Focus in Penn State abuse case shifts from accused to alleged victims

By Ed Greenberger, THELAW.TV

The sexual abuse case involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky continues to dominate headlines. Sandusky is accused of having sex with underage boys he met through his charitable organization, The Second Mile. Legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was fired last week and two other university officials are facing several charges in the case.

With the firestorm that erupted in the wake of the scandal, it's easy to forget about the most important people involved – the alleged victims. Unfortunately, they are not alone. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC), child sexual abuse is reported nearly 90,000 times a year in America. NCVC says the actual number of incidents is far higher because most children are afraid to tell anyone they have been abused. NCVC says one in four American girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse before they turn 18.

Since children are often afraid or embarrassed to say anything about sexual abuse, parents and other authority figures should know the signs, which can include:

·       Behavioral changes at home or school, such as withdrawal or rebelliousness

·       Sexually acting out – sex play with toys, drawing naked bodies, acting seductively

·       Sleep disturbances and increased nightmares

·       Bed wetting

·       Fear of being left alone

Child psychologists say it is important for parents to believe their children. No matter how dignified the accused or how unbelievable the story might be, experts say children can't make something up that they have not been exposed to in some way.

In the Penn State case, Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of young boys for a period of 15 years from 1994 to 2009. That means many of the alleged victims are now adults. As an adult, a surviving sexual abuse victim can actually file a civil suit against his abuser in order to win monetary damages. Each state deals with these cases differently.

"Many states have lengthened the statute of limitations on these types of cases in order to allow victims to file a civil claim years after they reach adulthood," says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV .

A victim can also sue an entity such as a school or a church for failing to supervise a child in such a way that it results in sexual abuse. For example, Roman Catholic Church dioceses have paid out approximately $1 billion in hundreds of settlements of lawsuits brought by child sexual abuse victims.

"If you were a victim of child sexual abuse, it's important to promptly consult an attorney to find out what options might be available to you," says Detroit, Michigan personal injury attorney Sheldon Miller of The Law Office of Sheldon L. Miller, P.C. . "In many cases, you could be entitled to money damages."

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