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One of the country's premier college football programs and proudest state universities has been rocked by a horrific child sexual abuse scandal. Police arrested former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, and charged him with molesting eight young boys during and after his coaching career. The crimes occurred on the Penn State campus. A graduate assistant allegedly witnessed Sandusky rape a 10-year-old boy in the football team's shower room.

These crimes were compounded, and a nation shocked, because numerous, high ranking officials were informed of Sandusky's crimes yet did nothing to spare other victims the same, sorry fate. As a result, two other Penn State officials have been charged with failing to report the incidents as required by law. Coaching legend Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier have been fired by Penn State's board of trustees.

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Child sexual abuse is every parent's nightmare. It's a tragedy and trauma affecting the whole family. But it affects your child the most. The abuse may cause physical injuries and psychological trauma, and either may affect your child for a long time, maybe for a lifetime.

You and your child shouldn't have to carry that burden alone. That's why the law provides a right for child sexual abuse victims to sue their abusers in court to help make sure they pay for their wrongdoing.

Child Sexual Abuse Is a Type of Personal Injury

When your child has been sexually abused, you can bring a civil personal injury lawsuit against the abuser. You should also report the behavior as a crime.

"Sexual abuse" generally means unlawful sexual contact or other kinds of sex-related conduct between a child and an adult, or a young child and a much older child.

The definitions of child sexual abuse are different from state to state can vary from state to state. They vary between criminal and civil laws, too. But federal law defines child sexual abuse as:

The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or any simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct; or rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.

While a child is still a minor (usually under 18 years of age), you or your child's legal guardian must file a lawsuit on your child's behalf. As a general rule, only adults can file lawsuits.

Time Limits for Filing a Lawsuit

In practically every legal situation, you have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit. This time period is called the statute of limitations. How much time depends on the type of suit or injury, and the time limits are usually different from state to state.

As a general guide, though, you may have between one to three years to file a personal injury lawsuit. Usually, the clock starts to run on the date of the injury.

Period for Filing a Lawsuit May Be Extended

Many states have special rules for lawsuits brought by adults who suffered sexual abuse as a child. Many states extend the time period for filing a lawsuit.

Some victims of child sexual abuse have trouble remembering it. This can be called repressed memory. The law accounts for this with what's called the delayed discovery rule. This rule stops the statute of limitation from running out if the victim repressed all memory of the abuse or didn't realize the abuse caused current problems.

The time allowed for filing a lawsuit is counted in a different way. Usually, the clock begins to run when the victim remembers the sexual abuse.

However, it can be hard to win repressed memory or delayed discovery cases. Evidence can be lost or destroyed. Witnesses may move, die or be forgotten. Memories and recall of events can fade during the time the child is growing up.

Required Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act requires the states to pass laws on reporting child abuse and neglect. While each state's law differs, child abuse laws in all states require certain people who learn of child abuse to report it to authorities. Teachers, doctors and police are usually required to report abuse.

Anyone who doesn't report abuse as required by law may be legally liable for the child-victim's injuries.

Stand Up Against Abuse

If your child has been sexually abused, or you were abused as a child, it's important to talk to a qualified personal injury law lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer experienced in child sexual abuse can provide a network of resources to start the healing process and can explain if and how you can win a lawsuit against the abuser.

Don't feel ashamed. Money can't reverse time and take away the abuse. But, you and your child may face a long road to physical and emotional recovery. The abuser should be held accountable.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How long does someone have to file a lawsuit for sexual abuse when there's repressed memory? How do you prove it?
  • If a parent knows about abuse, but chooses not to file a lawsuit against an abuser, can a child-victim file a lawsuit after turning 18 years old 18?
  • Can you sue someone who reported abuse? What if there was no abuse, and the accused person suffers harm, like a damaged reputation or loss of a job?

Tagged as: Criminal Law, Types of Crimes, child sexual abuse, sexual abuse lawyer