Legal Help for Child Sexual Abuse

As a survivor or care-giver of a child being abused, it is important that you understand your rights, the recourse options available to you, and how the legal justice system works in general. Below are some resources to assist you in understanding the laws of your state, reporting (past or present abuse), and obtaining legal help.

Criminal versus Civil Cases

The first thing you need to understand is the difference between criminal and civil lawsuits.

Criminal cases are filed by the state when abuse is reported to the authorities and sufficient evidence is available to build a case against the abuser. Although you may have filed the report of abuse and the case feels personal to you, it is not your case. The case is owned by the state and you have very little control over the way it is handled. It is important to understand this differentiation for your own personal mental and emotional well-being.

When the state files criminal charges against an abuser, the state’s case is handled by a prosecutor, who is employed by the state.  While the prosecutor will advocate to convict the abuser of the charges, the prosecutor represents the state, not the survivor.  Therefore, the prosecutor may make decisions about the disposition of the case without the survivor’s knowledge or consent.

You can, however, hire your own lawyer to represent your interests in the case (e.g., privacy concerns, such as the release of medical/mental health records, etc.).  Some jurisdictions provide a court advocate to assist you through the criminal process, but the advocates typically are not attorneys.

Civil cases are filed by you against your abuser(s) for monetary compensation for losses such as lost work wages, costs for medical and psychological care, and also for pain and suffering. While we realize no amount can ever undo the damage done by child sexual abuse, compensation can help to offset financial difficulties directly or indirectly attributable to the abuse.

When it comes to your legal rights, where you live makes a difference. From the legal definition of “child seduction” (which covers a broad range of child sexual abuse crimes) to the statute of limitations for a particular sex crime, each state has its own separate laws.

The RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) legal rights database provides a clear and concise guide to many aspects of the child sexual abuse laws in your state, including state-specific information on:

  • Rape and Sexual Assault Crime Definitions
  • Criminal Statutes of Limitations
  • Termination of Rapists’ Parental Rights
  • Mandatory Reporting
  • Confidentiality Laws
  • HIV/AIDS testing of sexual offenders

Civil Statute of Limitations

In civil cases, any lawsuit arising from an accident or injury must be filed within a certain time limit or the injured person’s legal claim will be barred and his or her right to sue will be lost forever. This time limit is known as the Statute of Limitations (SOLs).

As with criminal cases, each state also has its own legal statute of limitations for civil cases.

For civil cases involving child sexual abuse (injury to minors), the filing time is typically extended to begin at the time the minor turns 18 (if the abuse was known prior to the child turning 18), or the moment when the survivor knew (or should reasonably have known) that they had suffered harm, and the nature of that harm.

So, for example, if you had repressed memories of your abuse until your 40th birthday when they suddenly came flooding back, it is possible you would have the normal statute of limitations period to file a civil suit against your perpetrator beginning on the day your memories resurfaced sufficiently to know that you had been abused and the nature of your abuse.

Statute of limitations may be updated year to year and vary for certain special types of crimes, so you will want to consult with an attorney to get more detailed information on your specific situation. However, the general statute of limitations can be found for your state using the button below.

*Note: Statute of Limitations is only one hurdle in filing civil cases for child sexual abuse damages. Please read the rest of this page and consult with an attorney before taking any action.

At some point you may come to a place in your healing where you just want to scream out loud to the world that John or Jane Doe sexually abused you as a child. You might believe that revealing them is the only justice you will ever have for their actions. You might be feeling trapped by your own silence. Or you might feel compelled to protect other children from being harmed if your abuser is still alive.

Whatever your reasons, it is highly recommended that you understand the risks and benefits of publicly disclosing your abuser before you reveal their identity.  Whether you choose to report the abuse to police, file a civil suit against your abuser, or make your abuser’s identity public via social media, letters, emails, or even just talking about it with friends, acquaintances or co-workers, there can be significant legal ramifications.

We suggest contacting an attorney to get more information about your potential liability for disclosing, especially if the case is old or you have no evidence that would support your claims in a court of law. While this can feel very unfair, you do not want to end up accidentally harming yourself in your pursuit of justice.

Your number one priority as you heal from your abuse is to protect and care for yourself. That includes legal protection/considerations as well.

Single Filing versus Group Filing

Often adult survivors have a hard time trying their cases because without substantial hard evidence to support their claims, offenders cannot be convicted. Litigation can sometimes take years with cases taking a toll on the survivor who filed the suit.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report your case. It just means that you need to be prepared mentally and emotionally for a potentially long and arduous journey through the legal system.

Reporting is also subject to the window of opportunity defined by your state for child sexual abuse offenses. However, don’t assume that because your abuse happened long ago you have no recourse. Many states have recently extended the window for reporting child sexual abuse, but some have closing deadlines in the coming months for old offenses. So if you do plan to report, you will want to consult with an attorney or go to police sooner rather than later.

Creating a Group Action Against Your Abuser

As we’ve seen in recently publicized cases, when multiple survivors ban together to report an abuser, justice is more likely to be served. How this happens can unfold in different ways. Sometimes, multiple people report the same abuser. Sometimes disclosure spurs others to come forward. Sometimes media publicity brings an onslaught of attention and launches formal investigations into institutions with embedded offenders.

Unfortunately, right now, there is not a self-referring database of reports. So your best bet is to go through the steps above with legal support and see if they find any similar reports.

Or, you can always use the US Department of Justice Sex Offender Registry Search to see if your abuser has ever been convicted before on similar charges. (If you do not live in the United States, your country most likely has a similar registry and search options.)

Find out if your abuser has been reported.

When searching the registry, please keep in mind the following:

  • Registered offenders are across all kinds of sexual abuse, not just child sexual abuse.
  • The list only contains convicted offenders, not all reported offenders.
  • You cannot ascertain the exact nature of the offenses by the limited data provided. Additional inquiry would be required.

Also, note that just because your offender is not found on the list does not mean they haven’t already been reported by someone else. It just means they weren’t tried and convicted.

In most cases, offenders abuse multiple children. So it is unlikely that you were your abuser’s only victim. However, you may never know without disclosing in some way.

Deciding to Disclose your Abuse

Once you have done your due diligence:

  • you know the legal ins and outs of disclosing, and
  • you understand the statute of limitations for filing a civil suit or reporting in your state.

But you still have one more consideration to assess: where are you in your healing process, and what is in your best interests regarding your personal safety and wellbeing? You may also consider how your decision might help other victims and children to whom the abuser may still have access. Often, for those who are called to it, advocacy can be a wonderful path to healing ourselves as we support others.

Please consider these questions deeply and thoughtfully before moving forward.

And always, remember, you cannot give from an empty reserve. You will not be able to fully help others if you do not prioritize your own wellbeing first. So please, make sure you take care of yourself throughout this process should you choose to proceed.

Whatever your decision, we support you.

Lawyers & Firms Specializing in Child Sexual Abuse

Below is the beginning of a list of lawyers and law firms specializing in child sexual abuse. If you have used a law firm or lawyer with extensive experience helping child sexual abuse victims, please send us their information using the form at the bottom of this page. Be sure to include whether you used the attorney or firm yourself, know another survivor who has used them, or you simply have heard of them in some other way.

Child Welfare Attorneys for Child Victims – Protection for your child

If you have an open custody, parental rights termination or other case related to your child and you believe your child is being abused by a parent or guardian, you may request to have a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) assigned to your case by the court. You will not be able to choose the appointed lawyer for your child, but your child will still have an extra layer of protection by an attorney who has specialized training on child welfare issues and whose sole purpose is to protect and promote the interests of your child and their well-being.

Watch below to learn more about the GAL process and how it works.

*This attorney works in Florida, but the overall concepts hold true and can be applied no matter what state you are in.

Note: Child Welfare Law does not include representation in private custody and adoption disputes where the state is not a party.

Attorneys for Civil Cases

Choosing an attorney

In selecting an attorney, the best advice is to find one who specializes in litigating CSA survivor cases. Below are resources both from an association of attorneys that specialize in litigating victim’s rights cases and also from survivors themselves.

Note that a recommendation from a survivor only indicates the survivor’s level of satisfaction or comfort with that particular attorney. It does not indicate the attorney’s level of proficiency in child sexual abuse cases and it does not mean the recommended attorney would be right for you. Similarly, just because an attorney is a member of the NCVBA  does not automatically mean that they are a good fit for you or your case.

What does it mean to take a case on contingency

Some attorneys or firms will agree to take your case on contingency. That means, they only get paid if they win your case for you. Then they take their pay from your awarded amount.

It’s not always easy finding an attorney to take a case on contingency, but it’s worth asking. It also ensures they will do their best for your case since they don’t get paid unless you get paid. You might also find an attorney that will take your case on a hybrid of contingency for their work, but you might have to pay some fees for filings or other out-of-pocket expenses. But it is notable that the attorney/firm will take a sizable cut of any settlement amount or amount you are awarded.

Whatever method you choose, make sure you are clear on the terms of the agreement before you sign. If you’re not sure, have a third party lawyer review the agreement before signing.

If you cannot afford an attorney

Alternatively, you might consider using a subscription service like LegalShield, which can provide legal answers to general legal questions for a low monthly fee. They also offer preferred rates on hourly fees if you need to hire an attorney, and preferred rates on flat-fee services and contingency fees as well.

Note: We have used LegalShield for many years for both general questions and for personal cases, and our personal experience with our firm has overall been positive. However, experiences vary. You will need to use your own best judgment to find a solution that works for you.

Attorneys Specializing in Victims’ Rights Cases

Wilbanks CEASE Clinic
Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation
The University of Georgia School of Law
225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602-6012
(706) 542-5191

Our mission is to provide direct legal services to our clients in a supportive, professional environment as well as to educate and prepare the next generation of lawyers to represent survivors of child sexual abuse. As a resource center for survivors and attorneys who are seeking these claims, we form part of a movement that seeks justice for all survivors of child sexual abuse.

The NCVBA Attorney Referral Line

The National Crime Victim Bar Association (NCVBA) is an association of attorneys specializing in litigating victims’ rights cases.  There is a Child Sex Abuse Section of the NCVBA, which consists of lawyers who specialize in CSA cases. For an attorney referral, call the number above and request help from the Child Sexual Abuse division.

Attorneys used and recommended by CSA survivors

Below is a list of attorneys recommended by survivors based on their personal experience with the attorney. The attorneys in this list have not been evaluated by and are not in any way an endorsement by our organization.

USA – Georgia

Esther Panitch, Trial Attorney
The Panitch Law Group, P.C.
The Woodlands Office Building
4243 Dunwoody Club Dr #216
Atlanta, GA 30350

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Recommended by 1 CSA Survivor who has worked with this firm for child sexual abuse help.

Mark Tate, Attorney at Law
Tate Law Group
Personal Injury Attorneys
2 E Bryan St #600
Savannah, GA 31401
(912) 234-3030

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Recommended by 1 CSA Survivor who has worked with this firm for child sexual abuse help.

Natalie Woodward, Attorney at Law
Shamp, Jordan & Woodward
1718 Peachtree St NW
Atlanta, GA 30309
(404) 893-9400

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Recommended by 1 CSA Survivor who has worked with this firm for child sexual abuse help.

USA – Illinios

Lyndsay Markley, Esq.
Lyndsay Markley Law
Smurfit-Stone Bldg 150
N Michigan Ave #800
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 523-2158

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Recommended by 1 person as an indirect referral from a CSA survivor who used this attorney.

*The ratings above are solely those of the survivor(s) who recommended them and do not reflect the opinion of or Light Path Wisdom, LLC.

Have you used an attorney for a CSA civil suit?

Were you satisfied? If so, please consider sharing your attorney’s contact information with other survivors looking for high-quality legal representation related to CSA survivors’ rights and civil litigation in the state where you filed your suit.

Your information will remain confidential (as with the listings above). Contact information is only requested in case our staff has any questions before publishing your recommendation.

Recommend and attorney

*Disclaimer: The information provided above and on other pages is provided in good faith for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used as a replacement for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney for professional legal assistance.