Families affected by the trauma of sexual violence often struggle with many questions concerning justice and support:
- Will the person responsible be put behind bars?
- How can we hold accountable the organization that enabled the abuse?
- How can a sexual abuse victims' lawyer help us?
Our Delaware sexual abuse victims' lawyers help families in this painful position find answers.
The people who have a responsibility to stop or report child abuse need to be held accountable when they fail to do so.
"Thanks!" Brian had concrete answers to our concerns and got us the help we needed.
- Meet Our Delaware Attorneys
- Filing A Personal Injury Lawsuit
- Third-Party Negligence Lawsuits
- Criminal Laws In Delaware
- Civil Statute Of Limitations
Were you or a loved one sexually abused or sexually assaulted in Delaware? Our dedicated attorneys are here to help. Thanks to Delaware's powerful tradition of civil common law, you may have the right to pursue justice by filing a private civil lawsuit against the responsible parties.
Pursuing Justice In The Wake Of Sexual Misconduct
You are not alone. We believe you, and we believe that your story matters. You were violated in the most horrendous way imaginable. We understand the painful range of emotions these terrible crimes can cause, from shame and anger to fear and depression. Know that you did nothing wrong. You are not to blame in this. You were harmed. Justice and recovery are possible.
While you may feel sometimes as though you are alone in this struggle, please know that you have options. The criminal justice system plays an integral role in punishing criminal offenders, but the supports for victims can be lacking. You are a survivor, not a victim, and you have powerful legal rights. Beyond the criminal justice system, there is a separate justice system - the civil justice system. In the civil justice system, survivors like you and your loved ones can pursue justice on your own terms by pursuing legal action.
Meet Our Dedicated Legal Team
AbuseGuardian.com is sponsored by a national network of experienced sexual assault and sexual abuse lawyers. No matter your legal situation, our attorneys have the experience and resources necessary to pursue your case with confidence. To handle cases in Delaware, our network has partnered with the compassionate attorneys at Laffey, Bucci & Kent, a personal injury firm based in Philadelphia.
Laffey, Bucci & Kent's dedicated attorneys have helped countless survivors pursue private civil lawsuits, spearheading major cases against prominent massage spa chains, small religious boarding schools and the Catholic Church. Over the course of 90 years of combined trial experience, the lawyers at Laffey, Bucci & Kent have amassed a vital record of success in these cases, holding responsible parties accountable and securing necessary financial compensation for numerous survivors.
You have the power to pursue financial compensation and accountability from the responsible parties. Laffey, Bucci & Kent's sexual assault and sexual abuse practice group is led by firm Partner Brian Kent, Esq. Brian began his legal career as a criminal prosecutor in the Sex Crimes Unit of Montgomery County's District Attorney's Office, where he gained invaluable insights on the criminal justice process and supporting sexual abuse survivors. Now in private practice as a civil attorney, Brian uses his vast experience and knowledge to provide unequaled support to survivors as they pursue justice through the civil court system.
Our dedicated sexual misconduct team has already helped numerous survivors stand up and demand justice after a serious trauma. You could be next. You have a voice; we want to help amplify it.
You Are Not Alone
We believe you. At AbuseGuardian.com, our compassionate attorneys believe that you have a powerful story that should be told. In too many cases, sexual abuse and assault survivors feel intimidated into silence, bullied to accept their suffering in a world that fails to understand them and is unwilling to help. Many survivors spend silent years attempting to cope with the reality of what happened. Shame and embarrassment are widespread and paralyzing. Know that you did nothing wrong. You are a bright and wonderful human being, full of light and capable of feeling joy. You did not deserve to be mistreated. You were wronged. Someone violated you in the most horrendous way imaginable. But you are stronger than what happened to you. You can rise above this. Pursuing a civil action may help.
Help Is Available In The Civil Justice System
While the reality of closure may seem far away, recovery is possible. We've seen it over and over. Many survivors are helped on a deep and profound level by pursuing justice on their own behalf. Recovery takes time - years of therapy and concerted effort. But we believe that you also deserve justice. It takes courage and strength. No one can walk this path for you. It's your choice - to stand and fight for what's right.
But you don't have to go it alone. Our dedicated civil attorneys can help. Thanks to Delaware's powerful tradition of civil law, survivors have the choice to stand up and fight for justice on their own terms. If you were harmed by a criminal offender, you have the power to file a civil lawsuit and demand accountability from the responsible parties.
In some ways, civil lawsuits offer plaintiffs a wider range of options than are allowed in the criminal justice system. If you intend to pursue justice, you can file suit both against the crime's direct perpetrator, the person who abused or assaulted you, as well as any third-party defendants whose negligence allowed the misconduct to occur.
Why The Criminal Justice System Isn't Enough
Criminal sexual conduct comes in many forms. It can happen to anyone, at any time, anywhere, and the perpetrators of sexual abuse and sexual assault run the gamut, from a trusted priest or respected doctor to a close family friend or business employee. Of course, in most cases, the perpetrator comes from a surprising source - it's someone we know, an acquaintance or trusted professional, rather than a stranger.
Regardless of the perpetrator's position or occupation, we all agree that sex crimes are among the most horrific crimes possible. In line with this intuition, the legislature of Delaware has outlined a host of severe criminal penalties for those who sexually abuse or sexually assault. And the criminal justice system is good at what it does, but its role, the prosecution, conviction and incarceration of offenders, often leaves survivors behind.
The criminal justice system was designed to investigate crimes, prosecute criminal offenders and punish them for their misconduct. It was not created to support survivors. We've spoken to many survivors who felt as though they had been used by the criminal justice system; some referred to themselves as glorified pieces of evidence. This is a common complaint, and a tragic fact of our current justice system. Support for survivors is sorely lacking, especially where financial compensation is concerned.
Delivering On Our Promise
Due to a single-minded focus on punishing criminal offenders, the criminal justice system can appear uncaring to survivors. But there is another option, a second justice system in which survivors can find the support and compensation they deserve. This is the civil justice system, where survivors and their loved ones are able to pursue private civil lawsuits against the responsible parties.
In the criminal justice system, prosecutors hold the direct perpetrators of crime accountable for violating societal codes of conduct. Direct perpetrators are held accountable, in this system, to society as large.
The civil justice system turns this equation on its head. In the civil justice system, you can take control over your legal future. By filing a private civil lawsuit, you can pursue justice on your own behalf, holding defendants accountable to you, as an individual, rather than society at large. The civil justice system puts survivors at the heart of the legal process. This is your lawsuit and no one else's.
First-Party Defendant Claims
Delaware's strong criminal code holds offenders and direct perpetrators accountable for their misconduct in a court of law. But the criminal justice system isn't the only avenue for justice. Beyond the area of criminal law, there is a separate set of codes, rules that govern civil law. Under the tenets of Delaware's common civil law, survivors who have been harmed through sexual assault or sexual abuse are allowed to pursue financial compensation from direct perpetrators and negligent parties.
The Role Of Intentional Torts
As we've already mentioned, Delaware's civil law allows sexual assault and abuse survivors to file civil lawsuits against the direct perpetrators of these crimes, as well as negligent parties who facilitated or enabled the abuse. While these claims can be closely related, they rely on different legal theories developed over the centuries.
Delaware's powerful body of common law outlines a number of legitimate causes of action - reasons to file suit against someone else. In the majority of cases, lawsuits filed against the direct perpetrators of a sex crime will fall back on three separate but interrelated legal theories, all of which have been recognized for centuries in Delaware:
- Assault - While most people believe an assault to be a violent attack, the term actually has a specific meaning in Delaware civil law. In civil legal cases, the term "assault" is used in reference to the threat of violence - any gesture or act or statement that makes a victim fear the threat of imminent physical harm. The "assault" is not the violence itself, but the threat of violence - the raised fist or the angered shout. In fact, successful cases can be filed over assault, even when no actual physical contact took place.
- Battery - According to Delaware civil law, "battery" refers to the intentional touching of someone else in an offensive or harmful manner without the other person's consent. In effect, battery brings to a reality the threat of physical violence implied by the tort of assault. Assault is the threat of offensive physical contact, while battery is the physical contact itself. Needless to say, the vast majority of sexual assault and sexual abuse cases fall under the heading of both assault and battery.
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress - The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress should be fairly self-explanatory. This form of civil wrong applies when the defendant acts in an extreme or outrageous manner to intentionally inflict emotional distress on another person.
These three legal causes of action are usually referred to as intentional torts because, as the name implies, they all require a finding of intention. In assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress cases, the defendant intended to inflict harm on the victim, rather than having made an error or mistake that resulted in unintentional harm (as in most cases of negligence).
Third-Party Defendant Claims
Just as survivors are allowed to file civil lawsuits against direct perpetrators, some victims may also be eligible to pursue what is known as a third-party negligence lawsuit. These claims are filed against individuals, organization or institutions who enabled the abuse to occur through their own negligence - a careless disregard for the safety and wellbeing of others.
While direct perpetrators (molesters and abusers) are the ones who actually carry out criminal misconduct, many forms of sexual abuse and sexual assault are made possible because someone else looked the other way, concealed evidence or hid the truth from the authorities.
Holding The Church Accountable
Think of the Catholic Church, an organization that has, for decades, concealed priest sexual abuse cases from secular authorities, deceiving the public, silencing abuse survivors and protecting dangerous predators. Under the civil theory of negligence, the Catholic Church and individual churches can be held accountable for allowing priests to sexually abuse their followers. This is the true power of the civil court system, because the criminal justice system isn't prepared to hold the Catholic Church, or Church leaders, accountable for its misconduct. The most that criminal prosecutors can do is to pursue criminal charges against individual priests who abuse children. But holding the Catholic Church itself responsible is out of reach for criminal prosecutors. That all changes in the civil justice system, where individual survivors and their loved ones are allowed to pursue compensation and accountability from the Catholic Church.
Civil lawsuits tell nuanced stories of failure, error and negligence. Criminal prosecution is a "whodunnit," but civil litigation asks another set of questions: "who helped them do it?"; "who allowed them to act in such an egregious manner?" and "who failed to stop this?"
Thanks to a new surge of public pressure, the Catholic Church is being forced to account for its past misconduct in court. Around the country, survivors are stepping forward to pursue justice by filing civil lawsuits against individual Catholic churches, bishops and the Church at large. Needless to say, criminal prosecutors have played an essential role in this fight, even establishing new task forces to prosecute molester priests wherever possible. But most of this necessary work is made possible by the civil justice system, where survivors and their loved ones have the crucial right to pursue justice and accountability on their own terms.
Negligence: The Concept Behind Third-Party Lawsuits
The legal theory of negligence serves as the foundation for most sexual assault and sexual abuse lawsuits, at least insofar as these legal claims pursue compensation from a third-party defendant - an institution or individual distinct from the direct perpetrator of the misconduct.
At bottom, negligence is a term used in reference to a careless or reckless disregard for the safety and wellbeing of other people. But for the theory of negligence to hold, a prior duty must exist between the defendant and the plaintiff. Negligence implies duty, because negligence is the failure to uphold a pre-existing obligation to act with sufficient care.
In simple terms, negligence recognizes that some people owe others a duty of care. Physicians, as one example, owe their patients a duty to accord with well-recognized standards of medical care, along with having an obligation to practice medicine in a professional manner. In a similar vein, massage spa businesses owe their customers a duty to ensure that massage therapists do not abuse their position to commit sexual assault. Likewise, hotels and motels owe their visitors and residents a duty to provide adequate security against crime, including sex crimes.
If you think about it, most businesses and organizations have an obligation to prevent sexual abuse and sexual assault insofar as that is possible. Employers, for example, have a duty to ensure that their workplaces are free from sexual discrimination, including sexual assault. This duty is doubly important for businesses that work with young children.
The vast majority of institutions and organizations have a basic obligation to protect their participants and members from the risk of foreseeable harm. In the majority of cases, at least minimal precautions against violent crime, including sexual assault and abuse, should be taken. This duty to protect against sexual misconduct exists for schools (both public and private), as well as colleges and universities. It exists for medical offices, hospitals and vacation resorts. It holds also for psychiatric facilities, hotels and motels, along with sports clubs and train lines, massage spas and apartment buildings. It applies to churches and synagogues, mosques and workplaces of all types. Without exception, all of these organizations and establishments have a fundamental obligation to protect their members, visitors, residents, guests, customers and clients from sexual misconduct.
Negligence, of course, is the flip-side of these obligations to protect against wrongdoing. Negligence is what happens when one of these institutions or organizations fails to uphold its duty of care through a mistake, error or omission.
Filing A Third-Party Defendant Lawsuit
Negligence can come in numerous forms. It can look like an error or mistake, a failure to perform an action with sufficient care or a concerted effort to conceal sexual abuse allegations. No matter its appearance, negligence lies at the core of most sexual assault and sexual abuse lawsuits. When an organization or individual's negligence led to the abuse of a child, or the assault of an adult, survivors gain the powerful right to pursue justice and financial compensation by filing a private civil lawsuit.
The legal doctrine of negligence can be an issue for businesses large and small, along with non-profit agencies, faith-based organizations, public and private schools, hotels, motels and hundreds of thousands of other establishments and institutions across the country. All of these institutions owe their guests, customers, members and residents a duty to provide adequate protection and surveillance against sexual misconduct. If you or a loved one has recently survived the trauma of a sexual assault or child sexual abuse, you may be wondering what penalties your abuser or assaulter could face. We’ve compiled summaries of all of Delaware’s sexual assault and child sexual abuse laws as a reference for survivors.
Childhood Sex Abuse Laws In Delaware
From Wilmington to Dover and Milford, Connecticut's criminal justice system will do all that they can to prosecute the perpetrator, but be aware that criminal courts mainly focus on punishment and often ignore the needs of victims.
This is why victims of sexual crimes often turn to civil courts for help getting the financial support they need for damages related to the crime.
Our experienced Delaware sexual abuse lawyers help these victims get this support. Becoming a victim changes your life forever, but it’s possible to move on past your traumatic experience with the right support.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault or child sexual abuse, there are services available in Delaware to help. For immediate assistance, reach out to a rape crisis center in your area. You can receive 24-hour counseling, legal advocacy and referrals to additional services, including medical help, all for free.
- YWCA Delaware - sexual assault response center - 1-800-773-8570
- ContactLifeline - phone counseling and referrals - 1-800-262-9800
We seek accountability both from attackers and third parties whose negligence allows these crimes to occur, such as institutions who cover up crimes or property owners with inadequate security. These parties can all be held liable for economic damages like medical bills, therapy costs, lost wages, and noneconomic damages like pain and suffering.
If your family is looking for support and legal guidance, we want to help. We can teach you more about your legal options in a free consultation.
Laws Regarding Child Sexual Abuse
Delaware has four laws which specifically apply to sexual crimes committed against children:
Sexual Abuse Of A Child By A Person Of Trust, Authority Or Supervision
In Delaware, there is a law that specifically deals with cases of child sexual abuse involving authority figures. A person is considered guilty of sexual abuse of a child by a person of trust, authority or supervision if he or she engages in sexual intercourse with a child under 18 years old and the person is in a position of authority over the child, such as a teacher, coach, juvenile probation supervisor, etc.
This crime can either be prosecuted as a Class G (up to 2 years in prison), F (up to 3 years in prison), or D felony (up to 8 years in prison), depending on the specific circumstances of the crime.
Continuous Sexual Abuse Of A Child
Anyone who resides in the same home as a child or has frequent access to that child and commits three or more acts of sexual conduct against that child may be found guilty of continuous sexual abuse of a child. Legally, a child is defined as anyone under 18 years old. This crime is a Class B felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison.
Dangerous Crime Against A Child Under 14
A person may be found guilty of a dangerous crime against a child under 14 if they engage in any type of criminal sexual conduct against a person younger than 14 years old. This is also a Class B felony for the first conviction. On any subsequent condition, the offender will receive a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Sex Offender Unlawful Conduct Against A Child
In Delaware, punishments for sexual crimes are more severe if the perpetrator was already registered as a sex offender when the crime occurred. Charges for these crimes are adjusted as follows:
- Misdemeanor sexual offenses are upgraded to Class G felonies, or Class C felonies if the child is younger than 12 years old
- Class C, D, E, F, and G felonies are all raised one grade higher – crimes against children under 12 are automatically Class B felonies
- If the offense is a misdemeanor and the victim has a cognitive disability, the charge will be a Class C felony
- If the offense is a Class C, D, E, F, or G felony and the victim has a cognitive disability, the charges will be raised to a Class B felony
- If the offense is a Class A or B felony, the grade will stay the same but the sentence will be doubled
Laws For Sexual Crimes Against Adults
Delaware has four degrees of rape charges:
A person may be found guilty of rape in the first degree if he or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person without their consent and under any of the following circumstances:
- The person causes a physical injury or serious mental or emotional injury following the commission of the crime or during an attempt to prevent reporting of the crime
- During the rape, the perpetrator committed any other felony or any of the following misdemeanors: reckless endangering in the second degree; assault in the third degree; terroristic threatening; unlawfully administering drugs; unlawful imprisonment in the second degree; coercion; or criminal trespassing in the first, second or third degree
- The perpetrator displayed a deadly weapon or threatened the victim with the use of a deadly weapon
- One or more accomplices were involved in the crime
- The victim is under 12 years old and the perpetrator is at least 18 years old
First-degree rape is a Class A felony in Delaware and punishable by 15 years to life in prison.
A person can be convicted of second-degree rape if he or she does any combination of the following:
- Engages in sexual intercourse without consent from the other person
- Causes a serious injury during the rape
- Commits another felony or one of the misdemeanors covered under first-degree rape
- The victim has not reached their 16th birthday and suffers a serious physical injury
- A deadly weapon is involved in the commission of the crime
- One or more accomplices assisted in the crime
Rape in the second degree is a Class B felony punishable by a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Someone may be considered guilty of third-degree rape in any of the following circumstances:
- The victim is younger than 16 years old and the perpetrator is at least 10 years older
- The victim is younger than 14 years old and the perpetrator is at least 19 years old
- The victim suffered serious physical, mental, or emotional injuries during the immediate flight from the crime
This law also requires offenders to provide child support if the assault results in the birth of a child. Rape in the third degree is a Class B felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison.
Fourth-degree rape charges may be filed in cases involving:
- Engaging in sexual intercourse with someone under 16 years old, even if the minor willingly engages in the encounter
- Engaging in sexual intercourse with someone under 18 years old if the actor is at least 30 years older, unless the two parties are married
- Engages in sexual intercourse in any situation where the other party does not consent or has not reached their 16th birthday
In Delaware, fourth-degree rape is a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
A person can be convicted of sexual extortion if he or she attempts to force someone to engage in a sexual act by threatening to do any of the following if they refuse:
- Cause physical injury to anyone
- Damage property
- Commit a crime
- Accuse someone else of a crime or attempt to get false criminal charges filed against someone else
- Expose or publicize a secret with the intent to subject someone else to hatred or ridicule
- Falsely testify, provide false information, or withhold testimony or information related to someone else’s legal claim or defense
- Any other threat which is intended to harm someone else materially in regards to their health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation, or personal relationships
Sexual extortion is a Class E felony in Delaware and punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
Unlawful Sexual Contact
Unlawful sexual contact charges are applicable when someone subjects another person to sexual contact without their consent. These charges are divided into three degrees in Delaware:
Unlawful sexual contact in the third degree occurs when an offender has sexual contact without a victim’s consent or subjects the victim to the sexual contact of a third party without the victim’s consent. This crime is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison and up to a $2,300 fine.
An offender may be found guilty of second-degree unlawful sexual contact if he or she has sexual contact with a minor under 18 years old or causes the minor to have sexual contact with a third party. This crime is a Class F felony punishable by up to 2 years in prison.
A person may be convicted of unlawful sexual contact in the first degree when:
- While committing unlawful sexual contact in the third degree or second degree, or during the immediate flight from the crime scene, the offender causes physical injury to the victim or displays a deadly weapon.
- The offender has sexual contact with a child under 13 years old or causes the child to have sexual contact with someone else.
Unlawful sexual conduct in the first degree is a Class D felony in Delaware, punishable by up to 8 years in prison.
Civil Statute Of Limitations
Delaware's powerful tradition of civil law allows sexual abuse and sexual assault survivors to file lawsuits against the responsible parties. Time, however, may be limited. A law known as the "statute of limitations" serves as a legal time limit, restricting the amount of time you have to pursue justice. Complying with the statute of limitations is critical. If you attempt to file your lawsuit after the statute of limitations has run out, your case will almost certainly be dismissed. It's essential to contact an experienced Delaware lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are preserved.
The statute of limitations for cases involving the sexual assault or abuse of adults is currently set at two years in Delaware, beginning on the date of the misconduct. As a result, cases of adult sexual assault must be filed within two years of the incident in question.
There is no statute of limitations for cases of child sexual abuse. Survivors of sexual abuse that occurred during childhood (under the age of 18) are allowed to file suit at any time in Delaware.