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Sexual Abuse & Assault by Medical & Mental Health Professionals

Sexual abuse and assault by a medical or mental health professional is incredibly devastating. The abuse of power and violation of trust is particularly heinous.

Medical and mental health providers hold a great deal of power over the patients they treat. This is partly due to the inherent trust patients place in their medical and mental health providers. Of course, a person seeking medical treatment naturally trusts the person providing that treatment.

justice city hall philadelphia_miniHowever, no profession is immune from sexual abuse and assault. Whether it’s at a private medical office or a large hospital, doctors, nurses, aides, therapists, psychologists, etc., are all equally capable of abusing a patient.

The unfortunate reality is that due to the inherent trust patients tend to place in their medical providers, patients who’ve been sexually abused often say and do nothing. Many question whether they imagined the incidents or whether they did or said anything to invite the abuse. This is typical for any victim of sexual abuse or assault. Victims often find it easier to process, from a mental standpoint, and will blame themselves. It is incredibly difficult to face an abuser, especially someone in the medical or mental health profession.

Under the laws of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, victims of sexual assault and abuse by a medical or mental health professional have legal rights to seek justice against their abusers. This is true in both the criminal and civil justice systems.

Also, it is important to note that under the injury laws of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, patients can pursue legal actions against other parties. This is in addition to the direct perpetrator. Anyone who has a duty to report sexual abuse or assault by a professional and fails to do so may be held liable if the perpetrator abuses others in the future. Victims may be able to obtain financial compensation.

Justice for Victims of Sex Abuse by a Professional

If you were sexually abused or assaulted by a medical professional or mental health professional, the first step is talking about the abuse with a trusted friend or family member. This is important to begin the healing process.

The next step is reporting the abuse to the appropriate authorities. Victims of sex abuse by a professional are often surprised to learn that they were not the only one. In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator engages in a pattern and practice of abuse, which only gets worse over time. Perpetrators are emboldened by the continued silence of their victims. Therefore, reporting an abuser can help prevent future acts of abuse.

How Criminal & Civil Sexual Abuse Cases Differ

What many victims of sexual abuse and assault don’t know is that criminal and civil cases are completely different from each other. That’s because the standard of proof is different in each type of case.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse and believe you don’t have enough evidence against the abuser, you should know that you can still succeed in a civil case. In a civil case, the standard of proof is far lower than the standard of proof in criminal cases.

Principles of criminal law require the local prosecutor’s office to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard and requires a sufficient amount of evidence to show guilt. That’s why a sexual abuse and assault case may be declined for prosecution, i.e., because there isn’t enough evidence to meet that standard.

However, in a civil case, the burden of proof is basically like a 51% standard. A victim (plaintiff) only has to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that it is more likely than not that what the plaintiff said happened is true. Accordingly, a case that cannot be pursued in the criminal courts may be successful in the civil courts.

More: Evidence of Sexual Abuse & Assault in Civil Sex Abuse Lawsuits [What type of evidence is necessary in civil sexual abuse and assault lawsuits?]

Civil Justice in Sex Abuse Cases – The Statute of Limitations

One of the most critical issues in a civil sexual abuse and assault case against a doctor, nurse, therapist, etc., is whether the statute of limitations has expired. As a general rule, most states apply two different statute of limitations periods in civil sexual abuse and assault cases. One applies to adults; the other applies to minors.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey apply the same statute of limitations period for adults. Individuals who suffered sex abuse/assault as an adult have 2 years from the date of the incident to file civil lawsuits. However, minors are treated differently and get a much longer statute of limitations period. PA and NJ law differ with respect to minors. In PA, minors have until their 30th birthday to file a civil lawsuit. In New Jersey, there is no set date. Rather, minors have 2 years from the date they reasonably discovered the effects of the abuse and their relationship to the actual abuse.

Financial Compensation for Victims of Sexual Abuse by a Professional

Victims of sex abuse and assault by a professional may make claims for financial compensation, which often include pain and suffering. Compensation for pain and suffering is not determined according to a set formula. Rather, the amount of compensation depends on the how the individual is affected, i.e., how the abuse affected their personal lives, relationships, ability to work, etc.

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