Berman & Simmons attorneys Michael Bigos and Elizabeth Kayatta recently collaborated on this op-ed to explain a new law that allows adults who survived childhood sexual abuse in Maine to come forward and pursue their justice. This opinion piece appeared in the Maine Voices section of the Portland Press Herald.
Now is the time for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to come forward
All victims of sexual abuse should be able to hold their abusers accountable. Now that is easier to do for anyone born before August 11, 1970 who survived sexual abuse in Maine as a child, because of a change in the statute of limitations effective October 18. Survivors who have lived a lifetime with this pain will finally have their chance to seek justice against their abusers. The rule allows anyone who was abused in the state to pursue a civil suit against the perpetrator(s) as well as their employer: from the Catholic Archdiocese to the Boy Scouts of America to a school to a camp, and more. Consider that there are currently 362 claims in Maine against the Boy Scouts of America for sexual abuse that occurred here, many of which are now affected by this new change.
Survivors are grateful for this change: the average age for people to come forward is 52. The nature of child sexual abuse injuries frequently results in victims not coming forward for years or decades because of the psychological injury and victims’ survival instincts. Injuries from sex abuse are very different than fractures or other physical injuries.
It doesn’t matter if the abuse happened 30 years ago or yesterday, those responsible need to be held accountable. But for a victim of sexual abuse, the decision to reach out to a lawyer and potentially sue their predators and others who may be responsible for their pain is a difficult and monumental one. It takes incredible courage for survivors to come forward. Some may have tried to bury the trauma. Often, something has happened in a victim’s life like a divorce, loss of a job through PTSD, newfound sobriety, or a psychological breakdown.
Empathy, patience, and respect are essential during the legal process., Victims can be empowered by representation. We want to avoid the risk of clients not being believed, and especially reduce the risk of litigation re-injuring the client. Working with a firm that has received trauma-informed training as Berman & Simmons has can help mitigate those risks.
For those who are ready to come forward, here is some advice for what to consider:
- The definition of sexual abuse is broader than intercourse and rape. It can include touching through clothes, kissing, and more. Childhood sexual abuse includes acts that occurred before the age of 18.
- It’s a survivor’s personal choice of whether or not to report the abuse to law enforcement. In many instances, civil claims are successful even if the abuse was never reported or if criminal charges were never brought by the state.
- Put together a timeline of events outlining when and where the abuse occurred. Use “signposts” including birthdays, holidays and the first and last days of the school year.
- Identify periods of vulnerability in your life that may have preceded the abuse, such as alcoholic parent, divorcing or single parent, absent parental figure, access to professional sports opportunity or other professional opportunity.
- Identify periods of grooming in your life that may have preceded the abuse, such as seemingly minor touches or hugs at the time, gifts, “secrets”, or flattery that then escalated, eventually, to inappropriate contact between sexual organs and any part of the body of the perpetrator(s). Sometimes grooming periods are darker and involve behaviors such as coercion, intimidation or threats.
- Estimate the number of times sexual contact occurred and if there was a pattern, such as whether the abuse always happened in a particular location or surrounding a holiday or event.
- Enter counseling if you aren’t already.
There is still more Maine can do to catch up with New England and rest of the country in providing survivors legal recourse and making employers of perpetrators responsible, too. For instance, under the Maine Tort Claims Act, governmental entities, like schools, are immune from suit absent a set of very limited exceptions—none of which are for sex abuse or failure to prevent the abuse. When this changes, more survivors will have a clearer path to justice.
Attorneys Michael Bigos and Elizabeth Kayatta lead the Sexual Abuse Survivors Practice at Berman & Simmons law firm.