuse to occur or continue. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis LLP, can help sexual assault victims access all of the compensation the legal system has to offer. Call (510) 200-0162 today to schedule your free consultation.