Sexual abuse lawsuits have been widely discussed in the news for the past 20 or 30 years. These lawsuits present a number of challenges for attorneys who represent the victims of sexual abuse. This blog will discuss some of those challenges.
Sexual abuse litigation came to the forefront of the public eye with revelations that many Catholic Church priests were molesting young boys and the abuse allegations were covered up by the church hierarchy. The Catholic Church has spent millions and millions of dollars to compensate victims and prevent future cases from arising. These cases were challenging in that many of the abuse victims were young at the time of their abuse. Some of the sexual abuse victims did not recall being abused until hypnosis and psychotherapy restored their memory of the abuse. In these cases, the statute of limitations posed a problem, since much of the abuse occurred many years prior to the litigation. Further, controversy surrounded the concept of repressed memory.
More recently, sexual abuse lawsuits have captured the media attention in multiple settings where coaches or team physicians engaged in abuse of athletes. A number of these cases involved adult athletes, both male and female. These cases posed a challenge in that, being adult, the defense argued that the relationships were consensual.
Other sexual abuse lawsuits arose out of abuse by wealthy athletes and celebrities who took advantage of their position of popularity to sexually harass, grope, molest, or rape their abuse victims. These cases are challenging in that the defense team for the celebrity always takes the position that the abuse allegations are manufactured solely because the celebrity at the heart of the allegations has money. The defense argues that the allegations are phony, and constitute a ploy to shake down the wealthy victimizer. On an individual basis, these claims are very difficult to pursue. However, when multiple victims of abuse come forward, there is strength in numbers and more credence is given to the complaints of sexual abuse.
Other sexual abuse lawsuits arise out of abuse of professional relationships. For example, patients of a psychologist or psychiatrist may become co-dependent upon the treater. The so-called “transference phenomenon” refers to the psychotherapist’s feelings and emotions towards their patient. A co-dependent relationship can develop, which compromises the purpose of the professional relationship and, often, complicates the patient’s underlying psychological problems. Lawsuits for sexual abuse can also arise in other professional relationships, such as sexual relationships that result from counseling activities by members of the clergy.
Record payouts have occurred as a result of serial sexual abuse at a variety of different universities, including the University of Southern California, Ohio State University, Michigan State University, and Penn State University. Hopefully, awareness about serial sexual abuse and financial penalties on institutions that turn a blind eye to the abuse will reduce the amount of sexual abuse in the future.