Miller & Zois lawyers are assisting victims of sexual abuse committed by clergy who abused their authority in the worst way imaginable. These lawsuits are against not only church officials but against the churches themselves. The crimes committed in sexual abuse cases do more than violate Maryland law. The involve unimaginable cruelty and evil. This is why our attorneys have sought out sex abuse cases. There is no question these are emotionally challenging cases for our entire legal team. We are human beings first. We feel the pain of these victims.
Sexual abuse in religious institutions is especially distressing to talk about due to the potential for religious intolerance and the fact that children and teens are normally the victims. Some nuns, too, have spoken out about sexual assault and harassment.
International scandals broke in the past two decades, first in 2002 and again in 2018, that revealed chronic and widespread abuse of young boys in the Catholic Church. Worst of all? Investigations, which first began in Ireland and Boston, found that the abuse had been covered up and that perpetrators were barely punished.
The Catholic Church has tragically become almost inextricably associated with child sex abuse. More than half of the non-Catholic population of the United States believes that child sex abuse is more common among Catholic clergy than leaders of other religious institutions.
It is important to understand that child sex abuse is not solely the fault of the Catholic Church or any religious institution for that matter. Estimates show that priests are no more likely to offend than men in the general population. Child sexual abuse is, lamentably, a very common crime. What child abusers have in common is not their religion, but rather, having preexisting relationships with their victims. Priests, coaches, teachers, and, unfortunately, family members are potential child abusers because of the access they have to children and the trust and the power they hold.
The Catholic Church and Child Sex Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church became infamous for child sex abuse for a few reasons. Many of these reasons offer valid criticisms of the Church and suggest areas where it could change or ramp up its defenses.
First, youth programs are a central feature of Catholicism, so clergy are often alone with children. Customs dictate that these children are normally male. This would be far less of a problem if the Church was more proactive in preventing abuse and punishing offenders.
Secondly, Catholicism is by far the largest Christian denomination, and Christianity is the largest religion in the world, meaning that other denominations simply could not match the number of people, and therefore abusers, who are members of the Catholic Church. Protestantism, however, is the most popular religion in the US. Indeed, the Southern Baptist church has also been the subject of a recent scandal.
Third, the tremendous media storms of allegations against the Catholic church are not proper indicators of the rate of child sexual abuse in general, but they make it appear as though some feature of the Catholic Church encourages pedophilia. Certain aspects of the church, such as the exclusion of women, the celibacy rule, and the rigid hierarchy, do not help the church’s image even though they have little to do with sexual predation. That said, we can’t run from the fact that Catholic priests have been the worst offenders.
Finally, the Church has a history of covering up cases of child abuse and simply moving offending clergy to new posts where may offend again. There is a perception that the church is not doing enough to stop abuse from happening and to punish abusers. Pope Francis has been, in my opinion, a great pope who really care about the sexual abuse of children. But he has not been perfect and has something said things that are not helpful.
Back in 2002, during the first wave of allegations, church leaders in the US ratified the “Dallas Charter,” or the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” and the “Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priest or Deacons.” New cases of abuse were possibly reduced by these measures, but we don’t know. Legal and governmental dealings with old allegations, investigations, and criticisms, and the Church’s response is still very much ongoing.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore tells us now mistakes were made, and they are committed to protecting innocent children and helping to heal victims of sex abuse. I’m sure that is true for many people associated with the Archdiocese, probably most. But there are still those who have an interest in covering up sexual misconduct… and worse.
Effects of Child Sexual Abuse Carry Throughout Life
Children who have been sexually abused suffer the consequences into their adulthood. They are at an increased risk of mental, physical, and behavioral disorders. Some children have problems with their education after sexual abuse and become enrolled in special education classes. Survivors of child sexual abuse are more likely to commit suicide and experience anxiety.
Victims of abuse by clergy may additionally feel mistrust, betrayal, shame, and depression. PTSD is commonly sighted as a lasting effect for survivors of sexual abuse and violence in general.
Furthermore, victims are prone to risky behavior such as using drugs and having unprotected sex. This puts them at a higher risk of violence, repeat victimization, HIV, and drug addiction. Theories from Problem Behavior Theory can explain this gravitation towards risk. For one, victims may act out because they are angry and need somewhere to direct their anger. Additionally, acting out may be a way to either numb painful feelings or bring out feelings that have been numbed by trauma.
Economic Cost of Child Sexual Abuse
Millions of children around the world experience sexual abuse. Researchers often attempt to quantify the economic burden of health issues and have tried to do so for child sexual assault as well. The World Health Organization lists child sexual abuse among the 24 factors contributing to the global burden of disease.
One study, based on the estimate that 40,000 new incidences of child sex abuse arise in the United States every year, found that experiencing abuse would cost $200,000 or more over the course of a lifetime. This adds up to millions of dollars when all cases are taken together.
These costs come from childhood and adult healthcare as well as productivity loss and other costs associated with negative psychological effects of abuse. For example, increased violence and criminal activity can be costly for others and for the criminal justice system. Deaths from suicide and drug overdose are also factored in. Overall, the damage that a single sexual assault can do to is staggering.
Sometimes, victims are able to recover that cost. The Catholic Church has paid more than $3 billion to victims across the United States.
Criminal and Civil Statute of Limitations
Frequently, children do not tell anyone that they were abused until months or years after the incident or series of incidents occurred. Many cases that have made headlines in the US are not recent, but instead, date back to the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
That presents a problem to the justice system because of the statute of limitations prevents filing a legal action after a period of time. Depending on the state and the crime, these statutes say that someone cannot be prosecuted for a crime or sued after a certain amount of time has elapsed.
In Maryland, there is no criminal statute of limitations for felony crimes, such as sexual abuse of a minor. There is no time limit for criminal prosecution. There is, however, a statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits. This legal avenue can be helpful in cases of child sex abuse since there is often little evidence that could prove the crime in criminal court—the burden of proof is lower in lawsuits.
Victims in Maryland can file a lawsuit for allegations of abuse until they are 25. They can also do so up until they are 36, but must prove gross negligence, which is harder to do. In 2019, a bill passed in the Maryland House of Delegates that would have eliminated the civil statute of limitations entirely for these cases. However, a committee vote shot it down.
In Pennsylvania, where the most recent expose was released in 2018 by a grand jury, some lawmakers are also pushing for changes in the statute of limitations to allow old cases to go to court.
- “The economic burden of child sexual abuse in the United States” by Elizabeth Letourneau et al., Child Abuse & Neglect, 2018.
- “Child Sexual Abuse” by Laura Murray, Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics in America, 2015.
- “Linking Childhood Sexual Abuse and Early Adolescent Risk Behavior: The Intervening Role of Internalizing and Externalizing Problems” by Deborah Jones et al., Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 2013.
My Law Firm Will Fight for You
The attorneys at Miller & Zois may help you recover money damages for the abuse you have endured. If you would like to talk about your potential claim for financial compensation, call me. If you would prefer to speak with a woman, call Laura Zois or Beth Frey. They are kind people who are happy to work through these issues to figure out a path for you.