In recent years, we’ve come to recognize the rampant problem of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and Chicago isn’t immune from this scandal.
Attorneys for clergy sexual abuse victims recently released a report detailing all priests and Church associates in Illinois who have been accused of sexual abuse. It’s purpose, say the attorneys, is to “disclose the scope of the peril that the Catholic Bishops have chosen not to disclose and keep secret.”
Child molestation of any form is devastating to the victim, and can have lifelong consequences. It is especially so when the abuser is a person in a position of trust or authority with the victim, and often magnified when the abuser is a religious authority.
If you’ve been abused by a member of the clergy, there are options available for seeking justice and to hold your abuser accountable for this horrific offense. Below, we review how you can take action if you’re a victim of clergy abuse.
For Clergy Abuse Survivors, It Starts with Coming Forward
From the 1950s to the 1980s, child sexual abuse by the clergy occurred across the country, and was virtually unchecked. In fact, there’s abundant evidence that the Church was aware of the abuse, and took steps to cover it up.
Many victims of child sexual abuse never come forward, as they often experience an overwhelming sense of guilt and fear. Some don’t even know that what’s gone on is wrong, due to the abuser being a person of trust and authority.
Moreover, when victims have come forward, fellow parishioners often refused to believe them, or blamed the victim for their abuse.
Thanks to those who are finding the courage to shed light on this issue, victims of clergy molestation are now coming forward in droves, demonstrating the enormity of this problem.
Understand that you are not alone if you suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a clergy member.
Statutes of Limitation for Sexual Abuse in Illinois
The statutes of limitation refers to the amount of time the victim has to report the crime and seek legal remedy. For child molestation or sexual assault, the statutes of limitation vary between criminal and civil legal actions.
Criminal Statutes of Limitation
When pursuing criminal prosecution of an abuser, victims of child sexual abuse must report the crime within 20 years of their 18th birthday.
Be aware, though, that the criminal statute of limitations that will apply to a given case is the one which was in place at the time of the crime itself.
So, while the statute of limitations is currently 20 years post age 18, if the crime was committed before that statute was lengthened, as is unfortunately the case for many sex crimes, it cannot be brought before a court of law.
This applies to criminal cases. Fortunately, the statutes of limitation for civil cases work much differently.
Civil Statutes of Limitation
Victims who are unable to seek prosecution of their abusers can still expose the abuse and find justice by seeking civil action. Illinois recently enacted a piece of legislation known as the “delayed discovery” doctrine.
This law states that an action for damages from childhood sexual abuse or molestation must be commenced within 10 years of the date the victim discovers the abuse.
Discovering the abuse takes into account the nature of child sexual abuse. Because victims often block out memories associated with the abuse, or feel that they are at fault somehow for what happened to them, they fail to come forward.
It is not uncommon for victims to come to terms with the abuse well into adulthood, after the criminal statute of limitations have run out.
This new law allows victims to address their abuse through the civil court system. So, regardless of when you were molested by a clergy member, it may still be possible to seek justice by coming forward, too. An attorney can evaluate the specifics of your case and lay out your options.
Benefits of Seeking Justice for Illinois Clergy Sexual Abuse
Although it can be difficult to come forward with such serious allegations, seeking out justice can be important in your recovery.
One of the major psychologial damages of child sexual abuse is that the victim tends to blame him or herself, and often carriers around a sense of guilt. Coming forward to report your abuse can be validating, and help you realize that you were never to blame.
You may also feel helpless, particularly if your abuser was someone in a position of trust or authority. Coming forward to seek out damages from your abuser can help you take some of that power back.
If you are a victim of clergy molestation, coming forward to seek justice may provide some closure. It may be worthwhile to evaluate your options with an attorney, who can help you make an informed decision.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.