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Church Or Priest Sexual Abuse
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Church Or Priest Sexual Abuse

If you or someone you know has been abused by a member of the church, you are not alone. Over the past two decades, thousands of people have courageously come forward to speak out about the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of priests, pastors and other clergymen. In the course of that time, many have taken their abusers to court to achieve justice and fair compensation that has helped them move forward.

Working hand in hand with survivors and their families, our nationally recognized trial attorneys have successfully brought to justice individuals and institutions throughout Washington state and the country. Below are answers to common questions survivors and their families have about suing their abusers to compensate for the trauma inflicted on them.

How Common Is Clergy Sexual Abuse?

Because survivors may feel ashamed or fearful to disclose their history of abuse, there are no statistics that accurately capture just how many people have suffered abuse at the hands of their religious institutions. However, there are statistics on the number of survivors who have come forward.

According to BishopAccountability.org, an organization dedicated to publishing information relevant to sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, between 1950 and 2016, 6,721 priests in the U.S. have been accused of sexual abuse. Regarding the number of survivors, U.S. bishops have reported receiving 18,565 allegations of abuse in the U.S alone.

Sexual abuse also occurs within U.S. protestant churches. According to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Religions, three insurance companies that provide coverage to faith-based organizations, with the majority being Protestant churches, reported 7,095 claims of alleged sexual abuse by clergy, church staff, congregation members or volunteers between 1987 and 2007.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Clergy Sexual Abuse?

Being a survivor of sexual abuse can have a long-lasting impact on a person’s life. In addition, survivors might not realize the full consequences of the abuse until much later in life. According to a 2019 study of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, the most common issues that survivors of church sexual abuse dealt with included anxiety, depression, difficulty with interpersonal contact and sexual problems. In general, childhood sexual abuse is also linked to a higher frequency of eating disorders, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and pelvic pain, according to the American Counseling Association.

Why Can It Take a Long Time for Survivors to Come Forward?

Oftentimes instances of childhood sexual abuse evoke feelings of guilt and shame among  survivors. This is particularly true when the abuser is someone whom the survivor trusted, such as a priest or pastor. This guilt and shame can cause the survivor to downplay the harm or even blame themselves for the abuse that transpired. However, it is important for survivors to remember that the abuse they suffered was not their fault and that they have every right to pursue justice for the suffering caused by their abuser.

In addition, it can take years for survivors to mentally process their abuse and identify the long-term impact the abuse has had on their lives and well-being. According to RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network – adult survivors of sexual abuse often find themselves living with the memories of their abuse for many years in secret. For this reason and others, the effects of sexual abuse can occur years after the abuse has ended. 

When Can Someone Bring A Lawsuit For Clergy Abuse?

Sexual assault or abuse often happens when victims are in a position of dependency and/or trust of the abuser, which is often the case in church or religious settings.

While laws vary state to state, PCVA’s trial attorneys have nationwide experience and extensive knowledge in this area to help you determine your legal options.

What Is the Statute of Limitation for Clergy Sexual Abuse?

The statute of limitations for suing your abuser will vary from state to state. For example, in Washington state, there is no statute of limitations for minors under 18 to sue abusers. After the age of 18, Washington law has a three-year time limit for suing abusers, starting from the moment a survivor realizes that abuse caused injury, including emotional and mental harm.

While there is a three-year time limit to file a lawsuit, the clock does not start ticking until there is a causal connection between the abuse and the harm it caused. This gives survivors a lot of room to seek justice for their injuries.

How PCVA Can Help?

If you or a loved one has been sexually abused by a priest, pastor, clergyman or church volunteer, you need an attorney advocate on your side who is sensitive to survivors’ mental and emotional trauma and has extensive experience with these types of legal claims. Our trial attorneys take a compassionate approach to working with survivors and have helped many clients successfully navigate the legal process to recover compensation.

When you’re ready, our lawyers are here to listen and help. Talk to a lawyer for free by completing our intake form or calling us at (253) 948-3199 or (206) 536-2850. All conversations are confidential.

If you would like to learn more about resources available to survivors of sexual abuse, visit RAINN.org. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.