Sexual abuse of a child is not only a crime that can (and should) result in criminal charges against the abuser. It is also wrongful conduct that makes the abuser liable for damages in a civil lawsuit.
Civil wrongs are called "torts." There are lots of categories of torts, but the two most applicable to sex abuse claims to minors are the tort of "battery" (the unlawful touching of another person) and "intentional infliction of emotional distress" (engaging in outrageous conduct that results in severe emotional injury to another). A person who commits a tort is liable for compensatory damages to the person injured by the conduct. If the tort is an intentional tort, or one that involves reckless conduct, the wrongdoer is also liable for punitive damages.
So, a child who is a victim of sexual abuse can (with the assistance of his or her parents or guardian) file a lawsuit against the abuser and seek compensatory and punitive damages for the injuries he or she suffered at the hands of the abuser. Whether the conduct occurred, what injuries were caused by the conduct, and the amount of damages to be awarded are issues that will be determined in the case.
From time to time other people or organizations share a portion of the responsibility for the acts of the sex abuser. For example, a day care center may have hired a sex abuser without doing an appropriate background check. A church may allow a volunteer to work with children after receiving complaints that the volunteer was acting inappropriately around children. A hospital may continue to employ a nurse or aide to work with young patients despite evidence of past misconduct.
Therefore, when a parent of a sex abuse victim seeks our help we explore the circumstances of the abuse and determine whether anyone other than the abuser bears responsibility for what happened. Claims against these other persons or entities are typically based on the tort of "negligence" (the failure to act as a reasonable person would act under the same or similar circumstances).
Please call me at 866-812-8787 for a free consultation if your child has suffered sexual abuse. We will discuss the facts of the case with you and let you know whether we think it makes sense for you and your child to pursue a claim for damages against the abuser and whether others may share some of the responsibility for what occurred.