Sex abuse is more than a serious criminal and public health problem, as it leaves an unbearable strain on the survivors. It is also far more common than one might think. A 2010 survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in five women and one in 71 men have been raped at some point. Of all crimes, sexual assaults are the least reported, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Only 28% were reported in 2012, compared to 56% in 2003. Victims might be reluctant to divulge the crime for various reasons, like shame, embarrassment, victim-blaming, fear of retribution or the belief that law enforcement will not be supportive.

Q
What constitutes sex abuse?
ASex abuse is the non-consensual touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person or causing a person to touch the sexual or other intimate parts of the actor for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of either person. Sexual abuse can include more specific criminal acts, such as rape, sodomy or sexual penetration.

Child sex abuse includes the acts listed above, but also the sexual exploitation of a child by using or attempting to use them for sexual gratification or in sexually explicit displays such as child pornography. In Oregon, minors ages 18 and under cannot legally consent to sexual contact, therefore child sex abuse includes sexual contact between an adult and a minor.

Q
What are the effects of sex abuse?
AThis is a wide-ranging topic that could justify its own website. Generally, though, sex abuse can devastate the survivor. If a sexual assault or rape victim chooses to report the abuse, they are often subjected to an invasive exam, or “rape kit,” at the hospital. If the abuser is formally prosecuted–which many cases are not for various reasons–the survivor might have to relive the experience and share the details with law enforcement, medical personnel, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and the jury. Many understandably forgo reporting to avoid this process or for fear of victim-blaming or the guilt and shame they might feel.

Sex abuse also causes many unseen, psychological injuries, such as PTSD, anxiety, stress and depression. Survivors sometimes turn to substance abuse or suffer from eating and sleep disorders and might experience flashbacks. Others might resort to self-harm or suicide.

Q
Should I call the police?
AYes, call immediately. Contacting the authorities and disclosing to a stranger that you just experienced a devastating, extremely personal event is incredibly difficult, and the following investigation will likely make you feel worse in the short-term. However, choosing to report the incident as soon as possible is the best way to ensure your attacker is held responsible. Waiting to report can irreversibly damage a case or diminish your credibility. Most people think they know what they would do if they were raped or sexually assaulted — they don’t. Until it happens, you don’t know what your mind and body will do in order to survive. If you didn’t report to police right away at the time, that is okay. Report it now.
Q
Should I sue my abuser?
AThe goal for most personal injury lawsuits is to financially compensate the plaintiff. If the abuser is unable to pay, a civil case might not be worth it. Sex abuse cases often exceed tens of thousands of dollars to litigate. Many abusers are not independently wealthy and insurance companies typically do not cover intentional acts, but if the defendant committed the abuse while working for a company, a public body like the Department of Human Services, a school or daycare or some other entity, a lawsuit could be viable.
Q
How long do I have to file a lawsuit for a sex abuse case?
AThe statute of limitations in Oregon for a sexual abuse case is two years, similar to most other personal injury cases. However, child abuse and child sex abuse cases carry a different statute of limitations. If the victim was a minor at the time of the abuse, the statute is extended until the victim reaches age 40 or if the person has not discovered the causal connection between the injury and the abuse, nor in the exercise of reasonable care should have discovered the causal connection between the injury and the child abuse, the statute of limitations is not more than five years from the date the person discovers or in the exercise of reasonable care should have discovered the causal connection, whichever period of time is longer.

The statute and requirements differ when the case is against a public body. See the General Questions section, which provides more information on this.

Q
What can I do to prevent my child from being abused?
A
  • Talk to your child about sexuality in age-appropriate terms. Talking freely about sexuality can help reduce shame or embarrassment, and it teaches kids that it is okay to talk about this and it doesn’t need to be a secret. Let your child know if someone does something to them that makes them uncomfortable, that they won’t be in trouble if they tell you. Talks of this kind should be routine rather than one big conversation.
  • Teach your child the names of body parts so they have the vocabulary to ask questions and express concerns about being touched inappropriately. Tell them that some body parts are “private,” and should be touched or looked at unless by a doctor or care provider.
  • Teach your child to say “no” to inappropriate touching or anything that makes them uncomfortable.
  • Ask your child about the people with whom they go to school or spend time. If they’re involved in sports, go to their games or practice and meet the other parents and coaches. If they’re involved in daycare or after-school activities, ask them what they did during their day.
  • Many TV shows or video games show sexually explicit content or sexual violence. Use this content to start a conversation about sexuality
  • If your child comes to you with concerns or questions, listen. It can take time or several conversations for your child to come forward if they have been abused.
Q
What are some of my rights as a sex abuse victim?
A
  • Oregon law requires that a hospital providing care to a woman who is a sexual assault victim must offer her unbiased, medically and factually accurate written and oral information regarding emergency contraception, as well as the option to receive emergency contraception at the hospital. The hospital, however, may charge the victim for this service.
  • Oregon law requires some individuals or entities to help victims of sexual assault. For example, the victim’s employer might be required to allow the victim to take time off from work to attend a criminal proceeding for their case. The employer might also have to allow time off if the person is a victim of domestic violence or stalking. The victim’s parent might be able to take time off to receive help from law enforcement and/or an attorney, medical treatment, counseling, victims’ services or to move to a different residence or make one’s home safer.
  • The state may not deny a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking unemployment benefits if the victim has no reasonable alternative other than leaving work to protect the victim or minor child.
  • A victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking may terminate a rental agreement with 14 days of notice if they do so within 90 days of the crime. Alternatively, the victim may require their landlord to change the locks on the victim’s residence.
  • The Sexual Assault Victims’ Emergency Medical Response Fund has been providing Oregon victims with medical assessments since 2003. This fund offers medical care and medications, if needed, to every sexual assault victim in the state, regardless of their ability to pay. The fund was modified in 2007 to cover every victim, even if they choose to not report the crime to law enforcement or at the time of the incident. These assessments also cover children ages 18 and under, including instances in which abuse has been alleged.
  • A victim shall be issued a victim identification number and provided with a registry identification number of the registered sex offender who committed the crime against him or her.
Q
Are debts arising from sexual abuse dischargeable in bankruptcy?
ANo. Debts arising from “willful and malicious injury” by the debtor are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. In car accidents or other negligence lawsuits, individuals who have limited assets may shield themselves by declaring bankruptcy. Sex abusers do not have this option. However, they must have sufficient assets to make the sexual abuse lawsuit worthwhile.

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