Tragically, child sexual abuse happens everywhere, including in the greater St. Louis area. It happens in big cities and small towns and among people of all cultural and economic backgrounds.
The Bruning Law Firm has over 35 years of experience handling cases like yours. If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse or have a child who has suffered child sexual abuse, the experienced legal team at Bruning Law Firm is here to help champion your case.
Bruning Law Firm is a family firm, deeply rooted in St. Louis. They are compassionate and work hard to pursue the best possible results for each client, in some cases winning millions in compensation.
Survivors of sexual abuse and assault have the right to file a lawsuit for damages against the perpetrator in civil court. If you or a loved one endured child sexual abuse, a St. Louis child sexual abuse lawyer can review the circumstances of your case and explain your legal options.
What is child sexual abuse?
For most people, the subject of child sexual abuse is uncomfortable to think about and difficult to define with any precision. Simply defined, child sexual abuse is any sexual occurrence between a child and someone who is older.
This abuse may involve contact between the parties, such as unwelcome touching or sexual penetration. However, the abuse could also refer to non-contact abuse, such as exposure, voyeurism, and child pornography. It also includes the solicitation of a child for sex or prostitution and sexually communicating with a child on the phone or the internet.
It happens far too often. Every nine minutes, child protective services substantiate a claim of child sexual abuse.
Studies show that:
- One in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
- Children between the ages of seven and 13 are most liable to be victims of child sexual abuse;
- Approximately 20 percent of women and 5 percent and 10 percent of men remember an incident of child sexual abuse or assault;
- During one year, 16 percent of youth ages 14 to 17 in the United States suffered sexual abuse, and 28 percent of the same age group had endured sexual abuse throughout their lifetime.
Approximately 39 million people in the United States are survivors of child sexual abuse. However, experts agree that the incidence of child sexual abuse is far beyond that reported in statistics.
There are two definitions. Legal professionals use one definition while clinical professionals, such as therapists, use a different one.
Children cannot legally consent to sexual acts. Federal and state laws define child abuse and neglect. As outlined in the law, child sexual abuse has both civil and criminal definitions.
Federal law defines child sexual abuse in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which states that sexual abuse includes:
- “(A) 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 simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or
- (B) the rape, molestation, prostitution, or other forms of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children….”
Sexual conduct is criminal either when the perpetrator uses force, or the victim is not capable of providing consent. According to CAPTA, a child refers to any individual under 18 or who is not an emancipated minor.
Clinicians, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists, typically focus more on the effect sexual abuse has on the child.
When defining an abusive act, a clinician may consider factors such as:
- Power differential, which refers to a situation wherein the abuser has physical or psychological power over the abused. Sexual assault almost always constitutes an abuse of some form of power.
- Knowledge differential, in which the abuser is older or has a more worldly or adult understanding of the situation than the child.
- Gratification differential. In these circumstances, the abuser is only looking for sexual gratification for themselves.
Minor consent laws in Missouri
State laws differ concerning the age of consent. Sometimes the law requires an age difference between the perpetrator and the victim.
Missouri law provides that :
- 13-year-olds cannot consent to sex with anyone;
- 14, 15, and 16-year-olds cannot consent to sex with persons age 21 and older (§566.034);
- 14, 15, and 16-year-olds cannot consent to sex with a person who is more than four years older (§566.071).
Who may you hold liable?
The goal of a sexual abuse lawsuit is to establish the defendant’s liability and obtain full and fair compensation for the injured party, using the standard of preponderance of the evidence.
In many sexual assault or abuse cases, suing the alleged perpetrator of the assault is not the only option.
Depending on circumstances, other potentially liable parties may be responsible for the wrongdoing under legal theories such as:
- Negligence, when there was a duty to protect the child.
- Premises liability if there were missing or inadequate security measures.
- Negligent supervision despite a duty to screen and supervise employees. Many employers and organizations must provide a safe environment for children.
Entities that owe a duty to children in their care and custody include:
- Schools and school districts
- Daycare centers
- Churches and religious schools
- Summer camps
- Youth sports leagues
- Athletic trainers and physical therapists
- Youth organizations such as Boy Scouts, 4-H, and Boys & Girls Club of America
- Hospitals and nursing homes
- Health care associations
- Ride-share services like Uber or Lyft
Signs of sexual abuse
It may be difficult for parents or other adults to recognize the signs of sexual abuse. The child may feel fear, shame, or confusion, but their distress may go unnoticed or unacknowledged. Often it is hard for the child to verbalize what happened to them.
Therefore, adults must be aware of signs such as:
- Anxiety or reluctance to be around certain people
- Anger, depression, withdrawal, or other changes in mood
- Unexplained changes in appetite and eating habits
- Nightmares or issues with sleeping
- Increased obsessive or compulsive behaviors
- Inappropriate sexual behaviors
- Increased interest in sex or sexually explicit material
Physical signs of sexual abuse may be missing or not obvious, particularly if the child is hesitant to talk about any physical problems they may be experiencing.
However, physical signs may include:
- Redness and bumps, or scabs around the mouth, anus, or genital area
- Genital discharge
- Urinary tract infections
- Problems with urination or bowel movements
- Wetting or soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Chronic stomach pain
Effects of child sexual abuse
Sexually abused children may react in many ways. Some of these effects are age-specific, and some persist into adulthood. Sexual abuse occurs between a minor and a trusted adult but rarely with a stranger. Therefore, it is the worst kind of betrayal of trust.
Very young children sometimes re-engage in some part of the experience, such as repeatedly imagining an encounter with a “bad person.” The child may show other symptoms of stress, such as tantrums or nightmares. They may try to talk about what happened but lack the vocabulary to explain how or where.
The experience may manifest itself in other ways as a child grows, such as drug or alcohol abuse, self-cutting, acting out sexually, or other high-risk behavior. A person who has suffered child sexual abuse is about 2.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have not suffered such an experience.
Sexual abuse triggers stress hormones. When sexual abuse occurs often, the stress hormones never have a chance to recover. The strain can damage vital regions of the brain.
There are other long-term consequences. Child sexual abuse impacts physical and mental health. A child with the support of a trusted adult and necessary healthcare might recover without long-term effects. However, when a child does not disclose sexual abuse or does not receive appropriate professional help, they may suffer significant harm.
Sexual abuse also affects the individual's ability to create and maintain healthy sexual relationships as they mature.
Proving a child sexual abuse case
Child sexual abuse often occurs in secret. Therefore, it is often very difficult to prove. A long time may have passed before the discovery of the incident. Typically, the only eyewitness is the child, and physical evidence may be scarce or non-existent.
For most children (and many adults), testifying in court intimidates them. It is especially difficult when the child must testify against someone they know well, or perhaps someone who has authority over them.
Young children may not have the language skills or the self-possession to testify effectively in court. Therefore, attorneys often rely on expert testimony from qualified doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to support the child’s claim. They seek medical evidence of the sexual abuse, including clinical information, medical history, and a physical examination. Experts may also testify regarding behaviors commonly observed in sexually abused children.
Civil lawsuits use the preponderance of the evidence standard to establish a case. That is far less stringent than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard used in criminal cases. Therefore, even if a criminal trial results in a not guilty verdict, victims of sexual abuse can often prevail in a civil case. The preponderance of the evidence standard simply requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that their version of events is more likely than not how things happened.
Compensation in child sexual abuse cases
In personal injury law, damages are the money appropriate to compensate you.
You might recover three basic types of damages: economic, non-economic, and, in rare cases, punitive.
- Economic damages are quantifiable expenditures or financial losses caused by the injury suffered. These are relatively easy to calculate.
- Non-economic damages compensate you for any emotional or psychological toll your injuries have taken on your life. These are more difficult to quantify.
- Punitive damages are only awarded under specific, limited circumstances to punish or deter the defendant.
The amount of compensation awarded by the judge or jury depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. The court bases the damages on the past and future physical, emotional and financial harm the victim endures because of the abuse. A victim of child sexual abuse may suffer pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, and obesity. They are also likely to experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In addition, there are adverse social effects, such as problems with relationships or sexual partners. The impact of their trauma may lead to financial issues. Because of the many health problems they endure, adults with a history of child sexual abuse require more health care than others, spending on average 16 percent more per year on health care costs.
A child sexual abuse survivor often faces a long road to recovery. Money cannot change what the victim endured, but it can provide the resources necessary to pay for the losses and rebuild a person's life.
Damages for sexual abuse cases may include compensation for:
- Personal injury
- Lost income and other financial losses
- Past and future trauma and emotional distress
- Past and future medical, counseling, and psychiatric bills
- Sexually transmitted disease
- Loss of consortium
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Mental disconnection
- Eating disorders
- Insomnia, nightmares, or other sleep disorders
- Suicide attempts
- Cutting or other forms of self-harm
- Sexual dysfunction
- In some cases, punitive damages
How can our St. Louis child sexual abuse lawyers help you?
All states have time limits, called the statute of limitations, for filing lawsuits. Most states, including Missouri, have extended the statute of limitations for these claims, recognizing that many victims are so traumatized that they involuntarily repress their memory of the abuse.
In Missouri, “Any action to recover damages from injury or illness caused by childhood sexual abuse in an action brought pursuant to this section shall be commenced within ten years of the plaintiff attaining the age of twenty-one, or within three years of the date the plaintiff discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, that the injury or illness was caused by childhood sexual abuse, whichever later occurs.”
The process begins when you consult Bruning Law Firm’s compassionate St. Louis child sexual abuse lawyers about your case. Our legal team can investigate the case, gather and preserve the evidence, and explore any criminal history of the perpetrator. Our lawyers can file a lawsuit, guide you through the process, protect you from publicity and attempts by the defense to shame you, and zealously represent you. For more information or a free evaluation, call (314) 735-8100 or contact us online at Bruning Law Firm.
The Bruning Law Firm
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