Question: Can a victim of sexual abuse press charges against the abuser?
A: The decision to report child molestation and press criminal charges, no matter how long ago, is a deeply personal one. Many victims are simply unaware of their legal rights and more importantly, what happens when a police report is made.
After a child sex crime is reported to the local law enforcement agency, the victim will be interviewed by members of the local police department’s sex crimes division. Officers and detectives in sex crimes divisions of nearly every police department are specially trained to handle these types of cases. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, sex crimes detectives are especially sensitive to the needs and concerns of sex crime victims.
The Pennsylvania statute of limitations for criminal cases of child sex abuse is the victim’s 50th birthday. Therefore, there is a large window of time within which a criminal case may be filed. So long as the statute of limitations has not expired, the detectives will begin investigating the evidence and the defendant or perpetrator. The victim may be called back for further interviews. Detectives and eventually a prosecutor will review the history, the nature of the abuse, the current age of the victim and the age of the victim when the abuse occurred to determine whether a case should be prosecuted.
One of the key issues in older cases of child sex abuse is the laws which existed at the time of the acts. If the child sex abuse occurred 20 years ago, the laws back then will apply to the case; not current laws. Laws change and definitions of criminal behavior change as well. What is considered criminal now may not have been criminal 10 or 20 years ago. Therefore, an older child molestation criminal case may not be pursued because the laws as they were written years ago will not result in a conviction.
Once a case is accepted for prosecution, the defendant will be arrested and then processed through the criminal courts. He or she may be released on bail, depending on the circumstances. There will be a preliminary hearing, and the victim may have to testify. Then, the case will proceed in the criminal justice system for resolution, either by trial or plea. The vast majority of cases end in a plea. For more information, order a free copy of the Pennsylvania Crime Victim’s Handbook which explains the ins and outs of both the criminal and civil justice system.
Filing Civil Sex Abuse Cases in PA or NJ
Criminal cases are not the only avenue of justice for victims of child sex abuse, assault or molestation. Victims may be able to pursue a civil case against the perpetrator. In addition, others who unreasonably failed to prevent or stop the abuse may also be held liable. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, civil justice cases in child molestation cases often lead to financial compensation for the victims. It is important to note that in Pennsylvania, the civil statute of limitations is the victim’s 30th birthday (this applies for cases of child molestation which occurred after 2002 to the present). Read more about statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases in PA and NJ.
Related Legal Articles:
- The Statute of Limitations in Child Sex Abuse Civil Cases in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
- School Sex Abuse & Civil Justice in PA and NJ – Who Can Be Held Liable?
If you or a loved one has been a victim of sex abuse, contact Brian Kent, an experienced sex abuse victims’ civil lawyer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Mr. Kent handles child molestation, sexual assault, sex abuse, and priest/clergy abuse cases in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He works with attorneys nationwide and can be admitted in other states to handle matters on a case by case basis. 800.220.7600
**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.
Last updated: November 1, 2014