In the United States, sexual abuse occurs more frequently than one might think--according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the United States, one in three women experience sexual violence in their lifetime along with one in six men. When abusers hold a position of power over their victims, sexual abuse can prove to be all the more traumatic. In Pennsylvania, The Brod Injury Law Firm is dedicated to helping victims of institutional sexual abuse seek legal recourse for the trauma they never should have faced.
What is Institutional Sexual Abuse according to Pennsylvania law?
Institutional sexual assault is criminalized by 18 Pa. C.S. § 3124.2, which states that certain people can be charged with institutional sexual assault if the person "engages in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse, or indecent contact with an inmate, detainee, patient or resident." Individuals can be charged with this crime if they are employed by:
- The Department of Corrections or correctional facility;
- A youth development center;
- A youth forestry camp;
- A licensed residential facility serving children or youth;
- A mental health or mental retardation facility;
- A school; or
- A child care center.
Institutional sexual abuse, then, is a form of sexual assault which is based upon a certain relationship between a victim and his or her abuser. Whereas a stranger may experience sexual assault by someone who does not hold a specific relationship to the victim, institutional sexual abuse is based upon the abuser's status toward the victim.
Generally, the perpetrator of institutional sexual abuse holds a position of trust or power over the victim of the crime, which can lead the victim of sexual abuse to believe that he or she has no alternative but to allow the abuse to occur and keep quiet about the abuse.
Forms of Institutional Sexual Abuse
Institutional sexual abuse can take many forms. In Pennsylvania, the following scenarios present the most common risk for institutional sexual abuse.
Clergy and the Church
While clergy and priests are often thought to be some of the holiest and most pure individuals, recent reports have uncovered a very dark side of the church in Pennsylvania. In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation uncovered reports of child sexual abuse by hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in the state's largest dioceses. Like any form of institutional sexual abuse, the priests accused of sexual abuse used their position of power to prey upon children who trusted and looked up to the priests. The results of the grand jury report were devastating, with over 1,000 identifiable victims, and countless other potential victims who never came forward about the sexual abuse they faced at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church.
One of the most powerful examples of institutional sexual abuse involve employees of schools. Institutional sexual abuse by a school employee can be especially traumatic for a student to face. While teachers are often the offenders of such abuse, teachers are far from the only school employees who can be found guilty of institutional sexual abuse if caught engaging in sexual activity with a student. School employees who are prohibited from engaging in sexual relations with students also include:
- Teachers or substitute teachers
- Principals, assistant principals, or vice principals
- Visiting teachers
- School librarians
- Cafeteria workers
- Bus drivers
- Teacher aides
- Any other employee who has direct contact with students.
As a school employee, children and youth often develop a great deal of trust toward the employee. Because of this level of trust and dependency--along with the fear of what would happen if others in the school found out about the abuse-institutional sexual assault suffered by a school employee can be especially traumatic for a student who suffers the abuse.
In Pennsylvania, children and adolescents have access to dozens of youth organizations in which to participate. These organizations can have a profound impact on a child's upbringing and can bring enjoyment and confidence to the children who participate in them. Organizations that cater to Pennsylvania youth include:
- Boy Scouts of America
- Girl Scouts of America
- Boys & Girls Club of America
- Philadelphia Student Union
- Camp Galil
- Camp Watonka
- Camp Stone
- Philadelphia Student Union
- Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.
Unfortunately, youth organizations can attract sexual predators who prey upon unsuspecting children. For sexual predators who volunteer or are employed by these organizations, targeting children for improper purposes is often easy, as children both trust and look up to these workers.
In addition to bringing legal action against the perpetrator of the crime, parents of a child who has suffered institutional sexual abuse at the hands of a youth organization employee may be able to hold the organization itself liable for the trauma that the child suffered at the hands of the employee or volunteer. A seasoned civil litigation attorney may be able to prove that the organization was negligent in hiring the worker, which can impute liability upon the organization for the trauma that the child faced at the hands of the organization's employee.
Coaches and Sports
One of the more common forms of institutional sexual abuse occurs when a coach takes advantage of a student athlete. Student athletes often experience sexual harassment--unwanted sexual advances or comments--from coaches, and are sometimes the victim of sexual abuse by coaches whom they trust.
In addition to sexual abuse, there have been cases where coaches have sexual relations with a "consenting" child, known as statutory rape. This offense is committed when someone engages in sexual intercourse with a person who has not reached the age of consent. In Pennsylvania, the legal age of consent is 16 years old, which means that an individual who is 16 years of age or older can legally consent to sexual activity. Pennsylvania's institutional sexual assault statute, however, deems consent impossible in student/coach relationships due to the position of power that a coach holds over a student. As such, a coach commits institutional sexual assault when engaging in sexual relations with a student, even if the student is of the age of consent and is a willing party to the sexual activity.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 also plays a key role in cases of sexual abuse involving coaches. Elementary, schools, secondary schools, and colleges and universities receiving federal funding--whether public or private--must comply with Title IX. This law requires mandatory reporting of child abuse by any employee who believes that a child is being abused, whether physically or sexually.
Foster Care and Foster Care Agencies
Children in foster care are often wholly dependent upon those who foster the child. Whether a child lives in an individual foster family or with other foster children in a facility that cares for children without parents, foster children often develop a level of love, trust, and respect that is comparable to that of a parent.
Unfortunately, individuals who foster children do not always have the child's best interest in mind and can take advantage of the child's trust by sexually abusing the child. The trauma that a child can face following sexual abuse by someone who was supposed to be his or her caretaker can be substantial and can have a devastating impact on the child's life. Victims of sexual abuse by foster parents or workers can suffer severe depression, anxiety, and difficulty forming meaningful relationships with individuals they should trust. The effects of sexual abuse by foster parents often continue well into adulthood.
Physicians, Nurses, and Healthcare Professionals
Institutional sexual abuse is also suffered at the hands of healthcare providers, like physicians, nurses, and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). Doctors are often held in high regard by patients who trust their expertise. This level of trust, coupled with the dependency a patient may have of healthcare providers, can make it difficult for a patient to prevent inappropriate sexual advances or unwanted sexual contact by healthcare professionals.
Institutional sexual abuse is especially common in nursing homes, as patients in these facilities are primarily or wholly dependent upon the staff who care for them. This elevated level of dependence can make patients in nursing homes an easy target for a worker with ulterior motives. Many patients are too fragile--whether physically or mentally--to stand up for themselves and prevent sexual abuse.
Employers and Coworkers
Although a person should be able to feel safe and comfortable at their job, far too many employees experience sexual abuse at the hands of an employer or coworker. The position of power held by a boss or supervisor can make it difficult for victims of sexual abuse in the workplace to stand up for themselves and speak out against the abuse they suffer. To make matters worse, many employees who are victims of workplace sexual abuse keep quiet about their trauma because they fear that their job may be jeopardized if they come forward about the abuse.
For those who do come forward about sexual abuse suffered at the hands of a coworker or supervisor, the employer itself can sometimes be held liable to the victim for the trauma faced at the hands of someone in the workplace. As employers maintain a duty to provide a safe work environment for employees, employers can be held responsible for negligent hiring of the perpetrator, and can also be found liable if the appropriate steps were not taken following a report of sexual abuse in the workplace.
Effects of Institutional Sexual Abuse
The effects of institutional sexual abuse on a victim can be devastating and long-lasting. While the fear and pain of sexual abuse can make a victim miserable in the short-term, such abuse can have long-term effects on a victim's physical and mental health. Those who suffer institutional sexual abuse at the hands of someone they trust often experience severe depression and sometimes suffer from suicidal thoughts or tendencies. In addition, victims of institutional sexual abuse suffer increased levels of anxiety, which can lead to excessive worrying, inability to focus, and even high blood pressure.
Additional symptoms that victims face include:
- Guilt and shame;
- Trouble sleeping;
- Loss of appetite or increased appetite; and
- Difficulty forming or keeping relationships.
Have You Suffered Institutional Sexual Abuse? We're Here to Help
If you are a victim of institutional sexual abuse, the Brod Injury Law Firm is committed to helping you seek justice for the trauma you endured. While the thought of coming forward about your abuse may seem unbearable, you don't have to face your trauma in silence--if you are considering pursuing legal action against your attacker, Gary Brod and his legal team are standing by to help you through each step of the legal process. To speak to a member of our team about your experience and learn more about your legal options, complete an online contact form or call us at 1-888-435-7946 today.