An alarming number of minors experience sexual assault. They are harmed by family members, counselors, coaches, doctors, and teachers. They might even be abused by friends who are themselves, teens. Sometimes, the assault is part of a hazing ritual, whereas other incidents occur in school or the doctor’s office. What can you do if you know your child has been sexually assaulted?
In Georgia, sexual assault is both a crime and a civil wrong called a tort. Although assault victims can sue for compensation, certain legal issues arise when a child is the victim. Contact Steward Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys today. We can walk you through the steps for either negotiating a settlement or filing a lawsuit and help you collect relevant evidence to use. This is a stressful time, and you need an experienced legal advocate to help.
Where Children Experience Sexual Assault
- Around 90% of children know their abuser, whereas only 10% are assaulted by strangers.
- About 30% of child victims are abused by family members.
- Younger children are more likely to be abused by a family member—roughly 50%, compared to 23% for those between 12 and 17.
Children can experience sexual assault wherever they spend a considerable amount of time, including:
- Friend’s house
- Extracurricular events
Some children will report being abused, whereas others might be too afraid. Many parents first suspect something is wrong when they notice physical signs, such as sexually transmitted diseases or bleeding around the genitals, or else they become suspicious of the attention an adult is giving their children.
What to Do if You Suspect Sexual Abuse or Assault
Parents who suspect sexual abuse are often unsure of what to do. They might be shocked, especially if a child identifies a family member or friend as an abuser. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network recommends the following steps:
Stay calm, no matter how shocked you are.
- Reassure your child that you believe them and that they are not to blame. Some children feel guilt, possibly because their abuser told them not to tell anyone.
- Report the abuse to the authorities and keep your child away from the abuser. This might mean taking your child out of daycare or transferring schools.
- Have a medical exam done with an expert in child sexual abuse. A doctor unfamiliar with child sexual abuse might be too intrusive.
- Reassure your child that you love them.
- Schedule a visit with a mental health counselor so your child can speak with a professional about their emotions.
The Settlement Process
What happens if you know someone has abused your child? Helpfully, under Georgia law, you can seek compensation for your child. You do not have to wait for a criminal trial to conclude (although that sometimes makes sense). You also have a lower burden of proof. Instead of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” you only need to prove it is more likely than not that the defendant assaulted your child.
Some sexual assault cases settle without going to trial. For example, you might sue your child’s summer camp if a counselor molested your son or daughter. The camp might ultimately settle to avoid a lengthy lawsuit.
Because your child is younger than 18, there are certain rules you must follow. According to Georgia Code § 29-3-3, a child’s parent or guardian can negotiate a settlement if the amount is $25,000 or less without needing to be named conservator. Parents can also receive the settlement for the child’s benefit.
If parents are seeking more than $25,000, then the court gets more involved. For example, parents will need to submit the settlement to the judge for approval if it is more than $25,000 (but less after attorney’s fees are deducted). A judge will need to decide whether to approve the settlement before you can actually receive compensation.
If the settlement is more than $25,000 even after deducting attorneys’ fees, the law says a judge shall appoint a conservator who shall have the right to settle the claim. The conservator will also receive payment and hold it for the minor’s benefit. According to Section 29-3-7, the court will appoint as conservator the person who can best serve the child’s interests.
Essentially, the law does not assume that parents will always seek to maximize their child’s settlement. For that reason, the court gets more involved.
Holding Funds for Your Child
A settlement for sexual assault will have different components. Parents probably paid for medical care, mental health counseling, and other economic costs. As parents, you probably also took time off from work, which cost your family money. Parents can receive compensation for these economic losses in a settlement. Talk with your attorney.
However, compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and similar losses belongs to your child—not to you, the parents. For this reason, parents cannot simply spend this money. In many cases, the funds get deposited into a low-risk trust account, where they are held until your child reaches adulthood.
Children Cannot File their Own Lawsuits
Nobody younger than 18 can file a personal injury lawsuit in court. However, that doesn’t mean you need to wait until your child is an adult before seeking compensation. Instead, a parent or legal guardian can file the lawsuit on the child’s behalf. The parents can also seek compensation for their own losses tied to the sexual assault.
You should work closely with an attorney who has experience with child injury claims. Your attorney can make sure that negotiations and litigation comply with the law. Your attorney is also an excellent resource later when your child wants to gain access to their settlement proceeds.
Contact Our Atlanta Sexual Assault Lawyer
In many situations, a civil lawsuit is the only way to seek justice. You may sue the abuser personally and/or the person’s employer, if your child was abused at school, camp, daycare, or another business. Call Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys at (404) 529-3476.