Sexual assault lawsuits have gained much-needed attention over the past few years. This national attention has resulted from the civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions of members of the clergy, Boy Scouts, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Cosby, Steve Wynn, Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar, Jerry Sandusky, and George Tyndall.
Our law firm pursues compensation for victims of sexual abuse. We handle sexual abuse, assault, and harassment cases that occur from the church, employment, school, athletics, high-profile individuals, and organized social activities.
We have been handling lawsuits against the most powerful individuals and companies in America since 1955. We are listed in Best Lawyers in America and The National Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame.
What is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is defined as rape, attempted rape, or sexually touching any part of another person's body, even through clothes, without that person's consent.
In the U.S., what legally qualifies as sexual assault differs among the states. In most states, however, sexual assault takes place when one of the individuals to the sexual encounter does not give consent, is coerced, is incapacitated, or is underage.
Under most state laws, consent can be withdrawn at any time during a sexual act. Since 1993, all fifty states and the District of Columbia have laws making marital rape a crime.
While a man or a woman can be the victim of sexual assault, the overwhelming majority of victims are women, and adolescent boys and girls.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) provides a comprehensive list of the sources available to sexual assault survivors and their loved ones.
What is Forcible Rape?
Forcible rape is the act of using physical means to force another person into performing a sexual act without consent. Nearly 20% of women report having been forcibly raped during their lifetime. In 80% of those cases, the rape occurred before the victim was 25 years of age. Sexual violence is the most frequent crime committed on college campuses. Yet, only 20% of these assaults are reported.
Approximately 2% of males have been victims of forcible rape. Almost 30% of male victims were raped as children. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that minority women (African-American, Hispanic, and Native American) are more likely to be victims of forcible rape than Caucasian women.
As of 2010, FBI statistics showed that a forcible rape was committed in the U.S. every six minutes. In 2016, there were 95,730 cases of forcible rape reported to law enforcement. Yet, according to the CDC, only half of forcible rapes are ever reported. In the reported cases, only 25% of the perpetrators were arrested. In most cases, accused rapists were not prosecuted or convicted.
One reason for the low reporting and prosecution rate is that women are more likely to be forcibly raped by an acquaintance, such as a dating partner, former lover, other intimate partner, or even a spouse, rather than a random stranger.
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult or an adolescent forces, pressures, or manipulates a child for the purposes of sexual gratification. Child sexual abuse takes numerous forms, including:
- forcible rape
- using psychological pressure or coercion on a child for the purpose of sexual gratification
- exposing oneself to a child or showing her/him pornographic images
- viewing or photographing a child in a sexual context (known as child pornography)
The affect on a child emotionally is devastating and likely to last a lifetime, especially when the perpetrator is a parent, relative, or other trusted adult. Victims struggle with depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety disorders throughout their lives. A few of these children grow up to be abusers themselves.
Sadly, most cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by parents, older siblings, relatives, or a family acquaintance. Such abuse also occurs within religious and social organizations, primarily because the abuser – such as a priest, Boy Scout leader, camp counselor – has great authority and admiration.
Most incidents of child sexual abuse are not reported because a child is too young to understand what has been done, is confused, or has been threatened or bribed by the perpetrator.
In several states, sexual behavior between school personnel and students is considered a criminal act, even if the student is at or over the legal age of consent. A few states, such as Washington, prohibit any sexual contact between a teacher and a former student until three years have passed since graduation.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is considered a form of bullying, committed by a person who has economic or social power over the victim. This includes an employer, manager, supervisor, professor, and any other person in a position of authority.
An offhand comment, occasional flirting, or a one-time incident generally does not constitute sexual harassment. Such behavior, however, crosses the line when it becomes a regular occurrence and is severe enough to create a hostile environment in the workplace, school, or military. This is especially true when the victim's response can affect her/his position (for example, the victim is threatened with dismissal or denied a promotion or pay raise).
Under U.S. federal law, sexual harassment in the workplace is considered a form of discrimination. Such behavior falls under one of two categories:
- Quid pro quo: the employee is required to submit or tolerate unwelcome sexual advances as a condition of employment or advancement.
- Creation of a hostile work environment: the perpetrator's behavior interferes with an employee's ability to perform her/his duties and/or causes tension or stress in the workplace.
The first court case involving sexual harassment was Barnes v. Train. This was a civil lawsuit brought in 1974 in which the plaintiff alleged she was dismissed from her job for refusing her employer's sexual advances.
Initially, the court ruled the plaintiff was not protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, three years later, an appellate court ruled the situation would not have existed if the employee had not been a woman. This set a legal precedent that has given victims of sexual harassment a cause of action in order to seek legal remedies.
The term “sexual harassment” was first used in 1975 by Lin Farley, who began studying the phenomenon while teaching a course to women at Cornell University. She found that every student in her class had either left or lost their jobs because of sexual advances by male colleagues. While giving testimony before the New York City Human Rights Commission, she defined the term as “unwanted sexual advances against women employees by male supervisors, bosses, foremen or managers.”
By way of example, she added, "It often means that a woman is hired because she is pretty, regardless of her qualifications; that a woman's job security is eternally dependent on how well she pleases her boss, and he often thinks sexual companionship is part of the job description; and that women are fired because they have aged or they are too independent or they say 'no' to sexual byplay."
Ultimately, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recognized sexual harassment as a violation of the Civil Rights Act under Title VII. This part of the law was updated in 1991, giving victims greater power to bring lawsuits and seek compensation. A number of court cases that followed set additional standards covering damages for psychological injuries, same-sex harassment, the use of pornography, and liability of a company for the conduct of its employees.
Sexual harassment in an academic setting comes under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Three significant Supreme Court rulings established the current law:
- Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser: In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that schools can legally administer discipline to students who employ “obscene, profane language or gestures” that are deemed to be interfering with the learning process.
- Franklin v. Gwinnet County Public Schools: This 1992 decision cleared the way for students to sue when sexually harassed by an instructor.
- Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education: In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled that a school could be held liable for a student's bullying or harassing behavior toward peers if administrators were aware of the situation and deliberately failed to take action.
In 1997, the U.S. Department of Education issued regulations that hold school districts liable for sexual harassment by employees who take advantage of their position and authority in order to engage in such behavior.
What is Elder Abuse?
The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action (i.e., neglect), occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
Sexual assault against elderly people usually takes place in a nursing home or other elder care facility and is committed by caretakers. Victims are usually impaired or suffer from a disability and are unable to resist or understand what is happening. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in November 2015, approximately 10% of people over the age of 65 have been victims of abuse in some way. The number of elders who have been sexually assaulted is not precisely known, but estimates indicate that less than a third of such sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement agencies.
|Signs of Potential Elder Sexual Abuse|
|altered mood||unusual agitation|
|post-traumatic stress disorder||withdrawal|
|unexplained panic attacks||unexplained bleeding or bruising|
|unusual vaginal tearing or other pelvic injury||sexually transmitted disease or other infection|
What is Groping?
Groping is the touching and/or fondling of a person in a sexual manner through or under clothing without a person's consent. With women, it's the genitals, breasts, buttocks, and thighs most often groped. With men, it's the buttocks, penis, and testicles most often groped. A groper may also press or rub part of his/her body against the victim.
The term groping refers to behavior ranging from patting the buttocks to grabbing the genitals as well as frotteurism. Laws criminalizing groping exist throughout the U.S., though the severity of the crime varies from state to state. Generally, it is considered to be a form of sexual battery or assault.
Sexual Abuse Prosecutions and Settlements
Victims of sexual assault have finally started to see their perpetrators face justice. Sexual predators are now being prosecuted, and victims compensated. The national attention hopefully will lead to changes that will help prevent future abuse from occurring. Below are some of the recent accomplishments.
Catholic Dioceses -- Catholic dioceses have paid more than $3.8 billion to settle claims of more than 8,600 victims of sexual assault by members of the Catholic clergy. Over many decades, priests and lay members of religious orders within the Roman Catholic Church sexually abused children.
Rather than report the abuse to law enforcement, the Catholic Church reassigned the perpetrators to other parishes where they were able to continue contact with youth. Read the 887 page Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on the horrific abuse that occurred for decades by more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania. Grand Jury Priest Abuse Report.
Jeffrey Epstein -- On July 6, 2019, Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New York and charged by federal prosecutors with engaging in sexual trafficking of minors in which he paid girls as young as 14 to have sex with him at his Upper East Side home and his estate in Palm Beach.
In 2008, Epstein entered a non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors in Miami involving similar allegations of sexual trafficking of minors. Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges and served just 13 months in prison. While in prison, he was permitted to leave the prison 6-days per week for up to 12-hours per day to attend to his businesses.
University of Southern California -- On May 29, 2018, the Los Angeles Police Department began investigating complaints from 52 women who were patients of Dr. George Tyndall. Dr. Tyndall was a gynecologist at the University of Southern California (USC) for 26 years.
Law enforcement stated that the gynecological exams conducted by Tyndall went beyond normal and acceptable medical practice. The Los Angeles police are working with prosecutors to determine what crimes were committed by Tyndall. Tyndall examined more than 10,000 students at USC during the period 1990 through 2016.
In 2016, Cindy Gilbert, a senior nurse, reported Tyndall to USC's rape crisis center. A few days later, she discovered photographs of patients' genitalia in Tyndall's office. The photographs went back as far as the 1990s.
On October 19, 2018, USC announced that it agreed to a $215 million settlement in a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of women treated by George Tyndall during his tenure at USC.
Harvey Weinstein -- On May 25, 2018, entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein was arrested in New York, and charged with rape, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct. The criminal charges arise from the statements of two women. More than 80 women, however, have come forward and accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and/or rape. The lead prosecutor in the case, Joan Illuzzi, has stated "that [Weinstein] used his money, power and position to lure young women into situations where he was able to violate them sexually.”
Michigan State University -- On May 16, 2018, Michigan State University (MSU) reached a $500 million settlement with 332 victims of Larry Nassar. Nassar sexually assaulted women in his role as a USA Gymnastics national team doctor and as an osteopathic physician at MSU. This settlement covers women abused by Nassar, even women who have not yet come forward to tell their stories. Additionally, victims of Nassar still have claims against U.S.A. Gymnastics, the United States Olympic Committee, and others.
Bill Cosby -- On April 26, 2018, entertainer Bill Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. During trial, six witnesses testified how Cosby drugged them in situations that occurred from the early 1980s until 2004. More than 60 women have come forward to describe similar behavior Cosby forced on them.
Larry Nassar -- As of February 2018, Larry Nassar has plead guilty to 10 counts of sexual assault on a minor. He has been sentenced to 300 years in prison. Nassar's sexual assaults occurred as part of his roles with USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. He has been accused of molesting at least 250 young women and 1 young man, including many of the top female Olympic gymnasts. When Nassar was arrested in December 2016, law enforcement found 37,000 images of child pornography and a video of Nassar molesting underage girls.
Penn State University -- As of November 2017, Penn State University had paid $100 million in settlements because of Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting more than 30 boys over a 15 year period. These sexual assaults occurred in part because of privileges and access Sandusky received as an assistant football coach at Penn State. The university also paid a $60 million fine to the N.C.A.A. Additionally, three Penn State school officials (school president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, and athletic director Tim Curley) were charged with perjury, obstruction of justice, and failure to report suspected child abuse.
Jerry Sandusky -- On June 22, 2012, Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University, was found guilty of eight counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, seven counts of indecent assault, one count of criminal intent to commit indecent assault, and nine counts of unlawful contact with minors. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Sandusky had been charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse of young boys during the period 1994 to 2009. He met his victims through The Second Mile, a non-profit charity he founded that served Pennsylvania's underprivileged and at-risk youth.
Boy Scouts of America -- In April 2010, an Oregon jury awarded $18.5 million to a thirty-eight-year-old man who was sexually abused by his volunteer scout leader when he was 12. The evidence showed the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) knew assistant Scoutmaster Timur Dykes had abused children but allowed him to remain as a volunteer and to have continued contact with adolescents.
As part of the trial, it was revealed that in the 1920s BSA implemented an internal “Red Flag” system to identify Scout Leaders considered “ineligible” to hold positions as Scout Leaders. Documents involving individuals suspected of child sexual abuse were kept secret and became part of the BSA’s “Perversion Files.” BSA identified many thousands of BSA scout leaders who were placed in the Perversion Files as potential pedophiles. Yet, many of these were allowed continued access to boy scouts.