One of the reasons that many sexual abuse survivors decide not to file a claim is that they are not sure if they have a valid case against their abuser. Each state has its own definition of what qualifies as sexual abuse. What constitutes sexual abuse in Washington State may not be the same in neighboring states.
The nuances of the state law may still leave you with some questions, and ultimately, the best way to know if you have a valid claim is to speak to an experienced sexual abuse attorney.
What Constitutes Sexual Assault in Washington?
Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that takes place without consent. It is important to understand the definition of consent, which generally means that both parties know, understand, and agree to the behavior. Consent cannot exist any time a person of any age is forced, coerced, or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity.
If someone is incapacitated for any reason, such as being inebriated due to alcohol or drugs, asleep, or otherwise not fully aware of what is going on, they cannot give legal consent. A person who is mentally disabled may not be able to legally consent, nor can anyone under the age of 16 in the state of Washington. The legal age for consent is different for each state.
What Constitutes Child Sexual Abuse in Washington?
In Washington, there are a number of child sexual abuse offenses that are individually defined. These offenses include:
- Sexual misconduct with a minor,
- Child molestation,
- Rape of a child, and
- Taking indecent liberties with a child.
Each of these charges can have different degrees of severity, based on the details of the crime. All fall under the laws against child sexual abuse and may be prosecuted in both civil and criminal courts, depending on the circumstances of the individual case and the evidence available.
Survivors of child sexual abuse may have a case against the abuser as well as any organization (social services agency, religious institution, school, social organization, etc.) who knew or should have known of the abuse and did nothing to prevent it.
Mandatory Reporters in Washington
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show that someone known and trusted by the child or the child’s family members perpetrates 91% of child sexual abuse.
Preventing child sexual abuse is everyone’s duty, but some individuals are legally obligated to report any suspicions of child abuse, including sexual abuse.
These are people who generally have access to children regularly, including medical professionals, educators, law enforcement officers, childcare providers, social service professionals, and others. A mandatory reporter who fails to report or makes a false statement in bad faith is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. In some instances, the person could be held liable for the abuse.
Liability for Sexual Abuse
One highly publicized example of an organization with mandatory reporters being held liable is the Catholic Church. After recent investigations and publicity led to the discovery of decades of abuse, the Catholic Church has been settling lawsuits, many of which involve abuse by clergy members who are no longer even alive. Catholic Church sexual abuse settlements currently total more than $3 billion, with more lawsuits still being filed.
The concept of someone besides the abuser being held liable is not exclusive to child sexual abuse cases. Any type of sexual abuse that is swept under the rug or perpetuated by an organization or institution should be brought to light, and justice should be served.
Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse in Washington
What constitutes sexual abuse in Washington State isn’t the only factor to consider. Whether the statute of limitations has expired on your ability to file a claim against your abuser is another element to bringing a case. Adult sexual abuse survivors have three years to bring a claim for sexual abuse.
If the survivor was a child at the time of the abuse, they have the ability to file within three years of turning 18 years old. In some cases, the abuse may not be discovered or the issue caused by the abuse may not be discovered until later in life. In this case, the state provides the survivor three years to file a claim from the date of discovery.
As with any case, the sooner you can file, the better, but an experienced attorney can help you determine how your case fits in with the state statutes of limitations.
The compassionate legal team at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner has 40+ years of experience representing victims who have been harmed by someone else’s misconduct. We pride ourselves on treating our clients like real people, with honesty and transparency.
Let us conduct a thorough analysis of your claim to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your case, so you can stop wondering what would have happened if you just spoke to an attorney about what you have been through. Contact us to schedule an appointment for your free case consultation.