Every 2.5 minutes, someone in America is sexually assaulted. Approximately 75 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. In many cases, perpetrators take advantage of their roles in institutions to prey on their victims. Most sexual assaults with victims in vulnerable populations (children, disabled, elderly) are perpetrated by individuals who are employees or agents of facilities entrusted with the victims’ well-being.
Sexual crimes often go unreported and even when they are reported, the perpetrators regularly evade conviction. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network estimates that for every 1,000 assaults, 627 are reported to police, 225 of those reports lead to arrest, 105 of those cases are referred to prosecutors and only 41 will lead to a felony conviction. For many reasons, these numbers are more disparate when the sexual assault is institutional.
The criminal justice system often leaves victims to suffer without any sense of justice and perpetrators free to commit further assaults. If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual abuse, assault or rape, you may be eligible to pursue a civil lawsuit. In many instances, the civil route can make up for the failures of the criminal justice system. Even if the perpetrator was not found guilty criminally, victims may be able to obtain justice and financial compensation civilly.
What is Institutional Sexual Assault/Abuse?
According to Pennsylvania state law, institutional sexual assault occurs when a perpetrator “engages in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse, or indecent contact with an inmate, detainee, patient or resident.” The assailant must be an employee or agent of the institution and must be aware that the victim is an “inmate, detainee, patient, or resident.” These institutions may include:
- Sports organizations
- Treatment centers
- Day care facilities
- Summer camps
- Senior centers
Institutional sexual assault is deservedly identified as its own crime. The perpetrators of these crimes manipulate and betray the trust of victims while using their role in the institution to intimidate those willing to come forward and shield themselves from criminal prosecution.
Sexual assault of all kinds frequently goes unreported for a multitude of reasons. The victim may feel shame about the incident. He or she may worry about being blamed or not being believed. He or she may fear retaliation or social rejection. With institutional sexual assault, these concerns are magnified.
Men and women who commit institutional sexual assault are predators. They frequently engage in “grooming,” building trust with the community to gain time alone with their victims and maintain a good reputation. These predators are often known to and trusted by close friends and families of their victims. To others, predators can seem loving and caring toward their victims.
An abuser’s ability to commit institutional sexual assault is dependent upon building a position of trust and authority that he or she can exploit. Reporting of this crime is so disproportionately low because the perpetrators work hard to manipulate the perception of those in the community to reduce the likelihood of being detected and discredit any victims who step forward. Other agents may act out against victims to protect the image of the institution.
Victims of sexual assault are not to blame and should not be forced to suffer silently. Those who commit sexual assault should not be able to hide behind an institution. The attorneys at Rehmeyer & Allatt will help guide you through the process of filing a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator and the institution in pursuit of the justice you deserve.
Why Pursue A Civil Suit?
Individuals who commit sexual assault and other sex crimes are infrequently held criminally responsible for their actions. Predators strive to avoid detection; therefore, there are few cases where a third party has witnessed the assailant’s heinous acts. Crimes of this nature do not always produce DNA evidence as in a rape kit. Even if a rape has occurred, the victim may be too afraid or confused to report the incident during the short window in which DNA evidence may be recovered. Furthermore, the perpetrator has the burden of proof on his or her side.
In civil trials, the burden of proof is a “preponderance of the evidence.” Members of the jury must be 51 percent sure that the defendant has committed the assault, abuse, rape, etc. to decide in favor of the victim or victims. The word of a victim can and has been enough to convince jury members that the account is more likely true than not, even in the absence of DNA evidence and eyewitness testimony.
It is possible and even likely that justice has eluded victims who have come forward and reported sexual abuse, sexual assault or rape. Criminal trials can quickly boil down to a case of “he said, she said,” and that may be insufficient in proving a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil trials are a viable option for victims hoping to hold the wrongdoer and the institution responsible for their pain, suffering and mental trauma.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of an institutional sexual assault or rape, contact attorney Andrew Rehmeyer at 814-343-0453 for a free consultation today. As compassionate and experienced attorneys, the team at Rehmeyer & Allatt will work diligently to reduce the burden on the families and victims of institutional sexual assault and get you the compensation you deserve.
For additional resources for survivors of sexual assault, please reference this page.