Little Rock, Arkansas Sexual Abuse Cases: An Overview
The impact of child sexual abuse can be devastating, ranging from emotions characterized by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry as “distressing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors,” “the inability to cope with the overstimulation,” to a sense of confusion leaving a child “trapped between affection or loyalty for the person, and the sense that the sexual activities are terribly wrong.” Children who are subjected to sexual abuse over a long period of time have been known to “develop low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness, and an abnormal or distorted view of sex.” In addition to the emotional characteristics described above, delinquency behavioral problems have been recorded and, in some cases, depression and even suicidal thoughts are not uncommon.
Child sexual abuse can be initiated by a family member, including a parent, stepparent, brother or sister, or other relative, or may occur outside the home by a family friend, a child caregiver, a neighbor, or a stranger. Sometimes, the abuser may be a trusted teacher, a religious leader, or a medical professional.
A child who tries to sever the relationship may be further victimized with threats of retaliation, either in the form of violence, or a “loss of love.” Or a child abused within the home may say nothing, terrified that he or she will be “responsible” for destroying the home or family unit if the child abuse is revealed.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, there are as many as 80,000 reports of child sexual abuse each year. It is estimated that many, many more instances of child sexual abuse occur each year that go unreported. According to some estimates, as many as 15 to 25 percent of women and 5 to 15 percent of men are subjected to childhood sexual abuse. The annual cost of abuse in the United States, according to some estimates, is close to $94 billion.
At The Brad Hendricks Law Firm, we are committed to helping victims of child sexual abuse stand up for themselves, demanding justice and accountability from those who prey upon children. It is our hope that the resulting awareness of sexual abuse will help prevent the future victimization of other children.
OVERVIEW OF A CIVIL SEXUAL ABUSE LAWSUIT
In Arkansas, a victim may bring a civil action for acts of childhood sexual abuse committed against him or her to recover damages. The action is intended to compensate the victim for mental and physical pain, as well as for the impact of the abuse on the victim’s life.
In Arkansas, the sexual abuser is not the only party that may be held accountable for the sexual abuse experienced by a child. An institution or organization, such as a church, a hospital, or a youth organization may also be liable. Although the perpetrator of the childhood sexual abuse may not have the financial means to satisfy a judgment, the organization or institution responsible for his or her proximity to children often does. In order to prevail, the victim must prove that the defendant organization knew, or should have known, that the perpetrator was a danger to the plaintiff. The standard of proof is by a “preponderance of the evidence,” a less demanding standard that the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” that is required in order to prosecute a criminal claim.
This may be done by showing that the perpetrator had a history of abusing other child victims. Sexual predators, studies show, are often repeat offenders. If there was such a history, the plaintiff may prevail by showing that the organization negligently allowed the perpetrator access to the victim. If such negligence is established, the plaintiff may recover damages for the injuries caused by that negligence, which may include physical and mental injury in addition to the long-term effects of the abuse, such as the inability to complete one’s education or the need for prolonged therapy. One defense that may successfully bar a victim’s claim is the statute of limitations; therefore, it is important to understand how the statute of limitations in Arkansas works.
STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS
A “statute of limitations” is a deadline on filing a civil suit or initiating criminal charges against a defendant. It is an arbitrary deadline that a state legislature imposes to cut off the right of a victim to seek compensation or, in the criminal context, the ability of the state to punish a perpetrator. All states have statutes of limitations and are further complicated by additional laws that allow the tolling (stopping) of the statute of limitations in some instances.
For example, many states do not start the statute of limitations until the victim reaches the “age of majority,” which is eighteen in most states. Other states have “discovery rules” which allow suit to be brought within a certain time after the victim recognizes that his or her damages were caused by sexual abuse. Arkansas falls under both categories.
In Arkansas, lawsuits alleging childhood sexual abuse must be brought within three years after the victim has reached eighteen years of age, or within three years of the discovery of childhood sexual abuse. In other words, even if more than three years has passed since the victim turned eighteen, he or she may sue if the victim realizes or discovers that his or her injury or condition is due to an act or series of acts of childhood sexual abuse that occurred when the victim was less than eighteen years of age, according to Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-130.
If a victim is unable to settle his or her claim without legal action, a lawsuit may be filed on his or her behalf. The lawsuit begins with the filing of the complaint with the court and service of the complaint on the assailant. At that point, the parties must evaluate each other’s positions, and the attorneys will be given the opportunity to conduct discovery, which includes the questioning of the victim and assailant. Once more information is gathered, settlement options may once again be discussed. Because of the lower “preponderance of the evidence” burden of proof, many defendants settle out of court rather than risking a last judgment and public trial. The attorneys at The Brad Hendricks Law Firm can help you evaluate your settlement options.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT THAT ABUSE HAS OCCURRED
If you suspect that an act of childhood sexual abuse has occurred, there are resources available to victims, such as help lines, advocacy centers, or community agencies. If you know that childhood sexual abuse has occurred, PLEASE CONTACT THE POLICE OR CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN HOTLINE AT (800) 482-5964.
Once the immediate threat of childhood sexual abuse has been reported, know that you, or the victim of childhood sexual abuse, are not alone. E-mail The Brad Hendricks Law Firm to learn more about your right to monetary damages that may be recovered in a civil lawsuit against the abuser, or call one of our qualified attorneys today at (501) 221-0444 or toll-free at (800) 603-5100. Dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse can be extremely difficult, but to help you pursue your legal remedies to obtain justice in the form of compensation from those responsible for the abuse, you can count on The Brad Hendricks Law Firm.
The Brad Hendricks Law Firm proudly serves clients throughout Arkansas, including Arkadelphia, Benton, Conway, El Dorado, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Texarkana, and West Memphis as well as numerous counties throughout the State of Arkansas, including Arkansas County, Baxter County, Benton County, Bradley County, Calhoun County, Clark County, Columbia County, Conway County, Crittenden County, Faulkner County, Garland County, Hempstead County, Hot Spring County, Izard County, Lawrence County, Lonoke County, Monroe County, Nevada County, Pike County, Poinsett County, Polk County, Pope County, Prairie County, Pulaski County, Saline County, Sharp County, Stone County, Washington County, White County, Woodruff County, and Yell County, and all other counties in the State of Arkansas.