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Child Sexual Abuse: It’s Never Too Late to Speak Out

There are a number of risk factors that make an individual more likely to become involved in criminal activity and end up in jail. Some risk factors for criminal behavior include poor performance in school, dropping out of school, drug and alcohol abuse, rejection by peers, verbal/physical/sexual abuse by parents or caregivers, poor parenting, negative sibling influence, and poor self-regulating behavior, interpersonal, and social skills.

Of particular risk are those children who enter the foster care system. Research by the Juvenile Law Center found that youth placed in group homes are 2.5 times more likely to become involved in criminal activities and worse yet, 90% of youth with five or more foster care placements will enter the justice system. These are somber statistics especially since these children have already experienced the loss of their family and have few if any long-term relationships.

If you combine these factors, along with the fact that roughly 20,000 young people age out of the U.S. foster care each year, often left on their own and vulnerable, without familial or other adult support, the Juvenile Law Center notes that these children are set up to fail.

Sadly, one of the things we see in our law practice at Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC (PCVA), is that abuse often goes unspoken for years. And child sexual abuse is unfortunately something too many people have experienced.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, and every nine minutes, that victim is a child, yet only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison. But one in 20 men in prison admit that they were abused before the age of 18. More needs to be done to hold perpetrators accountable for the impact their actions have on the victims.

Incidents of child sexual abuse can occur in any setting where predators are able to gain the trust of their child victims. And too often, these victims never speak out, harboring the effects of this abuse for the rest of their lives. Victims of sexual abuse have significant increases in their risk for suicide, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Just because an incident occurred 20 or more years ago, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a path to justice.

A sad example of what can happen to our most vulnerable children is the Kiwanis Vocational Home (KVH). KVH closed in the 1990s, but unfortunately, through its nearly 20 years of operation, the number of young boys victimized is staggering.

What was supposed to be a safe place for boys, who had already suffered trauma in their homes, where they were protected, was instead a breeding ground for emotional, sexual and physical abuse. The state of Washington had a duty to protect these boys and they did not.

The state of Washington received numerous reports of improper activities at KVH, but they maintained its license and in fact increased the number of boys they were able to care for and the level of care they were able to provide. Employees did not meet the state minimum qualifications for their positions and despite receiving additional funding for specialized care, no treatment or counseling was offered to residents and education opportunities were limited. These boys were not offered any chance for success in adulthood.

It was not until financial improprieties were discovered that the home was scrutinized and shut down. In addition to the abuse these boys suffered at the hands of staff and fellow residents, KVH residents were living in squalor and filth, while the money provided for their care was instead used for personal gain by the management of the home.

Along with my colleagues at PCVA, over six years we helped more than 70 victims of KVH secure more than $30 million in settlements. These settlements do not take away the pain, but hopefully the process helps clients move closer to healing.

Sadly, the victims of KVH are not alone. In recent years the news has been flooded with cases against the Catholic Church (and its various religious orders), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church), the Boy Scouts of America, and the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). In addition to helping victims of these groups, PCVA has also successfully taken on the Green Hill School, J-Bar D Ranch, Jessie Dyslin Boys’ Ranch, Maple Lane School, O.K. Boys Ranch, Secret Harbor, Toutle River Boys Ranch, and state-licensed foster homes.

Five things victims of child sexual abuse need to know:

• You may still have a claim even if you never reported the abuse.

• Many states have exceptions to the Statute of Limitations that are victim friendly.

• It is normal not to remember every detail about what happened – this does not bar your claim.

• Anything you say to your lawyer is confidential and nothing will be made public.

• You are not alone. 


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