Reports of sex abuse by people in positions of power have increased in the last 10 years. As sex abuse victims lawyers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, we have seen the number of lawsuits for sex abuse increase year after year. Molestation, rape and sexual assault are perpetrated by all walks of life, even religious figures. Religious organizations such as churches, youth ministry groups and even religious schools are not immune from sex abuse scandals.
For example, a religious pre-school in New Jersey is under investigation for sex abuse of young children by a school employee. See ReJoyce Christian Pre-School in Hainesport, NJ Investigated for Child Sex Abuse, January 25, 2017. Our law firm is handling a civil investigation on behalf of parents, and the Hainesport police department is handling the criminal case. The case was featured by several local news stations. http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/real-time/S-Jersey-Christian-preschool-St-Pauls-Evangelical-Lutheran-Church-Rejoyce-Hainesport-teacher-aide-suspended-allegations-sex-abuse.html, February 17, 2017.
Sex Assault or Abuse by Religious Figures
Priests, pastors and other religious figures such as parochial school teachers, may commit sexual assault or abuse. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, there have been several large-scale scandals. Both involved the Catholic Church and allegations of widespread sexual abuse by priests and other church employees.
Currently, in Pennsylvania, several dioceses are under investigation for extensive cover-ups. The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, for example, faced allegations that hundreds of children were abused over a period of 50+ years by dozens of church employees. Most of the cases are simply too old to pursue criminal charges or file civil lawsuits, given Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.
Early this year in New Jersey, authorities began investigating a former church employee for sexually assaulting a minor. Essex County law enforcement arrested a 42 year old man after he allegedly sent sexually explicit photos to an undercover agent posing as a 13 year old boy. Additional charges relating to other boys are expected.
Civil Legal Rights – Filing a Lawsuit for Sex Abuse or Assault in Pennsylvania or New Jersey
Whether it’s sex abuse by a priest over the course of months or an isolated sexual assault by a church employee, victims of crime in Pennsylvania and New Jersey often have valid legal claims. In a civil lawsuit, a victim (plaintiff) can seek justice by way of financial compensation from the direct perpetrator.
In addition, other parties (indirect perpetrators) may be liable. A church or school could be liable under two scenarios. First, is there evidence that other employees or agents had direct knowledge of the abuse or assault but did nothing, thus allowing subsequent acts of abuse or assault to happen? Under this scenario, a religious organization may be liable for having received prior reports of actual assault or abuse. For example, a parent files a report that their child claims a pastor molested them. The church leader does nothing and sweeps the report under the rug. Months later, another child is abused by the same pastor.
Second, is there evidence that employees or agents should have known about the abuse or assault previously? In other words, did church employees/agents receive prior reports of misconduct? Under this scenario, liability is premised on having received prior reports of other acts, not necessarily acts of abuse or assault. For example, did church employees receive prior reports that the perpetrator was seen alone with the child under suspicious circumstances, spending too much time with the child while alone or buying the child expensive gifts, in violation of policy? While these acts aren’t direct knowledge of abuse, they certainly should trigger appropriate responses. If none were taken, the organization could be held liable.
Financial Compensation Claims Under Pennsylvania and New Jersey Law
In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, victims of sex assault or abuse have the legal right to seek financial compensation from both the direct perpetrator and any indirect perpetrators, i.e., church organizations, schools and even medical facilities like hospitals as discussed above.
Claims for financial compensation in sex assault or abuse lawsuits usually include:
- medical expenses, if any,
- mental health counseling treatment costs, and
- pain and suffering.
In addition, many sex abuse or assault lawsuits include claims for punitive damages, which are designed to punish a party for especially egregious conduct. The laws in both PA and NJ permit punitive damages awards when the conduct indicates a reckless indifference to the health and safety of others. In sex abuse lawsuits, the conduct of both the direct and indirect perpetrators almost always meets this legal standard.
Financial compensation is often obtained without having to go to trial. About 90% of all civil lawsuits end in a settlement, before trial ever occurs. Courts in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey strongly urge parties to settle matters without going to trial. Learn more about settlement valuation in sex abuse or assault lawsuits.
Sex Assault & Abuse Lawyers for Victims in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
If you or a loved one was sexually assaulted or abused by a priest, pastor or other church member, please contact our firm for a free consultation. Firm founder Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who is passionate about obtaining justice for victims. The firm has offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call 215.399.9255 or 609.223.8900.
**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.