Sex abuse victims who suffer sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher, teacher’s aide or other school employee, like a janitor or coach, may be able to find justice, in either or both the criminal and civil justice systems. Many students and their families believe that their only legal remedy is the criminal justice system. That is entirely untrue. Survivors of sexual abuse can file claims in the civil courts and receive financial compensation for economic losses like medical bills or treatment/counseling costs. In addition, the civil justice system allows for monetary awards for pain and suffering.
How the Criminal & Civil Justice Systems are Different
The criminal justice system may result in punishment for the abuser. However, the criminal justice system cannot offer any compensation to victims for their pain and suffering and the oftentimes significant emotional harm which results from sexual abuse in these kinds of situations. On the other hand, the civil justice system recognizes the right of those who are injured by others to receive financial compensation for their injuries as well as compensation for future needs, such as counseling.
In addition, the civil justice system allows any person or entity which negligently contributed to the abuse to be joined as defendant. In other words, the school sex abuse or assault victim may be able to join others in addition to the abuser. Generally, indirect parties or those who allowed the abuse to continue are often unable to be charged with a crime. For instance, a principal knows that a teacher is sexually abusing a student and does nothing. Under the laws of many states, the principal would not be able to be charged with a crime.
In many school abuse situations, others within the school or institution knew of the abuse, yet did nothing. In the worst cases, school administrators knew of the abuse, yet covered it up or sent the abuser to another school. This is known as passing the trash, or passing an abusive teacher to another school district. In these kinds of cases, the school, the school district and/or individual teachers may face liability. The choice to seek justice through the civil system belongs solely to the victim. Justice in these cases begins with a victim’s courage.
For more information, access our free legal article about claims made in school sex abuse civil cases in Pennsylvania.
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Last updated: March 16, 2015