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Shifting the Burden of Truth: Suing Child Sexual Abusers
Shifting the Burden of
Truth: Suing Child
Sexual Abusers

More Than Victims : Battered Women, the Syndrome Society, and the Law
More Than Victims:
Battered Women, the
Syndrome Society,
and the Law

Creating a Safe Campus: A Guide for College and University Administrators
Creating a Safe Campus:
A Guide for College and
University Administrators

Hate Crimes : Confronting Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men
Hate Crimes: Confronting
Violence Against Lesbians
and Gay Men

Victims: Special Groups

There is a body of civil law reflecting special rules and protection for women, children, victims of campus crime, bias crimes and others. These "special" groups of victims require specific mention because of unique, important legal rules that have evolved around each type of victim group. A comparison of the identified types of victims shows that they share several characteristics in common. They are victimized by crimes that are highly sensitive and emotionally charged. Perpetrators of crime against special victims often have jobs and assets, presumably reachable by judgment. They also often target their victims because of a perceived victim vulnerability eg., age, sex, race or physical isolation from society at large. And, in recent years, growing numbers of "special" victims have been obtaining civil legal remedies with increasing frequency. A discussion of each "special" group follows.

Abused children

Child abuse is often a crime that remains undetected for long periods of time and results in extensive injuries. Young victims face potentially life-long disabilities as a result of physical, emotional and sexual violence. Effective treatment is generally extended and costly. In first party litigation, the courts have been receptive to actions brought against perpetrators for assault and battery, and intentional, reckless and negligent infliction of emotional distress based on child abuse factual circumstances. Findings of liability allow victims to offset the costs of physical and psychological recovery through judgment recoveries against perpetrators.

Unfortunately, with respect to judgment recovery, victims of child molestation have generally not been able to overcome the "intended injury" exclusion commonly contained in their insured perpetrators' insurance policies. Courts have traditionally considered the crime of child abuse to be so deplorable that they have inferred the perpetrators' intent to injure plaintiff victims. This legal conclusion has precluded child molestation victims from collecting on their civil judgments from their insured perpetrators' carriers-- carriers who commonly exclude intentional acts of those they insure.

While victims of child abuse are limited in their ability to pursue their perpetrators' insurers for judgment satisfaction, they can often consider seeking civil remedial relief against negligent third parties who knew or should have known that the abuse was taking place and did nothing to identify it or stop it. Common negligent third parties include schools, child care facilities, youth groups, camps, churches--those who employ authority figures who victimize children.

Finally, with regard to victims who were sexually abused as children, never presume that you've lost the opportunity to file a civil action just because the victimization occurred long ago. Special statutes and court rules have evolved to toll (suspend) statutes of limitations for filing such actions. The so-called delayed discovery rule, adopted in many jurisdictions, MAY allow victims to file suit many years after the victimization if:

1) the victim repressed afl recollection of the abuse until a later event triggered the memory, or

2) the victim recollected the abuse but did not know that current psychological problems were caused by the abuse until a later date. All such victims who are disposed toward filing a civil action should consult with an attorney regarding statute of limitations implications and the delayed discovery rule.

Women as victims

Increasing numbers of women are suffering severe victimizations as a result of rape and domestic violence. These victims should be informed that the rules of evidence in civil cases are far more flexible and favorable to victims than are those in criminal cases. For example, Rape Trauma Syndrome and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have been successfully used in civil cases to establish damages and liability. Providers who usually have a thorough understanding of such injuries can offer civil attorneys and the courts a unique insight as to whether victims are experiencing the syndromes.

Victims of perpetrators who work in a professional capacity

Victims of "professional" perpetrators i.e., physicians, dentists and psychologists, may have a good chance of collecting both from their perpetrators and their perpetrators' malpractice insurance carriers. The victims need only show that the victimization took place during the course of or as part of the perpetrators' professional employment. In this regard, the location of the crime scene might be important.

Victims of campus crime

Victims of campus crime and date or acquaintance rape are commonly stonewalled; they are discouraged from reporting criminal activity through the suggestion that they were responsible for the crime or assumed the risk of its occurrence i.e., they were drinking when the rape occurred or they consented to go to the rapist's room.

Until recently, few statistics were compiled and little case law had evolved on campus victimization matters. This may have occurred because schools covered up crimes by not informing students about the dangers of campus violence and by dissuading or preventing student victims from tarnishing the schools' reputations by reporting the crimes.

There are, however, a few legal routes available to student victims. These victims may be able to bring successful failure of security actions against their schools. Courts can hold third parties liable for failing to protect foreseeable victims from criminal activity, and even public institutions have been successfully sued for negligence and failure to protect in certain cases. Most colleges and universities also carry general liability insurance which may be relied upon to satisfy judgments.

Victims of bias crime.

Like campus crime suits, the filing of civil suits based on bias crime is a relatively new phenomenon. Federal Civil Rights Acts, however, have been used for years to provide civil remedies for hate crime victims.

Most cases are brought as civil rights violations based on race, religion, sexual preference, gender, and age for injuries sustained as a result of assault and battery, wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional distress or false imprisonment.

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Last Updated: May 5, 2011