Sexual Misconduct: A Dirty And All Too Prevalent Crime

A stunning streak of scandals has hit the news recently concerning academic institutions which allegedly failed to take proper steps to corral sexual predators of whom the institutions became aware. The theme has been school administrators who had some knowledge of the problem, and took some steps to cure it, but ultimately failed in preventing subsequent instances of this terrible conduct. Not surprisingly, a corresponding flood of civil litigation has ensued, brought by attorneys representing the alleged victims of this type of heinous act.

Obviously this type of case presents different challenges for the attorney representing the victims, to say nothing of how difficult the lawsuit can be for the victim and his or her family. Whereas a car wreck case is essentially a mechanical process—procure eyewitness testimony, gather medical records, depose the defendant, negotiate with the insurance company, take the case to trial if necessary—civil litigation involving sexual abuse is a far more delicate and sensitive matter.

One complexity in sex abuse cases is the emotional difficulty for the victim in recounting the story. If the victim is a minor, the parents suffer the trauma of watching their child re-live the scenario. In that the recoverable damages in a case like this are less easily quantified—lifelong emotional wreckage is less concrete than $20,000 in medical bills, after all—a full explanation of the emotional and psychological trauma typically is necessary if the case goes to trial. This can be an extraordinarily difficult process. Traywick & Traywick offers what we believe to be a uniquely sensitive perspective to the difficulties that face a victim in this type of case. A victim in this situation cannot just be a file number in his lawyer’s office- he or she needs guidance and support as well as top notch legal services.

From the defendant’s side the perpetrator is often a disgruntled, fired or even imprisoned former employee, and the institutional defendant—a school or university, a summer camp or other youth group, even a church in some cases—typically will distance itself from the perpetrator’s actions, claiming that it did know of the perpetrator’s propensities, and that it had no way of knowing. As a result of this common tactic, the victim’s case requires tenacious investigation and the willingness to track down every lead, to talk to every witness and to do anything necessary, within ethical bounds, to find out who knew what, and when. It is by establishing these often difficult evidentiary links that the case against the defendant is built, and an equitable and full compensatory settlement or trial outcome can be reached.

These terrible scandals, and the litigation that has followed, are uncomfortable to think about, but there may be a silver lining. The publicity that has surrounded these scandals at Penn State, at the Citadel and at other institutions has made it clear that people with knowledge of sexual predators have to take positive steps to make sure that the predator is stopped. Hopefully the message that emerges is that referring the matter to your superior, working out a resolution without making it public, or simply turning a blind eye will not be tolerated. People will be held accountable. Traywick & Traywick believes that aggressive civil litigation, designed to hold responsible persons accountable, is another part of the solution to this terrible problem.


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