Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.

What to Know About Filing a Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Child sex abuse can happen in schools, foster homes, summer camps, churches, and other settings. If your child has suffered child sex abuse, you may be eligible to file a child sexual abuse lawsuit against the perpetrator and any institution that enabled the abuse. Helping Survivors can connect you with a child sex abuse lawyer you trust to determine your lawsuit eligibility and fight for your rights.

Survivor Advocate

Key Takeaways

  • Individuals who experience childhood sexual abuse often do not disclose to anyone at the time for a variety of reasons. It can take the average survivor over twenty years to come forward about the harm that happened to them.
  • Individuals who experienced childhood sexual abuse often disclose wanting to prevent future harm against others. Their ability to do this within the bounds of the criminal justice or civil court system is often dictated by the statute of limitations – or the amount of time a certain type of offense can be tried.
  • The statute of limitations varies by state, so it’s crucial to speak to someone who can help you understand your rights and options. New laws around the United States are eliminating or pausing the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which makes talking to a professional legal expert even more timely and important.

Child sexual abuse is sadly more common than most people assume. It can happen anywhere, including schools, summer camps, foster homes, churches, and other settings. If you or your child has been sexually abused, Helping Survivors wants you to know that you are not alone in your heartache and pain. We understand you are going through one of the most trying times of your life.

Please know that you may be eligible to file a sexual abuse lawsuit. If your lawsuit is successful, you can recover financial compensation for pain and suffering, therapy fees, medical costs, and other losses. Contact a trusted child sexual abuse lawyer to learn about your lawsuit eligibility and legal options.

Can I File a Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?

You can file a lawsuit if you or your child has suffered child sexual abuse. According to the World Health Organization, this type of abuse happens when a child is involved in sexual activity that they do not fully understand or to which they cannot give informed consent.

Child sexual abuse can happen between a child and an adult or between children. It often involves exploiting a child by coercion or manipulation to perform or participate in sexual activities. Some examples of sexually abusive behavior include the following:

  • Fondling
  • Grooming
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Indecent exposure
  • Masturbation in the child’s presence
  • Pressuring a child to remove clothing or engage in sexual acts
  • Sexual photography of a child or involving a child in a pornographic production
  • Showing a child pornographic materials
  • Sexual conversation or role-playing with a child
  • Commercial exploitation/trafficking

There are many factors related to filing a sexual assault for child sexual abuse, including the statute of limitations. If you are a parent, it is most important to ensure your child is informed and supported after coming forward and sharing information with you. Many parents are rightfully very angry which can make them react in ways that may make the child feel uncomfortable or that they are going to be retaliated against (such as if you immediately call the person or their school or force them to file a police report without knowing what is going to happen). 

Each law firm will make their own determination on whether they will take on a case. Typically, child sexual abuse lawsuits are filed against an institution or an oganization rather than an individual. In general, this is because the outcome most people are seeking from a civil lawsuit is monetary damages. Most individuals do not have the funds to repay their victims for the damage done to them and it can cost thousands to pursue a judgement that a survivor can’t collect on. 

Filing a child sexual abuse lawsuit against an institution means that the organization could be held liable for the harm, especially if they knew it was happening. Many individuals who have experienced harm are filing sexual assault lawsuits against doctors, schools, foster homes, and wilderness therapy programs. Millions of dollars have been awarded in these types of cases, giving survivors the justice and compensation they deserve. 

Criminal Versus Civil Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits

There are two ways to pursue justice against these abusers: criminal charges or a civil lawsuit.

Criminal Charges for Child Sex Abuse

In a criminal prosecution, the government pursues charges against the accused child predator. A judge or jury will use the available evidence to determine whether the accused abuser is responsible for the crimes. If the prosecution convinces the jury that the accused predator is guilty, they will be convicted and face fines and incarceration.

While the perpetrator may face justice through the criminal justice system, enablers like churches and other institutions rarely face prosecution. Moreover, victims are not fully compensated for their losses through criminal proceedings.

Last Date Modified
May 15, 2024

Civil Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits

In civil child sex abuse lawsuits, the victims or their families bring actions against the molesters and their enablers. A personal injury attorney will represent you and your family, not a district attorney. Most civil lawsuits settle out of court, with the victim’s lawyer reaching a fair settlement with the opposing side’s lawyer. Your lawyer can take the case to trial if they cannot reach an agreement with the other side.

If you are not sure where to turn, RAINN can help.

Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to talk confidentially with a trained professional from RAINN.

They can put you in touch with local resources and organizations that can help in your healing journey.

Is a Criminal Prosecution or A Civil Child Sex Abuse Lawsuit Better for Me?

Civil child sex abuse lawsuits offer several advantages over criminal cases:

  • More compensation: In criminal cases, the judge or jury decides how much restitution you will get. However, restitution, if any, is typically limited to out-of-pocket expenses and does not include pain and suffering or emotional distress. Additionally, perpetrators themselves usually lack the means that large institutions like churches have. In civil cases, you and your lawyer can seek the full compensation needed to make the best possible recovery, including non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
  • Lower burden of proof: For criminal cases, the district attorney must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” the alleged crimes happened. Civil lawsuits use a lower “preponderance of evidence” standard, so your lawyer only needs to show that the abuse was “more likely than not” to have occurred.
  • More responsible parties: The perpetrator is often not the only party responsible for the abuse. It frequently occurs while a child is under the care of a trusted institution with a legal duty to protect the children under its care, such as churches, schools, sporting clubs, youth organizations, camps, childcare providers, foster homes, and health care facilities. Those organizations are rarely prosecuted for sexual abuse. A civil lawsuit may be your only opportunity to hold them accountable for the harm done.

Please note you can file a criminal and civil lawsuit for the same case. Sit down with a skilled lawyer you trust to discuss your legal options.

Process of Filing a Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

The process of filing a child sexual abuse lawsuit varies depending on the jurisdiction and whether the lawsuit is civil or criminal. However, most lawyers follow these steps to file a child sexual abuse lawsuit:

  1. Ask for a financial settlement: Before filing a lawsuit, your lawyer will ask the accused and their employer for a financial settlement.
  2. File a complaint with the court: If your lawyer cannot reach an immediate settlement with the opposing side, they can file a complaint to start the lawsuit process.
  3. Participate in discovery: Discovery is when both sides release all evidence in their possession not subject to privilege, allowing both sides to investigate and understand the case fully.
  4. Take the case to trial: If your lawyer cannot reach a settlement or agreement for an out-of-court process with the opposing side, consider taking the case to trial. Like in other sexual assault matters, measures may be taken to protect the victim’s identity.

What Evidence is Needed to Support My Child Sex Abuse Case?

During pre-trial and trial, you need robust evidence to support a child sex abuse case. We know how troubling it can be to think through what you might need, especially with everything your child is already experiencing. When you’re ready, here are some types of evidence, depending on the facts of your case:

  • The victim’s testimony
  • Eyewitness testimony
  • Physical evidence, such as clothing
  • Medical reports
  • Forensic evidence
  • DNA evidence
  • Police reports

How Long Does a Child Sex Abuse Lawsuit Take?

The length of a child sex abuse lawsuit depends on the complexity of your case. Complex cases tend to take longer to resolve. How long it takes also depends on whether the other side is willing to settle. If they are unwilling to settle, your case may take years. However, if the other side agrees to settle out of court, settlement negotiations could only take weeks or months.

Statute of Limitations in a Child Sexual Abuse Case

The statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit as imposed by state law. The statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases varies from state to state. For example, if you live in Arkansas, the state requires child sexual abuse victims to file civil child sexual abuse lawsuits within three years. In California, the state allows a victim to file lawsuits any time before turning 40.

Many states provide extensions for the statute of limitations that recognize that victims may repress their memories of the abuse due to the accompanying emotional and psychological trauma. These exceptions allow a certain amount of time to file suit after the victim discovers the sexual abuse.

Recently, many states have also amended their statutes of limitations to allow adults abused as children to come forward and take legal action over sexual abuse they experienced. If you were the victim of school sexual abuse in childhood, you might still be able to pursue compensation for the damages you suffered.

Whatever the circumstances, we encourage you to file your child sexual abuse case as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to gather reliable evidence and testimony.

How Much Can I Receive in a Child Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?

Your child sexual abuse lawsuit’s settlement or trial verdict amount depends on several factors, including:

  • Number of perpetrators: The more perpetrators you are suing, the more you can collect.
  • Involvement of an institution or organization: Organizations that covered up the abuse or failed to protect children under their care typically have deeper pockets than lone perpetrators.
  • Extent of abuse: While we hope you or your child has not experienced this situation, the more severe and egregious the abuse, the higher the amount you can receive. Abuse includes emotional, physical, and emotional harm.
  • Ability of abuser to pay: If the accused is a wealthy individual or a large corporation, the settlement amount may be higher because they have greater means to compensate you.
  • Evidence: The more robust the evidence, the more likely you will receive a large settlement.

Want To Speak With A Lawyer?

Understand your legal rights and options as a survivor of sexual assault and abuse.