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Washington State Priest or Church Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse and assault are crimes entail either the use of force by one person over another for the purpose of sexual gratification of the abuser, and/or the engagement of sexual activities involving an adult and a minor.

Like physical abuse and assault, sexual abuse represents a violation of a person’s safety and well-being. Any kind of abuse or assault is harmful to the victim, and this is why victims of sexual abuse or assault have the right to seek justice in a court of law.

Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of sexual abuse by members of the church, mostly in the Catholic church, against children in Seattle, Kirkland, Bellingham, and Olympia. Legally, sexual abuse and assault crimes are classified under specific categories.

There has been much media attention over the years involving sexual abuse of minor children by clergy. In 2015, a film titled Spotlight was released following from The Boston Globe's investigations into numerous cases of widespread child sexual abuse around the city of Boston by Roman Catholic priests. This and other media portrayals have raised the recognition of the problem of child sexual abuse by clergy in the general public.

It goes without saying that to have a trusted spiritual advisor abuse a minor is a most harmful event. Religious leaders often use their position of power as an authority on the will of God to justify their abuse and to overcome the protestations of the minor. Unfortunately, many sexually abusive religious leaders abuse multiple victims over a period of many years. What’s worse, rather than simply fire or report these priests to the proper authorities, a lot of these priests were simply reassigned to other churches where they continued their sexually abusive behavior.

Statistics Regarding Church Sexual Abuse

The first known instance of child sex abuse by a member of the Catholic Church came in 1985. At that time, a priest out of Louisiana was convicted of 11 counts of molestation involving young boys. Priests who have been accused had at least one allegation brought against them, with approximately 26% having at least two or more allegations, and almost four percent had ten or more allegations of sexual abuse brought against them.

When looking at those most likely to be the targets of priests, the overwhelming majority of them were young boys, roughly 80%, and 22% were under the age of 10, and a little over half between the ages of 11 and 14, with the rest being between the ages of 15 and 17. Clearly, as you can see, the younger the boy, the more likely they will be targeted by priests because these are the most vulnerable of children.

In terms of those priests who have abused children, more than half tend to be young themselves, under the age of 35. Interestingly, while conventional wisdom says that child molesters tend to have been molested themselves as children, studies have shown that less than seven percent of priests were abused, physically or sexually, as children themselves. Less than a quarter of them reported abusing any kind of controlled substance as adults, including drugs or alcohol.

Washington State Laws Regarding Clergy Abuse

When you file a lawsuit against a church, you have to state what are called causes of action in the lawsuit, which are the legal grounds for bringing the lawsuit. In a sexual abuse case against the church, there are three main ones: failure to properly supervise, negligent hiring, and negligent supervision.

As you can imagine, suing a priest individually is often not the best option since the priest is not himself in a position to offer much money for your damages. In addition, the church itself is what is called “vicariously liable” for the acts of those within the church, so they should be named in the lawsuit as well. Legally, this is also known as “respondent superior” meaning the principal is responsible, legally, for the negligent acts of its agent, which would be the priest in this case.

This is no different than if you were in a car accident with a Papa John’s delivery driver. You wouldn’t just sue the driver if you were hit by a driver; you would sue Papa Johns as well. Thus, a likely cause of action would be a failure to properly hire. Churches have a duty to make sure they are hiring people who do not harm anyone, especially children and especially sexually. Churches have a duty to make sure that the priests and personnel they hire don’t have histories of abuse or histories of untoward behavior.

In addition, churches also have a duty to properly supervise their employees and their priests. They cannot simply turn a blind eye to abuse that may be going on at their church under their supervision and watch. If they do, the church itself can be held legally responsible for whatever negligence that takes place on their property, including sexual or physical abuse.

Finally, the church can also be held responsible legally for sexual abuse that takes place under the theory that it was negligent in the way it oversaw the behavior that was conducted on the church property. Depending on what happens, this could be an egregious act by the church not to supervise the sexual abuse going on. In many cases in the past, however, the church knew very well what kind of sexual abuse was going on at the church, and the church simply failed to act in a way that would prevent the victims, most of them young children, from suffering further abuse.

Common Injuries from Church Sexual Abuse

If either you or a child you know of or are a parent of has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest or at the hands of a member of the church, you are likely suffering from emotional and psychological injuries, some of which may be quite serious.

These injuries are every bit as valid and real as physical ones and require the proper professional attention to treat, just as a physical injury requires proper attention to treat. Delaying treatment can be very harmful. It is best to immediately seek a professional in the form of a counselor or psychologist who can help you begin the road to recovery. Under the law in Washington State, you can recover damages for your emotional and psychological injuries.

How The Jackman Law Firm Can Help

If you as a child or if your child was sexually abused as a child by a priest or a member of a church, then you likely have a claim against the church for your injuries or your child’s injuries. These injuries can be devastating to a child’s development and be every bit as hard to recover from as a serious physical injury.

These cases require the attention and care of a lawyer who understands how to properly fight for you to help you extract the justice and compensation you and your child deserve for what the nightmare you’ve endured. We stand ready to help you during this trying time with compassion and dedication to fighting for you. Feel free to call for a free consultation.

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