I am a victim of priest sex abuse. What are my legal rights?


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A:Victims of abuse by church members, such as priests, have both civil and criminal legal remedies to right the heinous acts committed against them. Priests who commit sexual abuse can and should face the maximum criminal and civil penalties. This directly benefits the victim and also has a ripple effect-prevention of further abuse.

The main difference between the civil and criminal justice systems is in who is the complainant or plaintiff. In a criminal case, the district attorney’s office represents the state at large against the defendant for violations of the state criminal code. In a civil case, the victim is the one charging the defendant directly with wrongful acts committed against the victim. Access our legal article about what to expect in a priest or church sex abuse civil case.

There are other differences between the two systems. For instance, in the criminal system, the victim will often never confront the abuser, except in court. However, in the civil system, the victim has the power to ask questions of the abuser at a deposition. In addition to the defendant, the victim may be able to depose other responsible parties, such as a supervising priest, other priests who may have known about the abuse, etc.

Under the law, parties other than the abuser who negligently allowed the abuse to continue may face liability as well. In a case of priest or church member sex abuse, others liable include other priests, teachers, the diocese, the church, etc.

Proceeding in a criminal case requires the victim to report the crime to law enforcement. However, there is no such requirement to proceed with a civil case. For more information about the rights of victims of priest or church member sexual abuse, click here.

Related Priest Sex Abuse Legal Articles:

Representation by a Priest & Church Abuse Civil Lawyer & Former Sex Crimes Unit Prosecutor

Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who now represents victims of sexual abuse in civil cases against abusers and other parties who bear liability for allowing the abuse to occur.  For more information, contact the Pennsylvania and New Jersey priest and church sex abuse lawyers at Laffey, Bucck & Kent. Click To Call

**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

Published: October 10, 2012