Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
Shubin Law has provided legal representation to victims in the case of Coach Sandusky of Penn State, successfully representing them in a civil case against the university. His work has been featured in the documentary Happy Valley. The troubling cases stemming from the sexual assault of multiple victims has led to major changes in Pennsylvania law with the intent to prevent the incidence of institutional sexual assault.
Attorney Andrew Shubin knows first-hand how to work with victims of abuse in these cases where witnesses are reliving experiences and traumas that go many years back and where there has been great indifference to the emotional pain and loss of victims. If there is anything that can be learned from the Sandusky case is that even the most revered and longstanding official is capable of engaging in unlawful abuse and that other persons in positions of trust who stay quiet can be held accountable in both criminal and civil courts.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of institutional sexual assault, you can contact the Shubin Law firm. We have effectively pursued these cases and will fight tirelessly to defend the legal rights of our clients.
What Happens If I File Charges for Institutional Sexual Assault?
The perpetrator of sexual assault can be held responsible in both criminal court and civil court. If another party or organization had the power to prevent the abuse from occurring, that party may also be held accountable in both courts. This includes:
- Educational institutions
- Healthcare institutions such as hospitals
- Religious Organizations
- Recreational Organizations such as summer camps and after-school programs
- Volunteer organizations
- Departments of correction
- Any facility serving children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups such as facilities serving the disabled and mentally ill
Officials who engage in calculated acts intended to hide the sexual abuse from the authorities can be held liable in both criminal and civil proceedings. In the Sandusky case, there were high ranking school officials who knew there was a pattern of abuse; they failed to take active measures to dismiss the sexual predator or keep the predator away from minors. These officials were charged in criminal court and pled guilty to child endangerment.
What is Institutional Sexual Assault?
Institutional sexual assault involves the failure by an agent of the institution to report sexual abuse incidents. The common denominator has been that leadership within the institution will not report these criminal acts. These cases have also shown the hallmarks of a conspiracy in that concerted efforts are made within the institution to impede reporting of sexual assault.
The US Department of Education has reported that in the past 70 years about 5-7 percent of public school teachers engaged in sexually abusive behavior with their students. According to Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation (SESAME), sexual abuse in schools is on the rise nationwide with just under 500 educators arrested in 2015. SESAME also reports that:
- About 3.5 million students in grades 8th through 11th (nearly 7%) surveyed reported having had physical sexual contact from an adult (most often a teacher or coach). The type of physical contact ranged from unwanted touching of their body, all the way up to sexual intercourse.
- Very often, other teachers “thought there might be something going on,” but were afraid to report a fellow educator. They didn’t want to be responsible for “ruining a person’s life,” although that is exactly what they are doing to the child if they don’t speak up, thus allowing the abuse to continue.
Have I Been Sexually Abused?
Sexual abuse occurs when a person is engaged in sexual activities without consent. In the case of children, the widely held view is that they cannot give consent. Sexual abuse includes a spectrum of activities that range from rape to physically intrusive sexual abuse. Physical abuse is also encompassed as a proscribed behavior.
The most common pattern of abuse occurs when agents of the institution allow the predator to continue to engage in sexually abusive behavior against other vulnerable victims. There have been instances where officials have engaged in crafty cover-ups that can range from secretive out-of-court settlements to working under the misguided notion of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Recent scandals of institutional sexual abuse have brought to the fore the common problems and barriers institutions can impose in the reporting channels. The Sandusky case in Pennsylvania brought to the fore serious problems within Penn State. The FBI report on this case, known as the “Freeh Report,” contained 120 recommendations of areas that needed improvement for the reporting of situations were at risk.
General Requirements in a Civil Lawsuit of Institutional Abuse
Even if a criminal court fails to prosecute an abuser, that individual can still be held liable in a civil suit. The different standards between a civil and criminal case sometimes make a civil suit a more viable path. Criminal matters require enough evidence to prove that the crime was committed “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that there must be a large amount of concrete evidence to show that the crimes were committed by the alleged abuser. This can be difficult to prove, especially if the crime occurred years or even decades ago – whereas in a civil case, absolute certainty is not needed. All you need is a “preponderance of the evidence,” i.e., more than 50 percent of your evidence is accurate.
Types of Notice
- Actual Notice – Notice of the sexual abuse incidents is typically required in these cases. While an abuse victim or a guardian or family member may not have notified the institution directly, report of the abuse may have been made by other victims. It is often the case that someone reported the perpetrator before, but the institution simply hid that knowledge or outright moved the perpetrator elsewhere.
- Constructive Notice – People affiliated with the institution had knowledge, or should have known, based on the facts and circumstances surrounding an individual, that would put a reasonable person on notice that these activities were improper and that children were being put in danger.
Sexual assault victims suffer in silence for years following abuse, leaving them with feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment and fear. If you are a victim of institutional or clergy abuse, it is often likely that someone was on notice of what was happening to you or was aware that your abuser was a danger to begin with and failed to protect you. These feelings often keep victims from coming forward when the real guilt lies with those individuals who had notice of these dangers and failed to protect the victims against them.
There are no specific hierarchical requirements as to who is responsible for reporting sexual abuse. In Pennsylvania, the Sandusky Law passed in 2014 makes anyone who comes in contact with children responsible for reporting violations.
The cases of sexual abuse within institutions have raised awareness of the important role played by adults in positions of authority in the failure to report these incidents. It further exposed the shame, pain and difficulties faced when accepting that individuals known to the family or persons held a position of trust. When these individuals engage in sexually reprehensible conduct and are reported, supervisors and other personnel have a legal obligation to report the allegation. Individuals with a duty to report don’t have to witness the assault to be responsible for reporting the incident.
Some states have reacted to recent events by enacting statutes to ensure compliance by imposing hefty penalties for the failure to report. Other states have amended statutes of failure-to-report laws to include members of the clergy who knowingly failed to report instances of sexual abuse.
Institutional Sexual Abuse Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
If you know someone who has been a victim of institutional sexual abuse the practice of Attorney Andrew Shubin can work with you and help you fight and defend your rights. Call (814) 826-3586 for more information or to schedule a free and confidential consultation.