Sexual Abuse Suits: A Change in Society or Exposing Institutional Problems?
Recently, there have been high profile sexual abuse lawsuits making headlines across the nation. In light of this, people often ask, “Is something happening to our society causing this increase in harm to children?” Based on statistical analysis it would seem it is more of an unmasking of longstanding problems.
For instance, in 2016, lawsuits were brought against MJJ Productions, a multimedia creation and distribution company founded by the late singer Michael Jackson. One lawsuit accuses MJJ Productions of negligence in the handling of sexual abuse allegations. While it is impossible to predict the outcome of pending litigation, the available evidence and allegations of “businesses [designed] to operate as a child sexual abuse operation, specifically designed to locate, attract, lure and seduce child sexual abuse victims” are disturbing at the very least.
More recently, lawsuits were filed against several prominent members of United States Gymnastics, as well as the governing body itself. The lawsuits allege negligence on the part of the USA Gymnastics. Specifically, it had a pattern of harboring, concealing, and promoting abusive behavior; this is in addition to other claims of action against the athletic organization. The civil action centers around the criminal prosecution of USA Gymnastics’ former team doctor, Dr. Lawrence Nassar. He faces over 100 complaints of sexual abuse and sexual assault from the athletes that were under his care. According to one complaint, the USA Gymnastics failed to take measures to adequately protect its young athletes from him. The reason: they chose to handle the sexual abuse allegations against the doctor internally, rather than reporting these potential crimes to the appropriate authorities.
The Statistics Show that this is Not a New Problem
These headline cases should motivate people to be more sensitive and handle situations properly. Those in authority sometimes fail to properly react. They can often mismanage or mishandle reported abuse. All jurisdictions mandate reporting of potential sexual abuse of a minor to the proper authorities. The goal being to prevent persons and organizations from covering up the problem.
No one should sweep abusive conduct out of the public eye. Criminal prosecutions might initially stop a perpetrator, and civil cases might deter organizations, but public admonitions, settlements, and convictions make communities safer. This is unlike what happens when childhood sexual abuse remains hidden behind a veil of shame and secrecy.
While, headline cases might shake our belief in the people and organizations we trust, the unfortunate reality is this behavior has persisted. It lurks beneath the surface and research confirms as much. According to the National Center For Victims of Crime, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will be a victim of child sexual abuse. If that is not sobering, consider the further following statistics:
- according to a 2003 National Institute of Justice report, 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well (See page 5);
- The Future of Children’s Preventing Child Maltreatment journal reports that 60% of children are sexually abused by someone in their social circle (See page 172); and
- The Juvenile Justice Bulletin in 2012 reported that 42% of school officials knew about victimization episodes compared to the 13% known to police and 2% known to medical professionals.
Reporting Sometimes Not Enough
Further sobering statistics highlight the realities of this problem. First, reporting the suspected abuse may not be enough. Even if holding perpetrators responsible, but not the those responsible for victims’ safety, may ultimately hide the problem. Those in power may know about patterns of abuse, but do nothing about it, or worst, turn a blind eye. News stories, reports, and studies bring light to an ongoing situation. However, the unfortunate reality is that the news does not cover less sensational stories, even while these victims’ pain is just as real.
For more information on the cases discussed in this post you can visit:
- the Hollywood Reporter for updates on the MJJ Productions case; and
- the L.A. Times for the USA Gymnastics case.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual abuse, please seek help. You are not alone in this situation; there are people and organizations that can help. In Hawaii, there is the Sexual Abuse Treatment Center. For California, there are variety of resources, not only for sexual abuse victims, but many other kinds of problems, consider the California Victim Compensation Board’s Victim Resources page.
Lastly, if you are seeking legal representation to handle your matter, or a loved one’s matter, with diligence and compassion, please consider contacting Hew and Bordenave. We assist clients both in Hawaii and California and diligently protect the identities of our clients.