Every day it seems there is a story in the news about a child being sexually abused by an adult or an older child. The adult could be a teacher, a priest, a neighbor, or even a family member. When the abuse occurs, a parent can be left with a multitude of mixed feelings such as anger, guilt, and grief. If your child has been sexually abused, you should know that there are legal steps you can take outside of the criminal justice system. You may have the choice of suing the abuser in a civil court.
Texas Statute of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse and Molestation Claims
The law is similar for child sexual abuse and molestation claims. For sexual abuse cases in Texas, the person who was abused generally has five years to bring a personal injury case. However, if it was a child who was abused, the five years does not begin until the child is 18 years old. Thus, a sexually abused child has until his or her 23rd birthday to file a sexual abuse case if he or she was abused or molested as a minor.
If your child files a claim prior to the end of the statute of limitations, she may recover damages that have a significant impact on her future—specifically, money for her past, current, and future physical and mental health needs and any other damages sustained.
Often, it is beneficial not to wait until the statute of limitations is about to expire. Important evidence may be lost and your child’s rights may be compromised. Accordingly, it is important to take action right away if your child was hurt or sexually abused in Texas.
WHAT IS CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE?
Each state has its own definition of what constitutes child sexual abuse. Typically, child sexual abuse focuses on children who have been touched by another person in a sexual manner, have been molested, raped, used in prostitution, or have been exposed or involved directly in pornographic material. However, states may have additional laws that establish the child as a victim of sexual abuse.
CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY
The first thing that you should do is to make an appointment to meet with an attorney that is experienced in civil matters related to child sexual abuse. An attorney will be able to examine the details and evidence related to your case and tell you if your situation falls under the guidelines set by your state. Sexual abuse cases can be extremely difficult to prove in a court of law due to their sensitivity and the age of the victim.
Your attorney will also evaluate the financial status of the abuser or their legal guardian (if the abuser is a minor) to make sure that they have the means to pay a financial judgment.
NOTE – It is important to meet with an attorney as soon as possible because some states have a limited period of time in which you can legally sue your child’s abuser.
When you think of injuries in a child sexual abuse case, you automatically think of physical injuries and you are partly right. However, there are other injuries that can occur to a child such as emotional issues, mental problems, and behavioral concerns. Your attorney can help you with the assessment process of your child’s damages and advise you on the amount that you should ask for as compensation in your lawsuit.
The strongest evidence in a child sexual abuse case is often the testimony of the child, but this can be emotionally taxing for a minor victim. Most children do not want to talk about what an adult did to them, or around them, and the idea of speaking to a room full of people can be greatly overwhelming to them. Therefore, it is vital to prepare your child for the added stress of speaking up about what happened to them in a courtroom environment. Some courts will allow a child victim’s testimony to be recorded and then played in a courtroom in order to spare the child the added trauma of recounting their abuse in front of strangers, and their abuser, but this is up to the judge and the type of sexual abuse that the child is a victim of.
WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK FOR
Generally, a civil lawsuit on the behalf of a minor victim of sexual abuse is to primarily obtain a monetary award that will cover the expenses of the child’s recovery and healing process. Again, the type and severity of the abuse will be a factor in determining what amount that you should ask for. You may need to present financial evidence to back up your requested amount such as doctors’ bills, therapy bills, transportation costs to therapy sessions, hospital costs, and other specialized needs your child may require as a result of the abuse.
GATHERING EVIDENCE AND EXPERT TESTIMONY
In the event that your child has been physically sexually abused, it is vital to protect the physical evidence and preserve as much as possible. This means that your child’s injuries should be documented by a medical doctor, photographs should be made of visible injuries, and any other physical evidence such as clothing stains, should be preserved properly. Generally this is handled by law enforcement but your attorney can assist you in making sure that you have copies of any testing done on physical evidence for your lawsuit.
By keeping in mind all of these factors, your attorney will be able to help you present a strong case that will enable you to receive the compensation that you and your child deserves.