April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

by Frank E. Lamothe, III

April has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month by the Department of Health and Human Services. According to DHHS, the national number of children who received a child protective services investigation response numbered 3,476,000 for 2019.

There are many types of child abuse including neglect, emotional and physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Our lawyers at Lamothe Law Firm have substantial experience pursuing child sexual abuse claims including abuse at churches, schools, summer camps, youth groups, health providers or in foster care.  We are passionate about finding justice and the best possible results for the victims.

Child Sexual Abuse and Misconduct

Sexual abuse of a minor – in general, unwanted sexual contact or exposure – takes different forms, with devastating consequences for victims, families, and loved ones. In our state, the Louisiana Children’s Code and the Louisiana Criminal Code contain various definitions and prohibited sexual conduct involving minors.

In some circumstances, sexual abuse of a child occurs without physical contact:

•    Showing explicit images to the child
•    Revealing oneself sexually to the child
•    Asking the child to reveal himself or herself sexually
•    Exposing the child to pornographic images or sexually-charged language
•    Recording inappropriate video or images of a child for distribution to others or personal use
•    Requesting the child to take sexually inappropriate pictures of himself or herself to send to the abuser

In other instances, aggressors have physical contact with their child victims:

•    Rape
•    Oral sex and fellatio
•    Fondling, kissing, or touching in a sexual nature

And in some of the most egregious situations, child sex abuse includes:

•    Sexually exploiting the child for commercial purposes
•    Human trafficking of children for sexual purposes
•    Forcing the child to undergo an abortion

Similarly, sex abusers – male and female – can be anywhere in the community, though they share a common trait: power.

Aggressors wield power over their victims because of a position of authority or control, age, physical size, or intimidation or coercion. Such a broad definition means perpetrators are everywhere, whether they are familiar or unknown to the child:

Family members
Foster care providers
Teachers and mentors
Coaches and sports trainers
Camp counselors
Scout and youth group leaders
Religious leaders
Doctors and health care providers
Police and law enforcement

In addition to the perpetrator, parents, educators, and others who are responsible for the child may be held liable if they:

•    Assist the aggressor in the abuse or misconduct
•    Know or should know about the sexual abuse and fail to seek protection for the child
•    Put the child in danger by willingly or negligently placing the child in the care or supervision of the abuser

Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits Against Schools, Churches, and Institutions

Victims may also bring claims directly against a school, church, non-profit organization, or other institution where the sex abuser was employed or with which the perpetrator had an agency relationship. In those cases, the plaintiff must show:

The institution knew or should have known that the minor could be sexually abused if the perpetrator was not properly supervised in the course of his or work or service to the institution.

The institution failed to take proper and reasonable steps to protect a minor victim from foreseeable harm. The organization must have adequate safeguards in place to prevent sex abuse when it is foreseeable.

Employers, in general, may be vicariously liable for the acts of their employees, providing an additional avenue for child sex abuse victims to find justice. To recover damages under Louisiana Law, the plaintiff must demonstrate:

The employee was acting on behalf of the employer and engaged in activities intended to fulfill the mission of the employer’s organization.

The employer failed to properly screen the perpetrator during the hiring process, where a background check or other inquiries would have revealed evidence of criminal sexual conduct or abuse

Seeking Damages and Compensation from Child Sexual Abusers

Although child sex abuse acts are considered felonies and misdemeanors under Louisiana law, seeking money damages and compensation in a civil lawsuit is a different process with different burdens of proof.

The time to file a lawsuit in Louisiana is generous. Plaintiffs have 1) ten years from the day the abused minor reaches the age of majority, or 2) one year after the minor informs a parent of the abuse, to initiate an action, but it may be longer if it can be shown that the recovery of a repressed memory prevented the plaintiff from asserting his or her rights within the prescribed time period.

Balancing the need to confront child sexual abuse while protecting the public from unfair accusations, Louisiana requires adults (21 years or older) who were abused as minors to show a reasonable basis that sexual abuse occurred during his or her childhood when bringing a lawsuit.

In the immediate aftermath of sexual abuse or assault, the minor child may be physically injured, necessitating medical treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation. Emotional harm and psychological trauma often extend much longer, requiring counseling, therapy, and medication for years, even into adulthood, and may have further economic consequences including an inability to work. Tragically, some victims take their own lives by committing suicide.

Beyond general and special compensatory damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, medical care, and loss of income, Louisiana law provides for punitive damages for criminal sexual activity occurring during the plaintiff’s childhood where there was “wanton and reckless regard” for the minor’s safety.

Contact Lamothe Law Firm

If you or a loved one was sexually abused as a child, please contact us today for a confidential meeting to discuss your claim, your right to compensation, and ways to hold the abuser accountable.

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