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Common Fears of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Survivors

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Common Fears of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Survivors

Written By: Simona Jellinek, Counsel & Lawyer

CONTENT WARNING: This blog discusses some of the most sensitive topics in our society today, including sexual assault and abuse. We understand that these realities may be difficult for many people to discuss. We encourage you to care for your safety and well-being. If you ever feel unsafe, please call 911.

We’ve all received them. As much as they are an annoyance, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for telemarketers calling random numbers in hopes of making a sale. For every receptive person on the other line, there are probably dozens, if not hundreds others who simply hang up or give the telemarketer an earful for disturbing them.

People used to making cold calls have usually built up a thick skin and learned not to take rejection personally. But what if you had to call someone you don’t know and proceed to reveal something incredibly personal about yourself? What if you were about to tell someone a secret that you debated about keeping to yourself for so long?

These are questions that come to my mind when I think about the unbelievable courage it takes for a survivor of sexual abuse or sexual assault to make that first call to our office. Obviously, unlike the telemarketer example, we sit by the phone waiting for these calls and always receive them empathically, compassionately and respectfully. Still, that doesn’t make what they are about to tell us any easier to say. The fear involved in coming forward with your story is very real.

In this second blog post in our series on “The Faces of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault,” I’ll explore common fears of prospective clients and offer some information that may help survivors to overcome them.

 

Belief

In many cases of sexual abuse or assault there is no physical evidence of sexual violence by the time a person comes forward. This is especially true of survivors of childhood sexual abuse who may only reveal what happened to them years or even decades later.

“If it’s my word against theirs, who will believe me?” I hear this question time and again from prospective clients weighing the pros and cons of launching a civil action against their abuser.

First off, we will believe you – always. It’s very clear from numerous studies on sexual abuse and sexual assault that exceedingly few reports of these crimes are false – generally between two to four percent. Still, the fear that a survivor won’t be believed is what contributes to the significant under reporting of these crimes.

It’s estimated only six out of every 100 of these crimes are reported to police. Many of our prospective clients have not reported their sexual abuse or assault to police, and it’s not a prerequisite to do this in order to file a civil action.

Part of our belief in you means that we work with you as you collect your thoughts and memories on what happened. We explain the kinds of questions the defendant’s lawyer may pose to help you prepare yourself. And, we understand that forgetting is often part of our body’s response to trauma. We do not judge you based on what you remember, how you responded to the abuse or assault, or the time it took you to decide to come forward. Our role is to be your supporter and advocate as you take your path to recovery.

 

The Financial Cost

Survivors come from all walks of life and only a small percentage are wealthy enough to take the risk of funding a lawsuit on their own. For so many others, there is great fear of how expensive a lawsuit may be, how long it may take to come to a resolution, and perhaps the financial risk if they are unsuccessful or not awarded or offered a large sum.

We believe that a survivor’s ability to fund their case should never be a barrier to accessing justice. As with other types of personal injury cases, our firm takes these cases on a contingency basis if we believe we lawsuit can succeed. We absorb the risk and fund these cases on our own. We only receive payment if we are able to negotiate a fair settlement or win an award for damages in court.

Of course, for many survivors, money is not the primary reason they want to pursue a civil action. Rather, it’s a tangible symbol of taking back control over their lives and/or an acknowledgement of the harm another person caused them.

 

The Emotional Toll  

A civil lawsuit has many parts and it can progress in many ways and to different ends. During this action, survivors are called on to recount what happened to them, they will hear a defendant’s version of events and they will be questioned. They may also learn things they did not know; for example, that they were not the only person to suffer abuse or an assault from a defendant.

Some survivors fear what this process could mean to their emotional well-being. Will they be triggered? Will they be able to compose themselves well enough when speaking to others? Will they be able to manage the many types of feelings that are bound to emerge (including some they did not expect)?

Many of my clients were sexually abused as children and are now adult survivors. Sadly, it is not uncommon for a prospective client to come forward with a story of sexual abuse involving an abuser already known to us.

For example, in recent years many survivors of institutional sexual abuse within religious organizations have started to speak with lawyers about the crimes they experienced. When we are able to tell them that we are aware of an abuser they name because other people have come forward, they often tell us that they feel conflicting emotions. There may be relief that their own story will be believed due to corroborating evidence, yet also guilt or anger that they or others suffered because something was not said earlier.

We need you to know that you are not alone in this. As a law firm with decades of experience handling sexual abuse cases, we have supported so many clients through these same fears and the rollercoaster of emotions the process can bring. As a result, we have developed an approach, cultivated unique skills and honed the emotional intelligence that can truly make a difference to a survivor at this critical point in their journey to recovery and healing.

In the next blog in this series I’ll examine some of the options sexual abuse and sexual assault survivors have when choosing their own personal path to recovery, including a civil lawsuit against their abuser.

 

We Are Here to Listen

If you or someone you love has been sexually abused and don’t know where to turn for help, please contact Jellinek Ellis Gluckstein, and we will be here to listen.



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