Can victims of child sexual abuse sue the perpetrator and get damages?

Child sexual abuse has a significant impact on the victim.  In addition to physical damage involved in sexual abuse, resarch generally refers to four general categories of emotional or psychological “injuries” resulting from child sexual abuse, each having varied psychological and behavioral effects.

  • Traumatic sexualization. Included in the psychological outcomes of traumatic sexualization are aversive feelings about sex, overvaluing sex, and sexual identity problems. Behavioral manifestations of traumatic sexualization constitute a range of hypersexual behaviors as well as avoidance of or negative sexual encounters.
  • Stigmatization. Common psychological manifestations of stigmatization are what Sgroi calls “damaged goods syndrome”43 and feelings of guilt and responsibility for the abuse or the consequences of disclosure. These feelings are likely to be reflected in self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, risk-taking acts, self-mutilation, suicidal gestures and acts, and provocative behavior designed to elicit punishment. 
  • Betrayal. Perhaps the most fundamental damage from sexual abuse is its undermining of trust in those people who are supposed to be protectors and nurturers. Other psychological impacts of betrayal include anger and borderline functioning. Behavior that reflects this trauma includes avoidance of investment in others, manipulating others, re-enacting the trauma through subsequent involvement in exploitive and damaging relationships, and engaging in angry and acting-out behaviors.
  • Powerlessness. The psychological impact of the trauma of powerlessness includes both a perception of vulnerability and victimization and a desire to control or prevail, often by identification with the aggressor. As with the trauma of betrayal, behavioral manifestations may involve aggression and exploitation of others. On the other hand, the vulnerability effect of powerlessness may be avoidant responses, such as dissociation and running away; behavioral manifestations of anxiety, including phobias, sleep problems, elimination problems, and eating problems; and revictimization. 

Victims of child sexual abuse often bring personal injury lawsuits against the abuser (in addition to any criminal charges the perpetrator may face from the state or local district attorneys or prosecutor’s office).  When a personal injury lawsuit over sexual abuse is successful, the victims can be awarded money damages for their emotional or psychological injuries like the ones described above or others.  There have been several cases in which the victims of sexual abuse have been awarded millions of dollars in damages.  Many states have extended their criminal and civil statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse cases. In addition, the delayed discovery rule in some cases suspends the statutes of limitation if the victim had repressed all memory of the abuse or was unaware that the abuse caused current problems.

Suspicions of child sexual abuse should be reported to a child protective services agency or law enforcement agency. 

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