Child sexual abuse can have lifelong consequences and affect the survivors’ mental and emotional state well into their adult life. With this in mind, the recently passed Child Victims Act allows brave survivors more time to step forward and press charges against their abusers later in life. The Child Victims Act will extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims,and provide them with a one year-window to bring their claims that had expired under the prior statute of limitations. In the lawsuit brought under the Child Victims Act, it will be important to have evidence to build a case for the best outcome for the survivor.
There is an important distinction between the burden of proof for a survivor in a civil case versus the burden for the prosecutor in a criminal case. The burden of proof in a criminal case is far greater than in a civil case. In a criminal case, evidence would have to show “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which requires hard, concrete evidence for the prosecution. However in a civil case the burden of proof is much lower, and simply needs to be “more likely than not,” which is just enough to tip the scales of justice more than 50%.
While having evidence is important in child abuse cases, the most crucial evidence is the word of the victim. In many cases, children either display odd behavior or verbally speak on what’s happening to them. It’s important to pay attention to children if any foul play is suspected and to ask questions along the way. It’s unfortunate, but many of these children live with the trauma of their abuse for many years into adulthood. If you are coming forward later on in life, your willingness to testify about what happened to you is often all that is needed to bring a case forward.
Survivors can also submit medical or therapy records to show that the abuse happened. These records will have timestamps and will be able to corroborate the survivor’s recount of the event(s). Photographs of any markings, bruises or scarring may assist in added context to these records as well. Strong evidence would include the admissions or statements from the alleged abuser to the survivor or witnesses, including friends and family.
If they were available at the time of the abuse, DNA and/or fingerprints of the alleged abuser can also strengthen a case. DNA can be bodily fluids, skin fragments or blood. All of these can be found at the location of where the crime(s) were allegedly committed as well as on clothing. Fingerprints are great evidence pieces, especially if the survivor had no previous contact with the abuser or if these fingerprints are in places the victim had no reason to be located such as the abuser’s house or vehicle.
A written, verbal or video recorded statement from the alleged abuser may also be useful evidence. Written statements can be handwritten or electronic via email, instant messaging, social media or text messaging and can be used to show that there was inappropriate communication with the alleged abuser and survivor during childhood. Electronic systems can be corrupted so it’s best to print and save these types of files in a safe place. The same goes for video recordings.
If you have kept evidence throughout the years, such as gifts given to you by your abuser, these may be helpful as well. Where the abuser gave the victim special treatment, money or gifts are strong pieces of evidence that can support the survivor’s testimony. Gifts can include toys, electronics including cell phones or computers and gift cards of any amount. Favorable treatments can be special trips to places, meals, transportation or academic grades (if applicable). As a child or as an adult survivor, evidence of these gifts can be seen as bribery and emotional manipulation towards the child. If the alleged abuser is a stranger or distant acquaintance, these gifts and favorable treatments hold more weight over abusers that are close to the survivor. However, if these gifts and special treatments come from family or family friends in an odd time or “strange” manner, this can be seen as circumstantial evidence, which is a benefit to the prosecutor, especially in civil cases.
When it’s time to face their abusers, survivors should have representation that will treat them and their case with respect and care. While physical evidence is helpful, the only thing needed in a child sexual abuse case is the word of the victim. The lawyers at Herman Law have years of experience dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, and are able to gather the evidence to build you or a loved one a strong case against the abuser or the responsible organization.
If you are looking for more information on how to start the process or simply want more information, do not hesitate to contact us at hermanlaw.com or give us a call at (800) 686-9921.