According to a June 2020 article in the Los Angeles Times, “U.S. Roman Catholic bishops said …that the church tallied 4,434 sex abuse allegations against clergy in the 2018-19 audit year, triple the number seen the previous year, with much of the increase stemming from a wave of lawsuits and claims by survivors of decades-old molestation.” It is important to recognize that abuse is not limited to one specific faith.
If you or someone you love has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted religious figure, contact the clergy sexual abuse lawyer at Gilleon Law Firm at (800) 408-2857
Clergy Sexual Abuse in California
It Happens Here
Members of the clergy are responsible for counseling, educating, and advising those whom they serve. They tend to be highly regarded as responsible, committed, and honest individuals — people who are dedicated to good. Our clergy sexual abuse lawyer knows that, unfortunately, this is not always the case. They do not always act appropriately. At times their behavior has been known to be dangerous and even illegal. Sadly, many are sexual predators.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse by members of the clergy happens everywhere. California is no exception. Bishopaccountability.org, a “public library of information on the Catholic clergy abuse crisis,” provides the names of clergy members, by state, who have been accused of abuse. Additionally, they include a list of Diocese where the publicly accused priests have worked.
California’s government has recognized the severity of this issue. In response to their increased awareness, the state investigates individuals’ claims. The Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s office have even developed an online submission form to report incidents of abuse.
Historically, the church’s response to these claims has not been particularly appropriate. They have adopted a mode of self-preservation, often reassigning accused clergy to different parishes as opposed to reporting them to law enforcement. This “relocation” actually provides these predators with access to a host of new and unsuspecting potential victims.
Most Cases of Sexual Abuse by Clergy Are Not Reported
It should come as no surprise that most cases of sexual abuse go unreported. This is especially true where a clergy member is the perpetrator. Reasons why include:
- Fear: Quite often abusers threaten their victims in order to prevent them from reporting their experiences. Members of the clergy may state that “nobody will believe you” or “this is all your fault,” and the victims believe everything they say. Thus, they remain quiet, often not even telling their family members, much less law enforcement.
- Trust: In many cases of sexual abuse, including clergy sexual abuse, the victims trust their accusers. Quite often, the victim may be a child who may not understand that the actions taken were abusive. Even adults who are abused may hesitate to report incidents where the abuser is such a respected member of the community.
- Cover-Ups: For years the Catholic Church has hidden the reported sexual abuse of children. In doing so, they prioritized their reputation over the health and well-being of those they profess to serve. After some individuals shared their stories, a flood of additional reports began to surface. Unfortunately, individual parishes and places of worship continue to cover-up accusations in an attempt to protect their reputations.
Those who have survived sexual abuse by clergy deserve justice, and the state of California agrees. Under California law, if you have experienced sexual abuse, you can sue both your abuser and the organizations that enabled it to occur.
Understanding Clergy Sexual Abuse
Clergy Sexual Abuse Definition
The definition of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct is broad-based; it is comprised of a variety of inappropriate and illegal behaviors. They leverage their power and reputation to take advantage of others.
Inappropriate behavior by members of the clergy can be described as sexual misconduct or as sexual abuse.
Sexual misconduct occurs when a clergy member behaves in a sexual manner towards\ another individual, one who is assumed to have less power (a parishioner, someone in a lower position or even a child). One example of misconduct is when a member of the clergy asks someone in their parish or congregation to go on a date.
Sexual abuse occurs when there is sexual conduct between a member of the clergy and another individual, regardless of their age. RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States, says, “Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child.” While many instances of abuse do involve touching (like fondling and sexual intercourse), other actions (like exposing oneself or encouraging a minor to masturbate in front of an adult) are also classified as sexual abuse.
Frequently Asked Questions about Clergy Sexual Abuse
Our Clergy Abuse Lawyers Provide Answers
Questions regarding sexual abuse by members of the clergy are often raised in whispers. Those who have been abused, and their family members, suffer greatly; they are often embarrassed and humiliated. Below are some of the questions we are asked most often, along with answers provided by our church sexual abuse lawyer.
My child was abused by a member of the clergy. Can I sue?
What actions are considered sexual abuse?
How long will the legal process take in a clergy sexual abuse case?
How long do I have to file a sexual abuse claim against a member of the clergy in California?
Is clergy sexual abuse limited to the Catholic Church?
Pursuing Justice for Yourself and Those You Love
Contact a Church Sexual Abuse Lawyer
If you or someone you love was sexually abused by a member of the clergy, you may be able to file suit. Your first step, however, should be to notify the police. Reporting important details with them (while keeping a copy for yourself) can be helpful in the future.
The attorneys at Gilleon Law Firm are well-versed in handling cases of sexual abuse by church staff and clergy and can help determine the best course of action for your specific situation. While we cannot truly understand your pain, we do know that what happened was not your fault; and there are no circumstances under which it would be. We are raised to revere our religious leaders, and it is unconscionable that they would take advantage of that respect and abuse those they have vowed to serve.
Our firm has a reputation for being empathetic and caring in client interactions, yet aggressive in pursuing justice on their behalf. The physical and emotional scars of sexual abuse run deep. We cannot state our position more strongly: behavior like this is inexcusable.
Understanding the Interaction
When referring to incidents with the clergy, the terms “sexual assault” and “sexual abuse” are often incorrectly used. They are not interchangeable. That said, the differences are subtle and are important to understand.
If the experience of clergy abuse suffered by you or your loved one was a single, violent act (like rape), it would be deemed a sexual assault.
Inappropriate interactions between adults and children involving repeated sexual behavior (penetration, fondling, oral sex, exhibitionism, etc.) are classified as sexual abuse.
All victims deserve restitution. These actions are not only unacceptable — they are evil. Their effects can last a lifetime.
Who Are the Victims?
Minor children (those under 18, the age of consent) have been widely reported as victims of clergy sexual abuse. They don’t always understand what is right and what is wrong. They can be easily manipulated and convinced to keep a secret.
However, children are not the only ones abused — adults are too. Some don’t even realize that they have been manipulated. As a society, we are so conditioned to respect our clergy that we follow their direction, regardless of the cost. Finally, many of those who do realize they have been abused are hesitant to report it. They doubt they will be believed and are afraid of their community’s reaction.
It is critical to understand that gender does not determine whether or not you can be a victim. Both boys and girls, men and women, have been the target of sexual abuse by their spiritual leaders.
Proving Your Case of Sexual Abuse by Clergy
To be awarded a settlement, you must prove your case. Because you are pursuing a civil suit, we need to show by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the abuse occurred.
In cases where physical evidence is available, we would provide that to the court. However, this is not always possible, especially because many victims take years to process their experience and come forward.
We will also leverage the victim’s testimony, meaning he or she can describe their experience and the impact it has had. Finally, mental health professionals who provide treatment to the victims may also be asked to testify.
When it comes to clergy sexual abuse cases, the truth is incredibly powerful.
Sharing your story in court and pursuing justice is brave, and it helps to stop the horrific cycle of clergy sexual abuse.
Clergy Sexual Abuse Settlements
Should you file a civil suit against the individual and/or organization you hold responsible for sexually abusing you or your child, damages may be awarded. They can be categorized as economic, non-economic, and punitive.
- Economic Damages: These tend to be easier to calculate and include monies for medical treatment, counseling, therapy, and even lost wages should you not be able to work as a result of this horrific experience.
- Non-Economic Damages: These damages are more difficult to quantify as they are subjective. They include mental anguish and pain and suffering, all very real in cases of sexual abuse.
- Punitive Damages: These fines are levied when it is determined that the defendant acted with particular malice toward another. In California, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the offender and to serve as a deterrent for future crimes.
The church sexual abuse lawyer at Gilleon Law Firm is proud to advocate for sexual abuse victims. We will work tenaciously on your behalf, helping you receive the best possible settlement.