Institutional Sexual Abuse and Harassment

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Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos is proud of its long history of representing women and men who are survivors of institutional sexual abuse by clergy members, Boy Scouts leaders and other in positions of trust at organizations.

Clergy Sexual Abuse

On January 1, 2020, a new California law (AB 218) went into effect allowing survivors of clergy sexual abuse, who were previously precluded from seeking justice due to the statute of limitations, to file lawsuits against their attackers. The law, known as the Child Victims Act, extends the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse survivors and, importantly, includes a “look back window” that allows victims of childhood sexual assault to file a lawsuit over past childhood abuse, regardless of the statute of limitations. However, the look-back window, which started in January 2020, is limited to only three years so acting quickly is important. Under the new California law Courts will also be allowed to triple the amount of damages awarded to a victim if there was an attempted cover-up. Numerous states have passed similar laws allowing justice for those who have had to suffer in silence for years and decades.

In August 2018, a grand jury released a report detailing the widespread cover-up of child sexual abuse across six Catholic dioceses in the state. The report describes a decades-long nightmare of the abuse of more than 1,000 children by over 300 Catholic priests and an institutional culture of looking the other way and even covering-up the abuse. Sadly, the tragedies detailed in the 2018 grand jury report are not limited to Pennsylvania. Since that report was released, lawsuits by survivors of clergy sexual abuse have been filed against dioceses across the country. Unfortunately, sexual abuse by religious leaders and institutional cover-up is not limited to the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Child Victims Act was passed to address sexual abuse across numerous religious institutions.

The sexual abuse of parishioners by clergy members necessarily inflicts profound physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse face unimaginable distress and difficulty living with their trauma. For too long survivors have suffered in silence, unable to confront their abusers and those who enabled the abuse. Now, thankfully, the tide is beginning to turn and laws, like the Child Victims Act, are giving survivors a new opportunity to hold individuals and church organizations accountable.

Boy Scouts of America Abuse

The same California Law, AB 218, makes it possible for survivors to seek justice against other organizations as well. The Boy Scouts of America is one such organization. While long- recognized for its standards of morality and teaching children valuable skills, reviews of secret files from the Boy Scouts of America revealed massive numbers of child sexual abuse cases that were hidden from the public for nearly a century. Today, thousands of men are filing civil suits against the Boy Scouts of America correctly asserting that the Boy Scouts was obligated to provide more protection for the children in their programs and should have reported any and all sexual predators to the authorities rather than looking the other way.

Earlier this year, as a result of hundreds of lawsuits brought against it by survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, creating a fund to compensate victims. It is important that victims file claims to receive their share of this fund. Claims may also be filed against the local councils of which victims were members when the abuse occurred, which may allow for additional compensation.

Sexual Abuse in School

Sexual abuse and harassment in schools can take numerous forms, including inappropriate behavior like unwanted touching, sexual comments or jokes, sexual bullying and hazing, sexual assault, and rape. These abuses are not limited to staff and teachers but can also come from other students

Schools have a duty to keep their students safe and protected from harm, yet far too often perpetrators take advantage of the school system to gain access to children and abuse their trust. It is the responsibility of schools to properly vet teachers, coaches, and other employees, to supervise students while they are on campus or engaged in school activities, and to thoroughly investigate any complaints made about an employee’s or student’s behavior.

Teachers and school officials are required by law to report suspected or known sexual abuse to the proper authorities, but fear of ramifications may lead to a failure to report such incidents. Schools must be held accountable for allowing such abuse or harassment to occur on their campuses and off campus during school related activities. A school’s failure to take proper action may create liability against the school, its administration and its employees for neglecting to keep children safe.

If you or your child have been sexually abused in school, you may have the option to file a civil claim to hold the perpetrator and school district accountable.

Institutional Sexual Harassment

Recently, colleges and universities have increasingly been scrutinized for their lack of action related to sexual assaults on their campuses. Survivors of campus sexual assault have meaningful options for seeking justice, regaining the upper-hand, and beginning the process of putting their life back together.

Sexual harassment is prohibited under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All schools that receive federal Title IX funds that fail to protect their students from sexual harassment are potentially liable for violating federal law.

ASWT has filed numerous lawsuits against the University of Southern California and Dr. George Tyndall on behalf of women who allege they were sexually abused and illicitly photographed by the disgraced USC OB/GYN. Dr. Tyndall practiced at USC’s Engemann Student Health Center beginning in 1989 until he was suspended in 2016. Tyndall claimed to have provided “care” to thousands upon thousands of Trojan women during this time. Those lawsuits are now pending in the Los Angeles Superior Court, where our attorneys have been designated as co-liaison counsel for all plaintiffs who have brought claims against USC and Dr. Tyndall.

Additional forms of institutional sexual abuse may include sexual assault and harassment committed by:

  • Correctional officers,
  • Employers,
  • Youth organization leaders,
  • Religious figures,
  • Educators,
  • Coaches,
  • Foster parents,
  • Caregivers,
  • Medical professionals,
  • And others in positions of authority.

Institutional sexual abuse reflects power dynamics as perpetrators utilize their positions of authority within institutions to victimize those who look up to them. The effects of this type of abuse on its victims can be detrimental and lead to long-lasting psychological harm. Due to the nature of institutional sexual abuse, the institution­—whether it be a religious or youth organization, school or university, correctional facility, care center, or other establishment—may be held liable for the damage caused.

The attorneys at Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos are standing by to help you fight for the justice you deserve. No matter the state or venue, our sexual harassment attorneys are here for you.