Jul 29, 2021
Sexual abuse can affect anyone. Though nobody likes to talk about it, the troubling statistics are clear – sexual abuse can manifest regardless of race, religion, gender, or socioeconomic status. According to Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) partner organization, RAINN (Rape, Incest & Abuse), every 68 seconds an American is sexually assaulted.
In the past year, multiple high-profile individuals have come forward with stories of surviving sexual abuse. In September 2020, Gucci heiress Alexandra Zarini filed a civil lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against her former stepfather, Joseph Ruffalo, alleging years of childhood sexual abuse.
In August, Canadian fashion mogul, Peter Nygard, was accused by his two sons of sex trafficking them as children. In December, Nygard was indicted on multiple sex crime charges (including sex trafficking) following allegations from more than 100 survivors.
This week, Mena Suvari, an actress best-known for her roles in “American Pie” and “American Beauty,” released a memoir entitled “The Great Peace.” In the book, she describes surviving traumatic sexual abuse, including a rape that occurred when she was just 12.
Suvari recounts the incident in detail, noting that a friend’s brother “stole her virginity.”
“I only share because it was important for me to share. This is how I saw it. I was the other person in the room, and that was important for me to have out there,” Suvari said in an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment.
Suvari also recalls how she was sexually preyed upon by older men when she moved to Los Angeles as a teen to pursue modeling and acting. Suvari writes that at age 16, she had sex with her manager, a man in his mid-30s at the time. She also describes an abusive relationship with a man named Tyler, whom she met at a rave and was at least 10 years her senior.
“I talk about moving to Los Angeles and meeting a man who’s no more than 11 years older than me. I’m 15, he’s 26 and I’m somehow in his apartment and he’s kissing me and that’s OK. And I didn’t tell anyone. No one was really asking, but I didn’t think that that was important. I just thought that that was part of it … it was part of my job,” Suvari told Yahoo! Entertainment.
As she recounts in the memoir, the sexual abuse soon led to drug use and eventual addiction. Suvari confirms using alcohol and marijuana before progressing to methamphetamine. In the book, she describes snorting meth while in the bathroom of her high school in nearby Burbank, California.
“I took drugs to numb myself from the pain,” Suvari writes in her memoir. “Alcohol. Pot. Coke. Crystal meth. Acid. Ecstasy. Mushrooms. Mescaline. It was my way of detaching from the hell of my existence – and surviving.”
“I spent almost my entire life feeling disgusted, ashamed, and in denial about what happened to me and what I had allowed myself to do and be a part of,” she writes. “Then one day, I stopped. I stopped running away and I looked at myself. I looked into the pain and what I saw was that I was ready to leave it all behind and heal.”
In the interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, Suvari describes having trouble coming to terms with how to define her sexual abuse. “I didn’t know how to say I was raped. I didn’t know if I could say it that way because I didn’t end up in a hospital. So I lived with that for so long,” she said.
As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, this is a common issue endured by many sexual abuse survivors. But as DLG’s founder and former sex crimes prosecutor, Sam Dordulian, notes, sexual abuse is a matter of consent, and does not have to involve any type of physical attack.
“It’s so unfortunate that survivors are overwhelmingly of the belief that rape has to be a major attack with a perpetrator using force, or even a weapon of some kind, in order to qualify for a civil suit,” Dordulian says.
But it’s important for survivors to remember that consent is always mandatory, and if that consent is ever breached – even on just one occasion – it constitutes sexual assault under the law.
“I see a lot of rape survivors who believe that once they begin having a consensual sexual relationship with someone, they’re suddenly no longer capable of being ‘raped’ under the law. It’s as if that earlier consent they had given somehow lasts forever in terms of legality. But consent is mandatory every single time, and there are no exceptions to that rule,” Dordulian says.
Cases such as the aforementioned Alexandra Zarini civil lawsuit involving childhood sexual abuse from decades ago are now possible under California AB 218. AB 218 is a law mandating that the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse cases be temporarily tolled (paused) until December 31, 2022. Accordingly, survivors of childhood sexual abuse are eligible to file civil lawsuits in pursuit of financial compensation against a perpetrator, regardless of how long ago the crime occurred.
The three-year “lookback window” clause in AB 218 has been established to allow childhood sexual abuse survivors an opportunity for justice that otherwise would be impossible under the law. But the lookback window is only available for a limited period of time, making it extremely important for survivors to file their claims as soon as possible to ensure their opportunity at justice is not jeopardized.
In addition to the three-year lookback window, AB 218 provides a number of legal benefits to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. One of those benefits includes the treble damages clause within the legislation.
Under AB 218, if a childhood sex crime involved a cover-up – whether by an individual or an institution – the courts have the latitude to award triple damages awards to survivors.
In other words, in a case where a cover-up is proven, a childhood sexual abuse survivor who is awarded a $10 million settlement could actually recover $30 million under the treble damages clause within the law. In an effort to severely punish bad actors who allowed systemic sexual abuse to occur through cover-ups, AB 218’s treble damages clause has been established to offer greater financial compensation to survivors.
DLG’s skilled sexual abuse attorneys, led by former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian, pursue treble damages in all applicable cases.
As a former sex crimes prosecutor, Sam Dordulian helped secure life sentences against some of the community’s most dangerous sexual predators. In that role, Dordulian came to realize that sexual abuse survivors often need resources and support that extend beyond mere legal expertise.
Accordingly, when he founded his own private practice – DLG – Dordulian established a four-tiered team of professionals within the Sex Crimes Division who are available to sexual abuse survivors 24/7. Known as the SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts), this group of dedicated professionals includes:
With DLG, sexual abuse survivors are able to access all four tiers of our Sex Crimes Division’s SAJE Team at any time throughout the legal process – providing important resources and a support network that is available 24/7.
With a 98% success record and more than $100,000,000 recovered in settlements and verdicts for our clients, DLG’s dedication and commitment to each and every case is clear. If you’ve been victimized by a sexual predator, we’re here to fight for your right to justice and help you recover the maximum financial compensation you deserve.
Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 for a free consultation. When you’re ready to take the first step towards obtaining justice in a sexual abuse claim, we’re here as your dedicated advocate – to listen, to believe you, and to provide the expert legal representation you need.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.