There is good news for survivors of sexual abuse in Arkansas. The Justice for Vulnerable Victims of Sexual Abuse Act, passed by Arkansas legislators in April of 2021, gives survivors of childhood sexual abuse a new opportunity to take legal action against an abuser or organization responsible for abuse. This is significant news for those whose cases were once considered expired due to state statutes of limitations. Because this temporary window will only be open February 1, 2022 to January 31, 2024, we strongly encourage abuse survivors to contact a sexual abuse lawyer to discuss their legal options. Please review our article here for complete details on this important new law.
At McMath Woods P.A., we believe that the voices of victims should never be silenced. To every sexual abuse survivor we represent, we commit the full extent of our attention, time, effort, diligence, and legal expertise. We want our clients to know that their stories are heard, and that healing is possible. If you, a child, or a loved one was the victim of sexual abuse in Arkansas, a Little Rock sexual abuse lawyer from our law firm is available to meet with your family and discuss what legal step you can take.
What Constitutes Sexual Abuse?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sexual abuse as unwanted sexual activity. An abuser uses force, threats, or manipulation to coerce a person who cannot give consent into engaging in sexual activities. The term sexual abuse is most often used to describe the behavior perpetrated against children, but adults can also be victims of sexual abuse—particularly older adults, vulnerable populations, and those with cognitive or physical disabilities. An adult may also be the victim of spousal sexual abuse or sexual abuse from an authority figure or person in power.
Sexual abuse generally involves a form of violence or exploitation. Terms like “sexual assault” and “sexual violence” describe specific incidents of unwanted, forced sexual contact, while “sexual abuse” may cover a range of predatory behaviors directed toward vulnerable individuals, usually minors. Sexual abuse may include touching, intercourse, sending obscene messages, exposing oneself to a victim, forcing a victim to watch graphic sexual acts, obtaining pornographic pictures or videos of the victim, or sex trafficking.
Sexual abuse may be perpetrated on an institutional scale. Organizations that are supposed to provide a safe environment for vulnerable individuals—most often children—have in many high-profile cases been found guilty of hiding evidence of ongoing abuse and protecting the identities of sex offenders working for the institution. This could include athletics teams, childcare centers, youth development programs, religious organizations, correctional facilities, juvenile detention centers, nursing homes, youth camps, mental health facilities, or any other organization that fails to take adequate measures to prevent and stop abuse.
Sexual Abuse and Assault in Arkansas and the U.S.
Statistics gathered by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S., show the severity of the problem across the nation as a whole. It’s estimated that one person is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds, and every nine minutes that victim is a child. Based on available data, it’s believed that over 400,000 individuals 12 and older are raped or sexually abused in a single year in the United States.
Arkansas has frequently ranked among the top two or three states in the nation for sexual violence incident rates per 100,000 population. The most recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) published by the CDC reported that over 420,000 women and 375,000 men were the victims of rape or sexual assault in Arkansas. Reports of child abuse in Arkansas have also remained consistently and substantially higher than the national average over the past decade. Arkansas’ Catholic Diocese of Little Rock has also published a clergy disclosure list and been registered on the Bishop Accountability list for abuse that was perpetrated against minors in Arkansas between the 1950s and 1980s. In 2019, the Diocese of Little Rock paid $790,000 to five survivors of sexual abuse.
Although sexual abuse statistics may seem high, it’s important to remember that they can only represent a small percentage of the children and adults who actually suffer sexual abuse in our state and nation every year. For every reported case of sexual abuse, countless more go unreported. U.S. Department of Justice statements show that two-thirds or more of incidents of sexual violence are not reported to law enforcement.
Sexual Abuse Against Minors
The sexual abuse of children under the age of 18 is a critical nationwide problem. Analysis of a four-year period of data collected by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Children’s Bureau indicated that over 60,000 children are sexually abused by an adult every year in the United States. Some researchers estimate that as many as one in nine girls is sexually assaulted as a minor, while others put the estimate as high as one in four girls and one in six boys. In over 90% of cases, the child knows the abuser personally. And in over one-third of cases, the perpetrator is a family member.
These instances of rape and abuse have no small effect on a child’s life. In addition to the immediate physical and emotional trauma, multiple studies have substantiated our knowledge that childhood sexual abuse can result in a lifetime of mental health challenges. One study determined that rape victims are approximately four times as likely to develop substance abuse disorders, four times as likely to suffer PTSD into adulthood, and three times as likely to experience episodes of clinical depression than their peers who did not experience sexual abuse.
Taking Legal Action Against Sexual Abuse
One reason such tragically high rates of sexual abuse have been allowed to continue is—in simple terms—that not enough is done to stop abuse. Sexual predators often continue to abuse one or several victims for prolonged periods of time, with little fear they will be stopped or held accountable for the devastating consequences of their actions. Many victims suffer for years at the hands of an abuser. Abusers use a multitude of tactics to silence victims, and sometimes specifically choose victims who do not have the ability to speak up for themselves.
To compound the issue, our state has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. In 2021, over 15% of the population in Arkansas was living below the poverty line, with multiple counties experiencing extreme poverty. In areas with limited access to resources that address the problem of sexual abuse, it is extremely difficult for victims to have the help they need to report and seek healing after abuse.
One of the most effective tools we have to fight this immense problem is civil law. At our law firm, we believe strongly in defending the rights of sex abuse survivors, especially those without a means to defend themselves. The Little Rock sexual abuse lawyers on our team work to expose and bring to justice the misdeeds of sex offenders, and to secure the financial futures of those whose lives have been devastated by the predatory actions of an abuser.
A sex offender may be facing criminal penalties like fines or jail time for their actions. As personal injury lawyers, we know that this is not always enough. Victims may achieve a sense of justice when their abuser is convicted of a sex crime. But the pain, suffering, emotional trauma, and financial losses they suffered through the abuse cannot be compensated through criminal law. Filing a civil claim against an abuser does not replace criminal charges. Instead, it is a means for sex abuse survivors to achieve fair monetary compensation for their losses and hold their abusers accountable for gross wrongdoing.
While the previous statute of limitations in Arkansas prevented many adults from taking legal action against the person who abused them as a minor, the two-year revival window opening this year in 2022 is an important opportunity for abuse survivors to finally achieve the justice they deserve. Even if the abuse occurred many years in the past, an abuse survivor may still be able to bring a claim against the abuser. And in cases in which the abuser is deceased, under some circumstances a survivor may still be able to file a claim against the organization responsible for the abuse.
Abusers should never be allowed to evade responsibility for the trauma and irreversible damage they inflicted on the life of another. But we know that making the decision to take legal action against an abuser is not an easy one. At McMath Woods P.A., we value your confidentiality, and we understand how intensely difficult it can be to come forward with a story of abuse. At our firm, we are committed to handling every case with the highest degree of care and understanding.