Sexual Assault Lawsuits Near Pittsburgh, PA

In the spring of 2018, PennLive reported that according to the most recent statistics available, sexual violence went up at many colleges in the state. Penn State and the University of Pennsylvania both saw their figures triple over the past 3 years.

The state is also reeling from the recent grand jury report on sexual abuse across 6 Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses. Jury members spent two years investigating decades of abuse and identified over 300 “predator priests” and over 1,000 child victims.

In Ohio, universities are struggling to keep up with the sexual assault and harassment claims. In the fall of 2017, Ohio State University found that rapes had more than doubled on its main campus, with 61 cases reported in 2016, compared to 25 in 2015 and 20 in 2014. In 2018, the university was hit with two sexual assault lawsuits filed by athletes who claimed to have been abused by a team doctor. They also alleged that university officials ignored their complaints.

Meanwhile, the State of New York has paid over $11 million to settle sexual abuse lawsuits over the past decade, with claims involving allegations of harassment and assault or discrimination at state and county colleges and universities, public schools, state agencies, and state-run hospitals and prisons.

In the wake of recent high-profile sexual harassment and assault cases, such as those involving Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and actor Bill Cosby, the legal landscape has shifted, allowing more victims to seek justice. The Pittsburgh lawyers at Chaffin Luhana are currently investigating cases in which victims were sexually abused, assaulted, or harassed.

What’s the Difference Between Sexual Abuse, Assault, Violence, and Harassment?

Though these terms may be used interchangeably, there are some differences between them. In general, any sort of sexual attack involves one person forcibly contacting another in a sexual way without the other person’s consent or harassing that person with unwelcome sexual comments or requests.

  • Sexual abuse: This term is often used interchangeably with sexual assault, but is more likely to be used when talking about child victims. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sexual abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.” Examples include unwanted touching or fondling; rape; forcing the victim to perform sexual acts; or requiring the victim to watch sexual activity either in person or via a video, online site, or other form of media.
  • Sexual assault: The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) defines sexual assault as any “nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.” The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) defines it as any sexual behavior that occurs without “explicit consent of the victim.” Examples may include rape or attempted rape; unwanted sexual touching, kissing, or fondling; or forcing a victim to perform sexual acts.
  • Sexual violence: This term is used interchangeably with the previous two, but may also indicate sexual assault of a more violent nature that results in increased physical and emotional harm. Examples may include rape with severe injuries, incest, sexual exploitation, trafficking, genital mutilation, systematic abuse, and stalking/cyberstalking.
  • Sexual harassment: This is a different term from the others, as it applies specifically to the workplace, and is a form of employment discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defined sexual harassment as: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” Examples may include a supervisor or authority figure demanding sexual favors in return for promotions or raises (or to prevent firing), harassing comments and behaviors from co-workers or customers, demeaning sexual photographs or jokes that are allowed to continue in the workplace, or unwanted touching or groping.

All of these forms of sexual abuse are considered crimes and may be prosecuted.

Civil and Criminal Sexual Assault Lawsuits – What’s the Difference?

Why would a sexual assault victim want to file a civil lawsuit? There are several reasons, but the most important one is to try to obtain monetary compensation for their injuries.

In a criminal abuse lawsuit, the jury determines whether or not the defendant is guilty of the crime. A victim may be involved in such a lawsuit after going through the assault or harassment, and may have to testify or at least share the details of what happened. Once that experience is over, it’s understandable that a victim may not want to revisit the issue again.

But sexual crimes leave lasting imprints on their victims, as noted above. Though a criminal case can help provide a sense of justice, the victim is still left completely on their own when trying to put their life back together. This is where a civil lawsuit can help. It can also provide a sense of justice should the perpetrator fail to be found guilty in a criminal case.

A jury must decide “beyond a reasonable doubt” whether a criminal defendant is guilty of a crime. The burden of proof is very high. In a civil case, though, the burden is lower. There, the jury must decide only if it’s “more likely than not” that the perpetrator caused the victim’s injuries. If so, the jury may be able to hold the perpetrator—and other third parties that were involved—liable for the victim’s injuries.

If the jury rules in the victim’s favor—or if the defendant agrees to a settlement prior to trial—the victim may receive compensation that can help them get the resources they need to heal and recover.

Liability for Sexual Assault Claims

Though it would seem logical that a victim would file a sexual assault lawsuit against the perpetrator, if that individual has limited means, the victim may not receive what they need out of the case. That’s when it may be wise to involve other parties in the lawsuit.

Who else might be liable for the victim’s injuries? In fact, it’s very common for other parties to share the blame. Usually claims against these other parties involve negligence—they were negligent in their duties to protect the victim’s safety. Here are some examples:

  • The employer: If the employer failed to screen its employees, failed to respond to complaints of harassment or assault, or failed to provide a safe workplace, they may be held liable for damages.
  • The school or university: Some of the sexual assault lawsuits filed against Ohio University, for example, claim that university officials failed to respond appropriately to complaints about alleged perpetrators. A university may also be found negligent if they failed to provide a safe environment on campus, or if they failed to properly screen their professors or other employees.
  • The landlord or innkeeper: The landlord, innkeeper, property owner, or other similar entity failed to protect the victim’s privacy, or failed to put into place standard safety equipment, such as locks on the doors and gates or security cameras.
  • The healthcare provider: Many victims of sexual abuse were assaulted in a healthcare facility. The facility itself could be found liable if the staff members failed to react to reports of sexual misbehavior, or if management failed to properly screen employees. Hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities may all be involved in these cases.

Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse

The law requires that you file a claim within a certain time limit. These windows of time are determined by each state, and the laws describing those limits are called “statutes of limitations.”

Usually, the time limit begins when the crime or wrong is committed, except in the case of child abuse. Since children are not equipped with the mental and emotional capacity to determine if they were abused at the time of the abuse, and because the psychological trauma often delays when they actually discover this abuse, most states provide exceptions to the statute of limitations to give victims more time to file lawsuits.

Still, it’s important to be aware of your state’s time limits so that you don’t miss out on the opportunity to seek compensation. If you want to file a civil sexual harassment claim against the perpetrator and your employer, for example, you typically have a maximum of 180 days from the date of harassment, depending on the state in which you live, according to the EEOC. Check with your sexual harassment lawyer, however, as some states have extended that time to 300 days or so. If you are thinking about filing a sexual assault or abuse claim, the statute of limitations is usually 2 or 3 years from the time of the incident. There are exceptions in place in most states for victims of child sexual assault, but states still impose strict time limits on these claims.

The State of Pennsylvania is considering additional extensions for victims of childhood sexual abuse because of the special difficulties they may face in bringing a lawsuit. For example, according to the state’s grand jury report regarding sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, “As a consequence of the cover-up, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.”

Nonetheless, Pennsylvania law still prohibits civil claims related to childhood sexual abuse after the victim turns 30, and criminal claims after the victim turns 50.

The Serious and Lasting Injuries Associated with Sexual Assault

Rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment can result in lasting injuries to the victim. Physical injuries may include:

  • Bruising
  • Lacerations
  • Sprains or dislocated bones
  • Broken bones
  • Vaginal inflammation
  • Vaginal or anal bleeding; other genital injuries
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Urinary tract infections

Frequently, even more difficult than the physical injuries are the psychological ones. Studies have found that victims often experience a period of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), lasting anywhere from a few weeks to several months or even years. In a 2006 study, researchers reported that the prevalence of PTSD in assault survivors was higher than the national prevalence of the disorder, noting that current therapies “are in need of improvement.”

The National Center for PTSD states that in the days and weeks following assault, “it is very normal for a [person] to experience intense and sometimes unpredictable emotions.” They add that nightmares are not uncommon, and [people] often have difficulty concentrating and sleeping, typically struggling with highly disruptive symptoms “that make it very difficult to function….”

Other psychological problems that are common after sexual assault and harassment include:

  • Depression: Symptoms may include a depressed mood, inability to enjoy things, hopelessness, feelings of guilt, trouble concentrating and making decisions, and decreased self-esteem.
  • Suicide: RAINN reports that about a third of women who are raped contemplate suicide, while 13 percent attempt suicide.
  • Illegal drug use: Compared to non-victims, rape survivors are three to four times more likely to use marijuana, six times more likely to use cocaine, and ten times more likely to use other major drugs. Women say they use these drugs to help control other symptoms related to their assault, such as anxiety and depression.
  • Shame and guilt: Victims of sexual assault may blame themselves and feel shame about what happened. Those who are assaulted by people they know are even more likely to feel this way.
  • Social problems: Victims may no longer be able to relate well with their family members, friends, or co-workers, feeling too anxious or depressed to behave as they did before. They may have difficulty trusting others, and may find that their performance at work and school suffers.
  • Sexual dysfunction: Long after the assault is over, victims of both genders may continue to struggle with sexual dysfunction. Men can suffer from erectile dysfunction and loss of libido. Women may suffer from painful intercourse and reduced desire.
  • Sleep disorders: Pervasive anxiety can affect a victim’s ability to sleep, and many suffer from chronic insomnia. In a 2010 study, researchers found that sleep difficulties were an important factor contributing to alcohol use in rape victims with PTSD. In a 2011 study, researchers found that sleep disturbances were prevalent among women experiencing intimate partner violence.
  • Eating disorders: Researchers have found a link between sexual abuse and eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. In one study, they found that fifty percent of anorexic and bulimic patients reported a history of sexual abuse.

Sexual Assault Lawsuits

Wherever sexual assault takes place—at universities, businesses, restaurants, workplaces, places of worship, or elsewhere—perpetrators need to be brought to justice, and victims compensated for their injuries. Though there are still far too many perpetrators who are getting away with their behaviors, and far too many victims suffering in silence, the environment is changing, and there is hope for improvements in the future.

The sexual abuse attorneys at Chaffin Luhana are actively investigating potential sexual assault and harassment lawsuits. Individuals in the Pittsburgh and Ohio Valley areas who were victims of sexual assault or harassment may be able to recover damages in a sexual assault lawsuit.

To see if you may be eligible to file a similar lawsuit, call today at 1-888-316-2311.