The criminal justice system isn’t perfect, and sexual abuse victims don’t always receive the justice they deserve in part because the burden of proof in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The civil justice system allows victims to seek compensation for damages and offers a path to affect change at organizations that have allowed abuse to occur.
Civil justice cases hinge on a “preponderance of evidence,” which is a burden of proof that requires one side’s evidence to be stronger and more persuasive than the other. Civil justice claims may be a good choice for individuals failed by the criminal justice system, or in circumstances in which a criminal case is not an option.
The Oklahoma sexual abuse lawyers at Carr & Carr Attorneys at Law understand the sensitive nature of sexual abuse cases, particularly when they involve children or the elderly. If you or someone you love was a victim of sexual abuse, we’re ready to listen to your story and help you understand your legal options.
Call 866-510-0580 to schedule your free, confidential consultation or tell us what happened online to get started now.
Civil Justice for Oklahoma Sexual Abuse Victims
Oklahoma crime victims have a right to restitution within the criminal justice system. Restitution is money a judge orders a perpetrator to pay to cover expenses related to the crime (such as medical expenses and damaged property). Restitution, however, is not guaranteed, and it doesn’t cover pain and suffering or other noneconomic damages.
Another challenge victims face within the criminal justice system is that prosecutors won’t file formal charges unless they believe they have enough evidence to prove the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” even if a victim’s claim is valid. Civil actions can sometimes help when criminal charges are not pursued or there is not enough evidence to gain a conviction.
Compensation in civil cases may include economic damages (such as medical costs and lost wages), noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering) and punitive damages (additional compensation intended to punish the defendant and deter the defendant and others from similar conduct). Unlike a criminal case, which pits the offender against the state, a civil action holds the defendant accountable to the victim.
Regardless of criminal proceedings, a victim has the right to sue an offender in civil court and also anyone else who may have been negligent in allowing the sexual offender to do what he or she did. For example, an employer could be responsible for hiring a person with a history of sexual offenses, not doing a proper background search, or failing to fire the person once information came known that he or she was dangerous.
Sexual Abuse in Oklahoma: Children and the Elderly
Sexual abuse is a crime with significant and lasting consequences for the victim, but a relatively small percentage of sexual abuse cases are prosecuted as crimes.
Disclosure of abuse is often delayed. Young children, for example, may not possess the language skills required to describe what happened. Seniors with cognitive disabilities like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease suffer the same challenge.
In most sexual abuse cases, the victim knows the offender. In many circumstances, perpetrators use threats, violence or other means to keep victims silent. Often, the abuse is institutionalized and many individuals suffer while the perpetrator is protected.
The civil justice system offers both an avenue for justice and hope for change at the organizations that shelter criminal behavior.
Child Sexual Abuse in Oklahoma
According to a recent report published by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS), in 2016 there were more than 30,000 substantiated claims of child abuse, neglect, and/or sexual abuse in Oklahoma.
Neglect is the most common form of abuse suffered by Oklahoma children, but sexual abuse is common enough to warrant significant concerns, particularly within our school system. In December 2017, the Perry School District in Oklahoma City was sued on behalf of 15 students in a case that alleged the district failed to protect them from molestation by an 86-year-old teacher’s aide.
In another case from 2017, an Oklahoma student claimed he was sexually assaulted by upperclassmen on a field trip. Four students were charged with rape. The father filed a civil lawsuit against Norman Public Schools for failing to provide proper student supervision.
Senior Sexual Abuse in Oklahoma
Elder abuse, but particularly senior sexual abuse, is difficult to quantify because of inconsistent reporting methods and the fact that many seniors are unable or unwilling to discuss abuse. However, one investigation discovered more than 16,000 complaints of elder sexual abuse in long-term care facilities since 2000.
According to the report, between 2013 and 2016 “more than 1,000 nursing homes were cited for mishandling or failing to prevent alleged cases of rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse at their facilities … more than 100 of these facilities have been cited multiple times…”
Third Parties in Sexual Abuse Cases
In some civil cases, a third-party defendant (not the offender) may be held liable for damages. These parties may have contributed to or facilitated the sexual abuse in some manner. For example:
- Landlords who fail to maintain a safe premises or neglect to address known threats
- Colleges, schools or childcare facilities that don’t provide adequate security, ignore complaints of abuse, or fail to properly check the backgrounds of employees, volunteers, or contractors
- Youth organizations or churches that fail to keep children away from known or suspected predators
- Nursing homes or other senior living facilities that fail to qualify caretakers or ignore the complaints of patients
- Employers and businesses who fail to fire someone they knew or should have known was dangerous to have employed
Sexual Abuse: Facts & Figures
Every year, more than 320,000 people report some form of sexual misconduct. While there’s no formula to describe these victims, some people are more vulnerable than others.
Women, for example, are more likely to experience sexual abuse compared to men. One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Children, college-age students, the elderly, military members, inmates, and individuals with intellectual disabilities are especially vulnerable to sexual violence. For example:
- One in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of sexual abuse
- 23 percent of college women and 5 percent of college men “experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation”
- Approximately one in 10 Americans age 60 and over have experienced some form of elder abuse
- In 2016, 14,900 service members were sexually assaulted
- 60 percent of sexual violence against inmates is perpetrated by jail or prison staff
- 97 to 99 percent of abusers are known and trusted by a victim with intellectual disabilities
Experts agree that rates across all demographic categories are likely much higher considering that most sexual abuse goes unreported. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported; only 16 percent of child sexual abuse is reported to police.
The civil justice system can be a useful conduit for change in our communities and for those who have suffered sexual abuse. Victims of abuse often face unique challenges as adults, and they may require health services throughout their life to cope.
The sexual abuse lawyers at Carr & Carr Attorneys at Law are dedicated to helping victims from Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas via offices in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Springdale, AR. If you or a loved one was a victim of sexual abuse and you’d like to learn if a lawsuit may be a good option for you, please call us at 866-510-0580 or contact us online to arrange your free consultation.