Never Too Late for Justice
Dear Annie: In your response to "Loss and Regret," concerning a teenager being sexually abused by an older female, you dismissed the legal aspect of this out of hand. The older woman should be brought up on sexual abuse charges against a minor. Anything less would be sexist.
Men are sent to prison for this kind of act. A recent acquaintance of mine was just sentenced to life in prison for a similar act, with no physical evidence and only the word of the victim. Letting this older woman off the hook for her misdeeds with a 16-year-old would just be wrong. The law pertains to both males and females alike. -- Concerned
Dear Concerned: Thank you for bringing this up. You are 100% correct that this woman should be held accountable. Many readers wrote to say that I dismissed the legal aspect of the case because of my intense focus on helping the man to heal emotionally. One of the best letters was written by an attorney from Portland, Oregon, who specializes in helping young victims of sexual abuse when they are older. Read on.
Dear Annie: As an attorney who represents victims of child sexual abuse in civil cases across the nation, I read with empathy and interest the recent letter from your reader, "Loss and Regret."
There a couple of insights that I would like to share with your readers.
First, for victims of sexual abuse, delayed understanding about the impact of abuse is normal. According to Child USA, "Most child victims of sexual assault disclose ... during adulthood, with a median age of 48 and an average age of 52." This delayed disclosure phenomenon is the result of the unique and insidious nature of the trauma of child sexual abuse -- which prevents victims from realizing that they have been injured often until decades after the abuse itself has stopped. For victims of childhood sexual abuse, subconscious defense mechanisms mask the root cause of the problems they are experiencing and prevent the victim from understanding the causal relationship between the abuse and the injuries (i.e., that the sexual abuse from childhood is causing the adult depression, anxiety, etc.).
As our society becomes more aware of both the prevalence of child abuse and the reality of delayed understanding by victims, the national trend is toward liberalizing and eliminating statutes of limitation. In the last several years, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, California, Arizona, Arkansas, Maine, Montana and Louisiana have all passed legislation that gives victims of child sexual abuse an open "window" of time (ranging from one to three years) to pursue civil actions regardless of how long ago the abuse happened. I currently have the honor of representing victims in cases in each of these states.
Other states -- like my home state of Oregon, as well as Washington, New Mexico and others -- have for many years used what is known as a "discovery rule." Discovery rules tie the time limit on a victim's civil legal claims to the victim's subjective delayed discovery of the long-term impacts they have suffered. This is another mechanism of giving victims more time and a greater opportunity for justice.
While not every state has helpful laws for victims (yet), the bottom line is that the law is changing in many states to give victims more time to come forward.
Of course, like in any legal case, the individual facts and circumstances vary, and I highly recommend that any victim of abuse consult with an attorney who is experienced in representing child abuse victims. These cases are unique, and the goal should be to advance the healing of the individual victim -- which is a very personalized consideration. What is good for one victim may not be helpful for another. After everything else they have been through, victims of child abuse deserve compassionate expert advice so they can make informed decisions for themselves.
I commend "Loss and Regret" for speaking out about this difficult topic. It is only as our society increases our awareness of the pervasive problem of child sexual abuse -- and reforms our laws to better support victims -- that the next generation of children becomes safer. -- Lawyer's Perspective
Dear Lawyer's Perspective: Thank you for such a clear and succinct summary.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book -- featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette -- is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.