Who Is Responsible for Paying in Sexual Abuse and Assault Cases?
Kevin Biniazan—May 9, 2022
The statistics on sexual assault in the U.S. are staggering and sobering. Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually abused or sexually assaulted. This means that every year in the U.S., more than 460,000 people age 12 and older are subject to abusive sexual behavior.
Of course, the individual who committed the sexual abuse or assault is personally responsible for compensating the victim for the harm they caused. But often, individuals do not have the personal assets to fully compensate the victim. So who else can be held liable?
Below, we discuss just a few of the individuals and entities that can be ordered to pay damages in a sexual abuse or assault case.
Sexual Abuse vs. Sexual Assault
First, it’s important to understand some key differences between abuse and assault under Virginia law, as they can impact the legal action you choose to take.
- Sexual abuse refers to sexual crimes committed against those under age 18.
- Sexual assault refers to sexual crimes committed against adults.
Although these terms are often used interchangeably, sexual abuse and sexual assault are treated differently by courts and have different statutes of limitations.
The statute of limitations for a civil sexual abuse claim is much longer than the statute of limitations for a typical personal injury claim. Sexual abuse survivors have 20 years from the “accrual of the cause of action” to bring a claim against the offender.
The statute of limitations for sexual assault can be as little as two years from the assault. This is the same as other personal injury claims brought under Virginia law.
Who Is Responsible for Paying Damages in a Sexual Abuse or Sexual Assault Case?
The Offender’s Employer or Supervisor
In most personal injury cases—like car accidents—the offender’s personal insurance provider pays any damages. However, most insurance policies don’t cover criminal or intentional acts, and the offender may not have enough assets to compensate the assault survivor.
At this point, it’s worth going up a level to see whether the offender’s employer may be responsible for their actions. After all, many cases of sexual abuse involve people who have been placed in positions of trust. These can include:
- Clergy members
- Boy Scout troop leaders
- Day care workers
This allows assault survivors to potentially hold churches, schools, daycares, or other organizations legally responsible for their agent’s abusive actions.
First and foremost, the individual who committed the sexual abuse should be held responsible. But on occasion, the individual doesn’t have the financial standing to rightfully compensate survivors. Or, the individual has passed on and cannot be brought to court.
In those cases, if the perpetrator is a member of the clergy or another individual employed by or acting on behalf of the church, then the church may also be liable for the harm their employee or agent caused.
The church may also be directly liable if it had knowledge of past incidents of assault or improper acts by the perpetrator and hired them anyway or continued to permit them to prey upon innocent victims.
If you pursue a lawsuit against a church, your attorney will carefully review the church’s insurance policy to see if it provides coverage for sexual assault claims. And if the church’s insurance policy doesn’t cover these claims, you may be able to recover assets from the church directly.
Teachers and Coaches
Just as churches may be responsible for their clergy members, schools may be responsible for the sexually abusive actions of teachers or coaches.
Under Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, students can sue public schools that fail to take action against sexual abuse, assault, and harassment from fellow students, teachers, and school employees.
Most sexual assault and abuse lawsuits against schools are Title IX lawsuits. If a sexual assault survivor wins a Title IX lawsuit, the school’s insurance policy will pay any damages.
Troop or Club Leaders
The Boy Scouts of America have been criticized for turning a blind eye to sex abuse within their ranks. However, they’re far from the only organization dealing with these systemic problems.
There are a few common factors among organizations like the Scouts that can increase the risk of child sex abuse.
For example, a recent survey of Scouting abuse survivors revealed that nearly 80 percent of them were assaulted at a Scout activity, camp or meeting. Meanwhile, about 75 percent of the abusers were troop leaders.
The survey also revealed that some abuse risk factors are part of Scouting’s structure. These include:
- Putting children in new situations where they’re vulnerable
- Allowing adults to have unsupervised one-on-one time with children
- Isolating children from safe communities of adults
Because these dangers are systemic, someone who has been sexually abused or assaulted by a Scout troop leader may be able to hold the Boy Scouts organization liable.
Daycares and Child Care Centers
It can be heartbreaking to imagine children suffering abuse at the hands of their care provider. Unfortunately, this happens. In 2017, more than 2,000 daycare providers abused at least one child in their care.
If your child was sexually abused by a daycare provider, the daycare may be financially responsible for any damages. And if you can show that a daycare failed to conduct proper background checks or respond to parent complaints, your case will be even stronger.
However unimaginable, doctors can be perpetrators of sexual abuse.
In a 2020 report, the Federation of State Medical Boards defined physician sexual misconduct as behavior that:
- Manipulates the physician-patient relationship in a sexual way
- Is neither diagnostic nor therapeutic, but sexual in nature
Doctors and even the overseeing hospital can be held liable for acts of sexual abuse.
Why Pursue Damages in a Sexual Assault or Sexual Abuse Case?
For survivors, it’s important to take legal action and hold responsible parties accountable for several reasons.
First, survivors can recover financial damages to help cover the physical and emotional costs of the abuse. This includes medical expenses, therapy costs, lost wages, and more.
Second, survivors can pursue justice, knowing that the responsible party will be held accountable for their actions.
Third, survivors can incite change, helping protect others who either haven’t come forward or could have suffered in the future if the actions were ignored.
Sexual abuse isn’t just punishable through the criminal justice system. Abuse and assault survivors can also seek justice through a civil lawsuit. If successful, a lawsuit allows the assault survivor to recover financial damages from their abuser.
At Breit Biniazan, our Virginia personal injury attorneys have taken action against clergy members, teachers, doctors, Scout leaders, and others who have sexually abused children. We know what it takes to help survivors of sexual abuse and assault seek compensation. We never back down when it comes to obtaining justice for our clients, and we’re ready to provide you with a strong voice against your attacker.
Kevin is a trial attorney who passionately represents individuals injured or harmed by the carelessness of others. Between jury trials and settlements, Kevin has secured more than $55 million for his clients in his first five years of practice.