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Pennsylvania Sexual Abuse Lawyers

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Unfortunately, many people experience sexual abuse in the United States, and residents of Pennsylvania are no exception. In the United States alone, millions of children suffer from sexual abuse each year. If you are a victim of sexual abuse, you do not have to suffer in silence, and you don’t have to heal from the traumatic experience alone. An experienced sexual abuse lawyer can offer you legal advice and help you recover damages for the horrific abuse you suffered. Although nothing can take away your pain, obtaining compensation to pay for counseling and treatment for the pain and suffering you endured can help.

What is the difference between sexual abuse and sexual assault in Pennsylvania?

Sexual abuse is different from sexual assault. Sexual assault is typically referred to as a single, violent, and sudden sexual incident occurring without a pattern, such as unwanted sexual touching, and it’s usually perpetrated on adults. Sexual abuse, on the other hand, refers to a pattern of abuse, often committed by a trusted person against a child. Sexual abuse can include sexual intercourse, sexual contact, any type of fondling of a person’s genitals, child molestation, obscene sexual messages through social media, or creating or distributing child pornography.

Sexual assaults are largely perpetrated by males against females, whereas sexual abuse happens to both males and females fairly equally. In most states, a child can never legally consent to sexual behavior. Therefore, even if a child willingly participates in sexual conduct with an adult, it is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is never the child’s fault.

Pennsylvania criminal statutes categorize sexual assault into different types: statutory sexual assault, deviate sexual assault, sexual assault, and rape.

Statutory Sexual Assault (where the victim’s age means there is no legal consent)

In Pennsylvania, statutory sexual assault occurs even when both persons may have factually consented to sexual intercourse, but where the law has determined that the victim is too young in age to give legal consent. Pennsylvania law differentiates between first-degree and second-degree felony statutory sexual assault.

A person commits second-degree felony statutory sexual assault “when the person engages in sexual intercourse with a victim to whom the person is not married who is under the age of 16 and that the person is either: four years older but less than eight years older than the victim; or eight years older but less than 11 years older than the victim.”

A person commits first-degree degree felony statutory sexual assault “when that person engages in sexual intercourse with a victim under the age of 16 years and that person is 11 or more years older than the victim and the victim and the person are not married to each other.”

Sexual Assault

A person commits second-degree felony sexual assault “when that person engages in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse with a victim without the victim’s consent.”

Institutional Sexual Assault

A person commits third-degree felony sexual assault when the “person who is an employee or agent of the Department of Corrections or a county correctional authority, youth development center, youth forestry camp, state or county juvenile detention facility, other licensed residential facility serving children and youth, or mental health or mental retardation facility or institution . . . engages in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse or indecent contact with an inmate, detainee, patient or resident.”

Pennsylvania also defines and clarifies varying degrees of felonies for indecent assault, rape, incest, sexual abuse of children, and sexual exploitation of children.

On behalf of victims in many religious organizations, sexual assault attorneys have filed civil suits in order to help survivors of sexual abuse in recent years. Herman Law has helped many people who were victims of clergy abuse in Pennsylvania dioceses and other types of child abuse cases. While these sexual abuse lawsuits can be stressful, having an experienced legal team on your side is an important step to help you obtain justice against the perpetrator and the institution that allowed the abuse.

What is deviate sexual intercourse in Pennsylvania?

 Pennsylvania law also states that a person who commits involuntary deviate sexual intercourse has committed a first-degree felony. Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse is defined as having sexual intercourse with another person “by forcible compulsion; by threat of forcible compulsion that would prevent resistance by a person of reasonable resolution; who is unconscious or where the person knows that the complainant is unaware that the sexual intercourse is occurring; where the person has substantially impaired the complainant’s power to appraise or control his or her conduct by administering or employing, without the knowledge of the complainant, drugs, intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance; who suffers from a mental disability which renders him or her incapable of consent; or who is less than 16 years of age and the person is four or more years older than the complainant and the complainant and person are not married to each other.”

A person commits a first-degree felony of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child “when the person engages in deviate sexual intercourse with a complainant who is less than 13 years of age.”

A person commits a first-degree felony of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child resulting in serious bodily injury when “the person violates this section and the complainant is less than 13 years of age and the complainant suffers serious bodily injury in the course of the offense.”

Unlike rape and other sexual assaults, a conviction for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse doesn’t require the act of traditional sexual intercourse. Instead, it can include penetration with an object other than genitalia, oral sex, anal sex, and sexual acts with an animal. Because of this wider definition, a prosecutor with legal depth knowledge may be able to bring charges against a person for sexual abuse, even when there was no actual sexual penetration.

How common is sex abuse in Pennsylvania?

Sexual abuse in Pennsylvania is unfortunately very common, with sexual abuse being the most common form of child abuse. Of the 5,202 reported cases of child abuse, 2,083 of these cases involved sexual abuse. These listings only reflects reported cases; the actual number of cases of sexual abuse is probably a lot higher.

Each year in the United States, millions of people fall victim to some form of sexual abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 3 females and 1 in 4 males have been the victims of sexual violence that involves physical contact in their lifetimes. Also, about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 38 men are rape survivors.

One of the most widely known cases of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania is the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He was an assistant coach for the Penn State collegiate football team, and for about a 15-year period, Sandusky used his position of trust to sexually abuse young boys under his care. Although the the entire team did not know of this information, there were negligent parties involved. Sandusky and other coaches at Penn State University were sentenced to jail time.

Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic churches have also been accused of a decades-long massive cover-up of child sexual abuse, with seven of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses being charged in the abuse scandal. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia expects to pay $126 million to sexual abuse victims.

Who are the victims of sex abuse?

Anyone can be a victim of unlawful sexual conduct, no matter their age, race, culture, religion, socioeconomic background, geographic area, etc. Sexual abuse usually starts in the early years of one's life. About a third of all female rape victims are raped between 11 and 17 years old and about a quarter of all males are raped between the ages of 11 and 17. Whereas sexual abuse usually happens to children and young people, sexual assaults are committed more often against adults.

What are signs of sex abuse?

If you are a parent and you’re worried that someone may be sexually abusing your child, there are some signs you can look out for. First, look for bruises or cuts, particularly around the genital areas. Next, notice whether your child has any recent changes in their disposition. Have their education grades dropped? Do they no longer enjoy going to training or practice for sports? Are they becoming more and more isolated? When a child actively tries to avoid being alone with a certain adult, this may a sign that they’re being abused by that person.  

Who are the perpetrators of sex abuse?

In sex abuse cases, the victims usually know their abusers. In fact, the abuser is often a trusted family member, co-worker, religious leader, school employee, neighbor, or friend. Having a close, trusting relationship with their victims is how these types of abusers are able to manipulate them.

What are the long-term effects of sex abuse?

Sexual abuse has long-term and often debilitating effects on victims and others around them. Many sexual abuse victims suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health problems. Some victims will turn to self-harm, like cutting, to deal with the shame and humiliation of sex abuse. Often, an abuse victim is afraid to tell anyone because they’re afraid people won’t believe them, or they’re worried about making accusations against a trusted and well-respected person in the community. A person’s sleeping and eating habits may change, and they may start to engage in self-destructive behaviors, such as abusing drugs or alcohol or engaging in risky sexual activities.

If you are a sex abuse survivor, you are not alone. You can reach out to a sexual abuse lawyer today, and they will fight for your right of legal monetary compensation. Recovering money damages for the sexual abuse you endured can help you pay for medical treatment, therapy, and other tools during recovery. By seeking justice for the abuse you suffered, you may be able obtain money damages, which can help you pay to get the help you need to recover from the short-term and long-term effects of abuse.

Institutional sexual abuse cover-ups

In the past decade or so, many news stories have uncovered horrific sex abuse and cover-ups that have gone on in respected institutions. It’s widely known that in the Catholic Church, rather than exposing a priest who was abusing children, the church would simply transfer the priest from one diocese to another, where he would continue his sexual abuse with new parishioners. Sexual abuse by clergy has been a serious problem.

Another well-known institutional cover-up of sexual abuse involved the Boy Scouts of America. Perhaps the most recent cover-up of sexual abuse took place in Hollywood, where movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was allowed to prey on female victims for decades, often engaging in offers of career advancement in exchange for sexual favors.

For institutional sexual abuse cases, another common breeding ground for sexual predators is high schools and, in particular, youth sports leagues. Often, a sports coach will have the opportunity to be alone with students because they are usually a trusted member of the community.

Sexual abuse has also happened in spas, where male workers have assaulted female clients. Sexual abuse in spas can happen to both men and women and includes unwanted touching, genital penetration or manipulation, and requests for sexual acts.

Sexual assault and sexual abuse also occur on cruise ships, school campuses, hospitals, psychiatric facilities, day cares, and foster care settings.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse even happens to elderly people in group homes or residential care facilities. If you have a loved one you suspect is being sexually abused in a nursing home or residential care facility, you can report the abuse to the Pennsylvania Department on Aging.

Who is liable for sexual abuse or sexual assault?

In sex abuse cases, there can be multiple liable parties under sexual abuse laws. A perpetrator can be held both criminally and civilly liable for unwanted sexual activity. The institution that employed the predator can also be held liable if the institution knew about the abuse and failed to do anything about it. A person who has been a victim of sex abuse has the right to bring a legal claim under Pennsylvania’s negligence laws.

What should I do if I or someone I love are the victims of sexual assault or abuse?

If you or someone you love has been the victim of sex abuse, there are several steps you should take.

It is crucial first to get any medical care you might need.

Contact a local sexual abuse lawyer who has experience with such practice areas. Your attorney can do independent research on your case, determine the amount of evidence, and help you understand your legal rights. It’s also important to make sure the victim is no longer anywhere near the abuser.

If you suspect your child is being abused by a trusted adult, contact the authorities and the adult’s employer immediately to report the abuse. Start keeping a diary of the abuse, with specific details and dates. Take photos of any physical injuries from the abuse.  

No one should have to experience sexual misconduct of any kind. Victims of abuse can experience emotional pain from all forms of sexual assault and abuse. The civil justice system and the criminal justice system are meant to help make the victim whole again. A law firm with super lawyers and years of experience can help you navigate the legal system to ensure that you can focus on your healing process.

What are my legal options for sexual abuse or assault in Pennsylvania?

In a sex abuse or sexual assault case, you have several options to pursue.

You may pursue criminal charges against your abuser. You can do this by filing a report with law enforcement or police officers. If you file criminal charges, then a district attorney may prosecute a criminal case against your abuser. In a criminal case, the abuser may be sentenced to jail for a certain amount of time. Your local government in Pennsylvania may have a specific task force or agency that addresses sexual abuse cases, so you should contact your local district attorney to ask about this.

You also have the option of bringing a civil lawsuit against your abuser. In a civil case, you can recover money damages from your abuser or another liable person. To win in a civil lawsuit, you must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the person had a duty not to harm you or a duty to protect you from sexual abuse, the person violated this duty, and their conduct caused your injuries. Your injuries do not need to be physical. In sexual abuse cases, the injury is most often mental and emotional, and the law allows you to recover for this type of pain and suffering. If you believe you have a case against someone for sexual abuse, contact an experienced sexual abuse attorney who can explain your legal rights and whether you can take legal action.

What resources exist for sex abuse victims in Pennsylvania?

If you are a sex abuse victim, there are various resources in Pennsylvania that you can reach out to for help and guidance. Pennsylvania has established a Victim’s Compensation Assistance Program, which provides compensation to victims of crime, including costs of counseling, medical expenses, and lost wages for missed work. To receive compensation under this program, the sexual abuse must have occurred in Pennsylvania, you must have reported it, and you must file a compensation claim within two years of the crime.

When do I have to file a lawsuit by in Pennsylvania?

For personal injury claims, which includes injuries from sexual abuse, each state has its own deadline for filing a civil lawsuit. The deadline for filing a lawsuit is referred to in legal terms as the statutes of limitations.

Sexual abuse is different from other crimes in that victims of sexual abuse often feel shame and may even blame themselves for the abuse. They may not even realize that they were being abused until years after the abuse happens. Therefore, many sex abuse victims don’t come forward until many years after the abuse. In recognizing this, several states have passed laws that revive the statute of limitations so victims may bring claims against their abusers.

Pennsylvania has two categories for bringing civil lawsuits for sexual abuse—child sexual abuse survivors and survivors of adult sexual abuse. As of 2019, people who were abused as children can bring claims up until age 55. People who were abused between the ages of 18 and 24 can bring claims until age 30. For people who were abused from age 25 and up, they have two years to file a claim.

The new laws aren’t retroactive. This means that if a person was abused before 2019, the new statute of limitations doesn’t apply. For people whose claims are barred, the Pennsylvania legislature is considering reviving the statute of limitations so they can still bring a suit.

How do I choose a Pennsylvania sex abuse lawyer?

If you are a survivor of sex abuse, an experienced attorney can help you with your case. You need to find a lawyer who understands the seriousness and devastating mental health effects of sex abuse. When researching attorneys to help you with your sex abuse case, you need to ask several questions. Ask them their opinions about sexual abuse; find out whether they’re going to approach your case in a compassionate way; ask them what their strategy will be, how many claims of sexual abuse they’ve handled, and how many cases they’ve won.

When should I contact an experienced sex abuse lawyer?

 If you’re a survivor of sex abuse, you have the right to be compensated for your injuries. You should contact a lawyer as soon as possible about your claim.

Contact our attorneys at Herman Law for a free consultation.