Clergy abuse in the U.S came to the forefront by the publicized investigation conducted by The Boston Globe. Following this report, alarming revelations have continued to come to public light, even about clergy abuse in New York. In New York alone, a list of nearly 120 clergy members accused of various forms of sexual abuse was made public by the Archdiocese of New York in April 2019. Up to this moment, it is estimated that the American church has spent at least $2.2 billion settling litigation related to the crisis. From the records, it is estimated that there may have been as many as 100,000 total victims of clerical sexual abuse in only the US. Clergy abuse happens when a religious person engages in sexual contact a congregant, client, employee, student, staff member, coworker, or volunteer. Clergy members of various religions have taken advantage of their authority and the relationship of trust that exists between themselves and their congregation.
Although some accusations date back to the 1950s, molestation by priests was first given significant media attention in the US and Canada around the 1980s. In the 1990s, before full media attention focused on clergy abuse, stories were already emerging in Argentina, Australia and elsewhere. In 1995, the Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, stepped down amidst sexual abuse allegations rocking the Church there. Also in that decade, revelations spread as to widespread clergy abuse in Ireland. By the early 2000s, Church sexual abuse was a major global story. What is however common to the majority of these cases is that they span several decades. And the saddest thing is most are only brought to public glare many years after the abuse.
A significant percentage of those that came out as victims of clergy abuse only did so years later when they became adults. In most, victims of clergy sex abuse fail to report the abuse the moment it happens. This is especially because it mostly affects children who have no idea how to comprehend what they are experiencing. Victims of clergy sex abuse can suffer physical, mental and emotional injuries that are oftentimes long-lasting. Other than the shame, many also end up blaming themselves for the unfortunate occurrence. Many can develop mental disorders. Some of them include depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Children are no doubt the most vulnerable group of victims. Abused children may suffer from character disorder, low self-esteem and depression. Years after the abuse, victims of childhood clergy sex abuse are known to still suffer anxiety. Many struggle with depression, personality disorders and alcohol or drug related addictions.
There are two legal options available to victims of clergy abuse. They may file a civil suit against the abuser or file a criminal complaint. Reports have however shown that the majority of victims – who were children when the abuse took place – fail to report the abuse when it occurred. From statistics made available, less than one-third of victims of child sex abuse ever come out to disclose the incident. The vast majority simply keep numb and hope the pain will go away. Even more shocking, most who disclosed their abuse only did so at the average age of 52 – many decades after the incident. Sadly, by this point, there is often no recourse to a civil suit due to the statute of limitations. The statute of limitation in most states limits the period within which a lawsuit can be filed. This if usually no more than 2-5 years. If you have been a victim of clergy abuse you should still speak to a lawyer, no matter how long it’s been. Your case may have certain exceptions that allow you bring the action even though a long time has passed. For instance, if you just discovered material facts about the abuse that prevented you from suing, you may be able to maintain an action.
A victim is legally entitled to file a civil lawsuit against the clergy for physical and emotional injuries suffered. Victims may also be able to sue other persons that can equally be held responsible. These persons, for instance, include the church or any other religious institution where the clergy member practiced. You may also sue a facility or a religious institution if you find that the institution was negligent in their duty to protect you.
While adults can also be victims of clergy sexual abuse, it is realized that majority of victims of clergy abuse are helpless children. Before the passage of the New York Child Victims Act, child victims of sexual abuse must file a civil lawsuit against the abuser not later than 5 years after turning 18. This also includes the right to file a civil lawsuit for negligence against a third-party such as a church or other religious institution. Failure to file a lawsuit within the time set will bar your right to do so. This position has however changed in New York. After more than a decade of lobbying, both the State Assembly and State Senate have approved significant changes in the Child Victims Act. With the amendment of this law, sex abuse victims can now sue and file criminal charges until they attain the age of 55. This law will no doubt allow more abused victims approach the court and find the necessary closure to such horrible experiences.
If you have been a victim of clergy abuse, do not stay hushed. Your silence will turn out to be far more damaging than the abuse you have suffered. Talk to a competent lawyer immediately. If you have a reasonable suspicion that your loved one has suffered clergy abuse, take immediate steps to put things right. Apart from helping you achieve closure on the horrible experience you have suffered, taking civil, and criminal action, will help deter other cases of abuse. Your single action can help save several other little boys and girls, taking a harmful predator out of their path. At Oshan and Associates, we are lawyers you can trust. We will give you a voice and help you with the investigation of your case. We will also make sure that you get the closure you deserve. Contact us on 206-355-3880 or fill out our online contact form as soon as possible to get the best legal representation.