If you or someone you care about was the victim of church sex abuse, your state likely allows you to demand civil damages. Sex abuse cases are considered a form of personal injury law. Pursuing a claim is rarely simple, though. You will likely face at least a couple of the following challenges.
One of the biggest challenges is proving a pattern. Typically, people suing over sex abuse demand compensation from the church rather than the abuser. Frankly, this is because clergy frequently don't have very much money in a lot of religious institutions. However, you have to prove that the church ignored a pattern of abuse either with multiple figures or repeatedly with one abuser.
These are fundamentally pattern-based cases. A church sex abuse lawyer may use the discovery process to try to uncover documents showing that officials knew about wrongdoing and did nothing about it. Attorneys often will secure copies of complaints and reports filed with the church leadership. If they can identify additional victims, they will also use testimony to link commonalities between the cases.
Many churches have sizable legal defense funds. Some of the major churches that have been fighting abuse claims for decades can deploy millions of dollars to contest a single case. Worse, leadership members in control of legal funds may see themselves as future defendants. Consequently, they're often highly motivated to quash claims early so they might avoid their activities ending up in the spotlight.
Similarly, churches are often politically powerful. Especially at the county level, church officials know the judges, prosecutors, mayors, school superintendents, and cops.
This is good in the sense that they don't want public attention and might settle. However, if they elect to fight, it might mean they have powerful friends and a PR machine. A church sex abuse attorney has to be prepared to represent a client in the face of potentially withering public blowback. This is especially true when church sex abuse occurs in tight-knit communities that haven't suffered the same scrutiny as bigger institutions have. People may even see the accusations as an assault on the church or even outright spiritual warfare.
Finally, defendants will often question victims and their memories or motives. This can be especially challenging because abusers often target at-risk individuals. A pre-teen with a history of drug abuse, for example, could be a target in their eyes. Lawyers have to work hard to keep the focus on wrongdoers rather than victims.
Although it's never easy, understand that you are doing an important thing by speaking out, and a legal service can provide the support you need. Contact a local firm such as The Law Offices of David B. Shapiro for assistance.