Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often experience severe trauma for many years after the abuse occurred. Child sexual abuse can seriously impact the life and development of survivors.
There are some common signs to look for if sexual abuse of a child is suspected. These signs vary between child and adult survivors. Signs can be blatant, but are not always physically obvious. It is important to know the signs so that you can recognize when a survivor needs help, no matter if the abuse is recent or occurred in the past. Child sexual abuse is a traumatic offense that can leave lasting scars- emotional, mental, and physical – on victims. Once a survivor is ready to come forward and disclose their sexual abuse, a possible remedy can be to bring a civil suit and obtain compensation for the harm suffered. Although no amount of money can possibly erase the trauma, some justice can be served.
Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which the perpetrator engages in sexual activity with a minor. Children cannot consent to sexual activity, ever. Importantly, child sexual abuse can come in many forms including (but not limited to) sexual intercourse. Children of all races, ethnicities, economic demographics, genders, etc. can be victims of child sexual abuse. In California, sexual abuse is legally defined as sexual assault or sexual exploitation, which are both further defined in California Penal Code § 11165.1.
Another form of child abuse is physical abuse (not necessarily of a sexual nature). Physical child abuse involves the perpetrator intentionally imposing physical or cruel punishment on a child. Types of physical child abuse can include slapping, kicking, biting, shaking, punching, serious neglect, or otherwise harming a child physically. California law calls child physical abuse “corporal injury on a child.”
Some signs of child sexual abuse may be easier to spot than others. Perpetrators often take steps to hide the abuse.
There are physical signs of children being sexually abused such as: sexually transmitted infections, bruising in the genital area, unexplained bleeding, trouble swallowing, etc. There are also behavioral signs such as: excessive knowledge about sexual topics, sexual behavior, keeping secrets, fear of being around certain people, excessively compliant behavior, talking about a new older friend, etc. There can also be emotional signs. For example: changes in eating habits, increased aggression, excessive worry or fear, self-harming behaviors, nightmares, etc.
The signs of child sexual abuse can even vary between younger children versus adolescents. For instance, signs such having new words for body parts, mimicking adult-like sexual behaviors with toys, and wetting/soiling accidents are more typical of younger children. And signs such as self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, depression/anxiety, and fear of intimacy are more typical of adolescents.
Adult sexual predators can sometimes be identified through their behavior. Some intentionally make friends with children’s parents; some are even in jobs where they work with children. When trying to establish a relationship with a child victim, a sexual predator will push physical and emotional boundaries.
There are signs that sometimes, but by no means always, suggest that an adult may be a child sexual predator. The adult may live nearby or work with children. For instance, a sexual predator may choose to live near a school or a park. The adult may make conversation with children in front of their parents to try to establish trust. Some adult predators prefer to be around and talk with children more frequently than other adults. They may be socially awkward or uncomfortable around adults and then become more comfortable around children. Other signs include staring at children for long periods of time, giving some children special gifts or privileges, being overly affectionate or overly playful with children, etc. Again, these are merely potential signs of adults who could be child sexual predators, but any one of them alone is not necessarily cause for alarm. It is also important to remember that no two adult predators are completely alike; they can come in many forms.
While the above examples represent a few characteristics that some child sexual predators might possess, in reality it is virtually impossible to identify such an individual through specific mannerisms or one’s outward appearance. DLG’s founder, Samuel Dordulian, has argued this very point – child predators typically look like regular, decent people – to countless juries in sexual abuse trials. In fact, most child sexual predators are actually people who are held in high esteem (e.g. Larry Nassar, Jerry Sandusky, etc.).
It’s important for people to understand that being vigilant for sexual predators and helping protect children accordingly doesn’t simply involve scanning a park for a strange-looking man in a dark trench coat. Rather, a child predator can be anyone, including a schoolteacher, priest, basketball coach, police officer, lawyer, or even a doctor. Most child predators are the individuals you would least suspect of ever engaging in such heinous acts. They are masters at gaining the trust of parents and community members in order to facilitate unsupervised access to children. Therefore, it’s advisable to remove all stereotypes from one’s perception of what a child sexual predator might look like and instead remember that it could be anyone including, as is often the case, those we consider “pillars of society.”
The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse can be severe, highly complicated, and/or vary greatly between different survivors. Overall, the most frequently reported emotional effects of childhood sexual abuse are depression, anxiety, and anger. Other psychological and behavioral signs include: trust issues, difficulty establishing boundaries in relationships, flashbacks, low self-esteem, alcohol or drug abuse, eating disorders, suicide, fear of medical exams or procedures, etc. Other physical signs include: chronic pelvic pain, painful sexual experiences, gastrointestinal distress, severe gag reflex, etc. Again, there are myriad signs that can indicate that an adult survivor experienced childhood sexual abuse – some obvious and some inconspicuous
Child sexual abuse is far more common than many people realize. In fact, every 9 minutes child protective services substantiates, or finds evidence for, a claim of child sexual abuse. Approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys experience sexual abuse at some point in their childhood. About 20% of sexual abuse victims are under the age of eight. Children are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse between the ages of 14 and 17. And about 91% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse know the child’s family.
The number of child sexual abuse survivors is likely much higher than data indicate because only about 38% of survivors report their abuse.
Sexual abuse statistics can also vary based on sub-groups of people. For instance, children with disabilities are at a higher risk of being sexually abused than children without disabilities.
Victims of child sexual abuse are more likely than non-victims to have certain mental health challenges. As an example, victims are approximately 4-times more likely to develop symptoms of drugs abuse, 4-times more likely to have PTSD as adults, and 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode (or episodes) as adults.
While a perpetrator of child sexual abuse can be prosecuted criminally, a criminal case often focuses on punishing the perpetrator rather than compensating, or “making whole,” the victim. A civil lawsuit for sexual abuse, however, allows a victim to seek justice on their own terms and obtain compensation for harm they have suffered, or continue to suffer, as a result of the abuse.
Sexual abuse is covered by a claim of “sexual battery” under California Civil Code Section 1708.5. And a “sexual battery,” for purposes of a civil claim, occurs when the perpetrator engages in harmful or offensive sexual contact, or when the victim is placed in imminent fear of such contact.
California’s Code of Civil Procedure also allows victims of child sexual abuse the ability to sue third parties for negligence for permitting the perpetrator access to a child victim. For instance, if a school teacher allowed the perpetrator access to the child victim even though he or she had reason to know, or did know, of the perpetrator’s unlawful sexual actions.
A survivor of child sexual abuse who has brought a suit in civil court can ask the court for financial compensation for various types of damages. For instance, a court can award compensation for therapy, medical bills, lost work or earning capacity, pain and suffering, and even punitive damages to punish the perpetrator.
Survivors of sexual abuse can be awarded general damages, special damages, and/or punitive damages in a civil lawsuit.
General damages are non-monetary losses suffered by the survivor. In sexual abuse suits, these damages can include mental suffering and anguish, loss of companionship, physical pain and suffering, reduced capacity to earn a living, etc.
Special damages are damages for quantifiable monetary losses. In the sexual abuse context, these damages include (but are not limited to) past and future medical bills, psychological bills, and lost wages due to the trauma.
Punitive damages are damages on top of the general and special compensatory damages. Punitive damages serve to punish the perpetrator for their actions and for causing harm to the survivor.
In California, per Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218), a survivor of child sexual abuse can file a lawsuit before they turn 40-years-old, or within five years of the date they discover (or reasonably should have discovered) that their injury (whether physical or psychological) was caused by the prior abuse.
However, the bill also has a limited clause that completely removes the statute of limitations on all childhood sexual abuse crimes for the next three years. AB 218’s three-year “lookback window” allows any survivor of child sex abuse, regardless of when the crime occurred, to file a civil lawsuit seeking financial damages from now (the bill took effect on January 1, 2020) through December 31, 2022. This means that if you ever experienced child sexual abuse, you now have, for a limited window of time, an unprecedented opportunity to pursue justice and hold the perpetrator(s) responsible for your trauma accountable.
For more information on AB 218, please visit our blog that examines the bill in detail. Remember, the lookback window is only available for a limited time. Hence, we strongly recommend that you contact an experienced Dordulian Law Group child sexual abuse lawyer today to ensure you do not miss the deadline. Once the lookback window closes on January 1, 2023, the standard statute of limitations resumes and survivors over 40 are essentially left without any options for legal recourse.
This extended statute of limitations is important because many adult survivors of child sexual abuse do not disclose their abuse until much later in life, with the average age of disclosure being 52.
Survivors of child sexual abuse may decide not to report their prior abuse for a variety of reasons (personal, social, psychological, etc.). However, if survivors do decide to report and pursue legal recourse for their abuse, it is important for them to obtain competent and compassionate legal counsel.
Ready to file a claim and pursue justice through a financial damages award? Our expert attorneys are available online or by phone now.
Dordulian Law Group (DLG) specializes in sexual abuse cases, and we have successfully brought many multi-million dollar suits on behalf of multiple sexual abuse survivors, recovering over $100 million for our clients over the years.
DLG was founded by Former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Samuel Dordulian. Mr. Dordulian served as the sex crimes prosecutor for the District Attorney’s Office and prevailed in many prosecutions.
DLG provides every survivor with the full support of our Sexual Assault Justice Experts (SAJE) Team. This is precisely what makes DLG the most trusted, top-rated choice for sexual abuse survivors in Los Angeles and throughout California. With DLG’s SAJE Team, survivors are provided with a special type of representation and support that cannot be found elsewhere in the legal community.
DLG’s attorneys are highly prepared to help survivors of sexual abuse when they are ready to take legal action, whenever that day may eventually come. DLG ensures that survivors are taken care of throughout the legal process and beyond. When we take on a sexual abuse case for a survivor client, we offer our support and continued availability even after prevailing in court. DLG is available seven days a week to take calls and answer any questions about sexual abuse cases in California. To speak with a Los Angeles sexual abuse lawyer at DLG about your situation, call us at 800-880-7777 or fill out our case evaluation form.
“They were very professional and fought hard for me. Two seperate cases and two seperate wins. Would highly recommend Dordulian Law Group and would hire them again if needed in the future.”
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and workers compensation concerns.