In 2010 there were nearly 6 million children who were victimized by child abuse in the United States. It’s an epidemic that quietly sweeps the nation and causes horrific long term consequences, oftentimes resulting in death. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 600 thousand children, almost ten percent of the 6 million reported incidents, were victims of sexual abuse.
What are the legal ramifications that an abuser might be subject to after he abuses a child?
Certainly communities would not want such a perpetrator to walk the streets of the community at large, not having to pay for the consequences of his actions. Furthermore, if he were to walk freely among other communities the children there would also be at risk. In addition to criminal charges that an abuser may be faced with, guardians of the child can also file a lawsuit.
Psychological and Emotional Damage
It may be no surprise to mention that children who have been sexually abused can suffer psychologically and emotionally for years after the abuse has stopped. Researchers generally agree that there are four major ways that a child might have sustained long term “injuries.”
1. Traumatic sexualization – This refers to the child’s perspective of sexual encounters that have been traumatic. After a perpetrator has coerced a child to participate in acts that he or she knows little about, the adult may offer rewards like more attention, or an increase in privileges. The child may learn that compliance to the adult’s demands result in the offering of rewards. Later in life the child may have a warped perspective on healthy sexual relationships, understanding them as a way for others to force their objectives only to reward the now grown child afterward.
In addition to having a distorted viewpoint of sexual relationships, the victim can also feel that sex is overvalued, that it leads only to feelings of regret and remorse. It can also give a person identity issues when it comes to sex. Someone who has been sexually abused as a child may exhibit avoidance of and negativity in regard to sexual activity. On the other end of the spectrum, a person who has been abused might exhibit hypersexual behavior.
2. Powerlessness - A child who feels powerless is fearful. He may avoid encounters with adults because he is afraid he might become victimized again. He gradually loses confidence that he can stand up for himself and solve his own problems. This process of disempowerment destroys a child’s sense of self-worth as his wishes are repeatedly cast aside on account of the perpetrator’s forceful sexual encounters.
The adult manipulates the child, making him feel like there is nothing he can do to stop the abuse. The abuser may threaten to harm the child. He may threaten to harm the child’s friends or family members. The victim then feels that because of the perpetrator’s threats he is powerless to fight back. Some common behavioral signs that an abused child might demonstrate include:
- Inability to cope
- Sleep disturbances
- Eating problems
- Running away
3. Stigmatization - In 1982 Sgroi and others coined the phrase “damaged goods.” Stigmatization is when the child thinks he is less pure than he was before the abuse occurred. He may associate words such as bad, terrible, and naughty as his personality; that he is the one who is bad and that he should be punished in some way. While he may not mention the abuse to another for fear the perpetrator may carry out his threats, the child may participate in self-destructive behavior as a way to punish himself. These behaviors may include:
- Suicidal gestures
- Substance abuse
- Acting out so he might receive a punishment
- Taking risks that might be harmful
4. Betrayal - Sexual abuse can destroy a child’s confidence and can cause him to question the trust of other adults around him. Children learn early on that one of the basic responsibilities of an adult is to care for those who cannot entirely care for themselves, for children. When an adult has broken his vow to care for a child responsibly and safely, the child feels betrayed, and rightly so. Relationships with adult friends and family members can be supportive and nurturing, but when an adult corners a child and forces him to submit to his will, the atrocities of the experience stay with the child indefinitely.
In addition to the criminal charges a perpetrator may face from the state district attorney’s office, a person who has sexually abused a child can also have a lawsuit filed against him. Abuse victims and their families can sue for personal injury, and when they win they can be awarded money that might help to treat the psychological and emotional problems listed above.
If you are suspicious that sexual abuse has occurred, it’s best to investigate promptly. Discovering too late might mean that you don’t have a good case. The child might not remember all the details as oftentimes children will repress memories of abuse. It may be worth it to file a suit for personal injury in addition to criminal charges to ensure the perpetrator pays for his crimes.