According to data from the Pew Research Center, 47% of adults in California say religion plays a very important role in their life. Millions of people participate in church services, activities, and organizations. Going a step further, many of these religious organizations and institutions wield enormous power over their followers. This all adds up to a recipe for abuse, which unfortunately includes incidents of sexual abuse.
For victims and survivors, sexual abuse by clergy members of religious organizations is a total betrayal of the trust and confidence they put in these leaders and institutions. That’s why it’s essential to take steps to hold them accountable. One of the best ways to do that is to explore your legal options.
Maison Law Stands Up For California Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is intolerable, especially in the context of clergy and religious institutions. The trauma of clergy sexual abuse can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to face it alone. At Maison Law, our team of experienced and dedicated California sexual abuse lawyers have a proven track record of holding perpetrators and institutions accountable for their actions. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation and let us stand up for your rights.
Who is Considered Clergy in California?
Religious organizations throughout California adhere to a certain structure, with clergy members often occupying the top level. Generally speaking, clergy members can refer to any of the following:
Importantly, clergy members typically serve in a variety of different institutions and places of worship. On top of that, they may also serve wherever spiritual support is needed, like:
What this means is that clergy members have ample opportunity to commit acts of sexual abuse against the people under their care.
How Does Clergy Sexual Abuse Happen in California?
In most cases, clergy sexual abuse happens when clergy members use their power and influence to take advantage of their victims in a sexual manner. Like other sexual abuse, clergy sexual abuse usually involves a range of violations and behaviors, including:
- Unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact, like touching, fondling, or penetration
- Unwanted sexual advances, comments, or gestures
- Building a relationship of trust with a victim over time, often through gifts, attention, or other means, in order to gain sexual access.
- Non-consensual observation of a victim, such as watching them undress or shower.
Another frequent component of clergy sexual abuse involves coercion and manipulation, demonstrating many underlying causes that lead to clergy sexual abuse. These include the following:
- Abuse of power and trust – Clergy members are often respected and trusted figures in their communities, and perpetrators can exploit this position of trust to engage in sexual abuse.
- Access to victims – Clergy members may have regular access to victims through their positions of authority, such as in pastoral counseling or religious education settings.
- Manipulation – Perpetrators may use manipulation, coercion, or emotional blackmail to gain the victim’s trust or to prevent them from disclosing the abuse.
- Silence and cover-up – In some cases, religious institutions have been accused of covering up allegations of abuse and discouraging victims from reporting abuse to authorities.
- Failure to enforce policies – Some religious institutions may have policies and procedures to prevent abuse, but may fail to enforce them effectively.
- Cultural and social factors – In some cases, cultural and social factors, such as the taboo surrounding sex and sexuality in some religious communities, may contribute to a culture of silence and secrecy around abuse.
Understanding these underlying causes of clergy sexual abuse is important, but it’s also important to realize that many of these causes are intricate and complex. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of religious institutions and organizations to take a proactive approach to combat the issue of clergy sexual abuse. As for victims, another key to fighting back against clergy sexual abuse is to be aware of their legal protections.
California Law and Clergy Sexual Abuse
California law is clear in that any instance of sexual abuse is against the law. While there are criminal penalties for perpetrators of sexual abuse, California also has several civil laws in place that relate specifically to incidents of clergy sexual abuse. These include:
- Mandatory reporting laws – California law requires clergy members and other professionals to report suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to law enforcement or child protective services.
- AB 218 – This law, also known as the California Child Victims Act (CCVA), went into effect in 2020. It allows victims of sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits until they reach the age of 40 or within five years of discovering that the abuse caused them harm, whichever is later.
- Senate Bill 360 – Senate Bill 360 amended the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act and requires clergy members to report suspected instances of child abuse, including sexual abuse, even if they learn about it during confidential conversations with the victim.
While these laws represent a significant step forward for victims of clergy sexual abuse, navigating the legal system is still extremely challenging. In order to fully benefit from these protections, victims can seek guidance from our team of experienced California sexual abuse lawyers.
How Can Victims Address Sexual Abuse By Clergy in California?
There are a number of ways victims of clergy sexual abuse in California can address the trauma and harm they’ve experienced. Probably the most beneficial of these is to seek counseling with a therapist to address the mental and emotional turmoil that these incidents cause. However, one of the most practical steps to addressing sexual abuse is to pursue legal options.
This is where our team can be vital. We’ll not only help you understand your options but also be there to guide and support you through the entire legal process if you decide to move forward. Part of the process will be filing a civil lawsuit against the clergy member and the religious organization or other entity they were representing when they abused you. A lawsuit allows you to recover certain compensation from the clergy member and entity, legally known as “damages.” These typically include:
- Medical expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of companionship
- Punitive damages
Our Team’s Approach
At Maison Law, our team of experienced California sexual abuse lawyers has developed a proven system to deal with clergy sexual abuse cases. We believe our approach sets us apart and can help you get the treatment you deserve. Here’s how we approach these cases:
- Initial consultaiton – We provide a free initial consultation to discuss your abuse and assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case. We also can help you by reviewing any evidence you may have, like medical records or other documentation.
- Investigation – Once we begin working together, our team will perform its own investigation into the abuse. Generally, we gather more information from you first, then move forward with interviewing witnesses, gathering more evidence, and reviewing other relevant documents.
Legal strategy – Based on the information we gather during our investigation, we’ll develop a legal strategy tailored to your case. Prior to filing a lawsuit, we may negotiate with the religious institution or other parties involved to see if they would like to settle the matter out of court. If they refuse, we’ll move forward with a lawsuit or other legal options, but only if you agree with the particular approach.
- Litigation – If a lawsuit is filed, we will represent you in court proceedings, which include discovery, depositions, and possibly a trial.
- Settlement – Your satisfaction is our ultimate goal. To that end, we’ll negotiate a settlement on your behalf that provides fair compensation for your abuse and will help you move forward with your life.
Overall, we believe that having a client-specific approach to each case allows us to succeed. We strive to offer you and all other clients compassionate, personalized representation that achieves a fair outcome. Every case is unique, but working with our team gives you the best chance at getting the compensation and treatment you’re entitled to under California law.
Free Consultations For Victims of California Clergy Sexual Abuse
Being sexually abused is an unthinkable violation of your personal rights, but when it’s carried out by a clergy member, it’s an even larger betrayal. If you’re a victim of clergy sexual abuse, it can leave you feeling powerless and isolated. At Maison Law, we don’t want you to suffer alone. Our team of experienced California sexual abuse lawyers can provide you with legal guidance and support you can trust. Contact us today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation to get started.