In some cases of child sexual abuse and sexual assault, there were organizations or individuals who had an obligation to prevent, stop, or report the abuse and failed to do so. Our lawyers help families who have been victimized by these crimes in the following ways:
- Understanding of the criminal penalties the perpetrator may face
- Holding negligent third parties liable through civil sexual abuse lawsuits
- Recovering financial compensation for personal and economic damages
You can learn more about your legal options as a survivor in a free consultation with our Massachusetts sexual abuse lawyers.
We help survivors and their families get the support and justice they need following a sexual assault.
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- Meet Our Massachusetts Civil Attorneys
- How Civil Justice Empowers Survivors
- Civil Legal Theories For Sexual Misconduct Lawsuits
- What Is Negligence?
- Massachusetts Criminal Laws
- Civil Statute Of Limitations
Were you or a loved one sexually abused or sexually assaulted in Massachusetts? The experienced legal professionals at AbuseGuardian.com can help. As a survivor of sexual violence, you have powerful legal rights, both inside and outside of the criminal justice system. Punishing criminal offenders within the criminal justice system is only one part of the equation. For eligible survivors, pursuing a private civil lawsuit may also be possible.
Legal Help For Survivors
You were harmed in a horrendous way. A criminal offender violated you in the most terrible manner, betraying your trust and taking advantage of you. Our dedicated attorneys understand the painful storm of emotions you must be experiencing. Shame, embarrassment, anger, fear - these are normal reactions to a horrific traumatic event. Please know that you are not alone.
We believe you, and we believe that your story deserves to be told. AbuseGuardian.com is sponsored by a nationwide network of compassionate sexual abuse and sexual assault attorneys. Our Massachusetts team has the experience and resources necessary to pursue your case. You can trust us. We have your best interests at heart.
Our dedicated legal team has helped countless survivors stand up and fight for justice. Recovery is possible. Your legal options only begin in the criminal justice system, where offenders are punished by the state on behalf of society. You have additional rights within the civil justice system, a parallel justice system in which survivors have the power to pursue justice and financial compensation on their own behalf.
You are not alone. Our attorneys are here to support you. It's an unfortunate fact that many sexual assault survivors struggle to handle powerful feelings of shame and embarrassment. Some survivors fear stepping forward, while others are silenced. Childhood sexual abuse survivors are often challenged by similar problems. Know that you did nothing wrong. You did not make a mistake. This was not your fault. You did not deserve to be violated; no one does. As with all people, you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Massachusetts Civil Law Empowers Survivors
In the wake of sexual assault or sexual abuse, justice is possible for survivors. In Massachusetts, a powerful tradition of common civil law empowers and protects sexual abuse and assault survivors, allowing victims to hold the responsible parties accountable in a private legal action. As a sexual abuse or assault survivor, you may be eligible to file suit against responsible parties, including the direct perpetrator of the assault or abuse. In addition, it may be possible to file a lawsuit against any institutions, individuals or organizations that enabled the abuse through their own negligence.
The Civil Justice System
We all agree that sexual abuse and sexual assault are horrendous crimes that deserve a speedy and decisive response. The criminal justice system plays a necessary role and performs an important function, prosecuting direct perpetrators of sexual crimes. But unfortunately, the criminal justice system often lacks necessary support for sexual abuse and assault survivors. The criminal justice system wasn't designed to provide crime victims with assistance; it was created to punish criminal offenders.
The civil justice system offers survivors of sex crimes an alternative avenue to seek justice. By filing a private civil lawsuit against direct perpetrators and negligent parties, survivors are allowed to pursue justice on their own terms. There are no prosecutors to consider. This is your lawsuit, and you can pursue it with your own best interests in mind. The civil justice system is your venue to pursue justice. It's about you, and no one else. In the criminal justice system, prosecutors hold the direct perpetrators of crime accountable to society. Likewise, these perpetrators of crime are punished for having violated our society's behavioral codes. The civil justice system, on the other hand, isn't about society as a whole. Again, it's about you and your search for accountability. In a very real sense, you, and you alone, become the heart of the legal matter.
Civil Laws In Massachusetts
Massachusetts already has a powerful criminal code under which the direct perpetrators of sex crimes can be held accountable. But Massachusetts also offers survivors with a strong array of civil theories to be used in private lawsuits.
In Massachusetts, civil lawsuits can be filed against both the direct perpetrators of misconduct and additional negligent parties responsible for facilitating sex crimes, but these two types of claims are generally filed using different legal theories.
In cases filed against direct perpetrators, most survivors will rely on a selection of four legal theories, all of which have been recognized in Massachusetts' civil courts for decades:
- assault - a physical act or threat of action by which another person reasonably apprehends the fear of imminent harm (e.g. raising one's fist against another person in a threatening manner; reaching out to grab someone)
- battery - battery is the consummation of the threat entailed in assault, the physical act of touching someone in an offensive or harmful manner
- intentional infliction of emotional distress - when a defendant's "extreme or outrageous" conduct intentionally causes the plaintiff severe emotional distress
In most civil cases filed over sexual assault and sexual abuse, these three legal theories are generally claimed together, as a trio that comes together. For obvious reasons, assault and battery usually come as a pair, since in most instances of assault, there is first the threat of physical harm, which is then realized through an act of physical violence, an offensive touch.
Third-Party Defendant Lawsuits
In addition to claims filed against individual direct offenders, the strong tradition of civil law in Massachusetts also offers survivors and their loved ones the opportunity to file suit against institutions and organizations that enable sexual abuse or sexual assault, either through protecting offenders or by failing to prevent misconduct.
At the core of most of these cases lies an institution or organization that facilitated the abuse. In many cases, there is an organization or individual who looked the other way while misconduct was occurring, failing to stop it, or silenced survivors, or protected a dangerous predator by failing to report the wrongdoing to the authorities.
One has only to think of the Catholic Church to know this is true. For decades, the Catholic Church has worked to protect dangerous child molesters from the secular authorities. Prominent church leaders have concealed abuse cases and deceived the public for years. These scandals first broke in Boston, but they are still going on.
It goes without saying that behavior of this sort is unacceptable. No institution should be allowed to protect dangerous predators from justice, but that's what the Catholic Church has done time and time again. As a result, the Catholic Church and its history of evidence concealment and misconduct stands behind every individual case of child sex abuse committed by a priest, just as individual priests and other church leaders stand behind every priest who abuses a child.
Change does appear to be on the way. Thanks to a new wave of public pressure, along with major revelations from a grand jury report released in Pennsylvania, the Catholic Church is being forced to account for its past wrongdoing in public. At the same time, hundreds of Catholic Church sexual abuse survivors are standing up to fight for justice across the country.
Criminal prosecutors are playing their own role in this process. In a number of states, new criminal justice system task forces have been established to investigate historical cases of misconduct and conduct prosecutions of offending priests when possible. But a majority of the valuable work in this regard may be taking place through the civil justice system, where survivors and their loved ones are filing a new surge of private civil lawsuits against the Church.
This is the power of the civil justice system. Through private lawsuits, survivors are allowed to take control of their legal futures. In recent months, hundreds of clergy abuse survivors have stood up for justice and accountability by filing suit against the Catholic Church, pursuing justice and financial compensation. In court documents filed across the country, these survivors accuse the Catholic Church, along with individual parishes, deacons and bishops, of committing negligence.
Negligence is the core concept relevant to most personal injury lawsuits, and sexual abuse and sexual assault lawsuits are no exception. Negligence, at its root, is a careless disregard for the safety and wellbeing of others, as expressed through some failure or act that another reasonable person in a similar situation would not have made.
As a legal theory, negligence recognizes that certain individuals and organizations owe other people a duty of care. This is an obligation to exercise a reasonable level of care in reducing or preventing the risk of serious harm. Take a daycare center as just one example. In both ethical and legal terms, daycare centers owe their customers (children and parents) an obligation to provide adequate support and supervision to the children under their care. An obvious element of this obligation is to prevent, insofar as it is possible, the sexual abuse of these children.
There are numerous ways a daycare center, whether small or large, can work towards preventing horrendous events from occurring. Some daycare centers install surveillance cameras, so all interactions between employees and children can be monitored and evaluated. Most daycare centers also perform extensive background checks to filter through applicants, ensuring that no one with a previous conviction is hired. Other daycare centers institute and implement policies that prevent employees from gaining private access to children.
Taking Action In The Wake Of Crime
All of these policies and procedures have one goal in mind - reducing the likelihood that a child at the daycare center will be subjected to sexual abuse. These are policies that a reasonable child care center would implement to prevent horrific forms of misconduct from occurring. But what happens when the unthinkable takes place, and a child is abused?
In the first instance, there is always the possibility of pursuing a criminal conviction against the direct perpetrator of the wrongdoing, the person who abused the child. In addition, parents also have the opportunity to pursue their own civil action against the daycare center, by contacting experienced legal counsel to investigate the crime further.
In many cases of sexual abuse, it's quite possible that an organization's negligence allowed the misconduct to occur. In our daycare center example, it could be that the facility failed to perform an adequate background check on the perpetrator, missing a prior conviction. Alternatively, it could be that the center's staff failed to monitor security camera footage sufficiently, missing out on evidence of the misconduct in a common, surveilled area of the facility. These would all be examples of negligence, in the event that the daycare center failed to uphold its duty to adequately care for children.
Holding Negligent Third-Parties Accountable
When an organization or institution's negligence sits at the root of sexual assault or sexual abuse, survivors and their families have the power to pursue justice and financial damages from the entity.
These principles of negligence and liability translate to numerous organizations and sex crimes. The same theories that held for in our daycare center example also hold for cases of sexual assault, and remember that our choice of a daycare was arbitrary.
Just as a daycare owes a duty of care to the children under its care, so too does a university or public school owe a duty to protect students and their parents. The same goes for massage spas, where customers let their guard down and submit to the care of a professional masseuse. In the same vein, hotels and motels owe guests a duty to implement adequate protection against criminal offenders. Doctors, too, owe their patients a duty to act in a courteous, professional manner.
Just like our daycare center, all of these individuals, organizations and institutions owe their members, guests, customers, residents and visitors a basic duty to reduce the likelihood of sexual abuse and sexual assault through appropriate and reasonable policies and procedures. But along with every duty comes the possibility of negligence - the failure to uphold a duty through some mistake, error or failure.
Telling The Survivors' Story
In the civil justice system, survivors and their loved ones gain the right to do something that the criminal justice system could never do. While there are instances of criminal negligence, criminal prosecutors are rarely moved to pursue convictions against the entities and institutions that facilitate these horrendous acts of wrongdoing.
Negligence is almost always a terrible injustice, but it's not one that the criminal justice system isn't prepared to remedy. Nor does the criminal justice system provide adequate support to victims on their path to justice. This is the role of the civil justice system, where experienced private attorneys assist their clients in the pursuit of justice.
In a civil lawsuit, the Catholic Church can be held responsible for decades of protecting and defending dangerous child molesters. In a civil lawsuit, a medical facility can be found accountable for allowing sexual abusers to practice medicine without sanction. Daycare centers can be held liable for missing out on necessary background checks. Nursing homes can be found responsible for allowing unscrupulous employees to gain unfettered access to patients. Massage spas can be found liable for leaving dangerous predators alone with clients in a vulnerable situation.
These are nuanced stories of failure and misconduct. These are the stories that our dedicated attorneys work to tell every day. We are here to tell your story - the story of what happened to you. Our sole mission is to bring the truth to light and hold the responsible parties accountable. Every day, we fight to empower survivors throughout Massachusetts, bringing our resources and experiences to bear for each of our clients.
If you or a loved one recently survived as a victim of rape or a sexual crime in Massachusetts, you may be concerned with how the state will handle the prosecution of the person responsible for the crime. Many people in this situation struggle with the process of reporting the crime and many of these cases go unreported.
Criminal Laws In Massachusetts
If you’re in this position, it’s important to know that there are resources available to help you. Our Massachusetts sexual abuse lawyers help victims begin the recovery process, including assistance with reporting the crime to authorities as well as securing financial compensation through the civil court system.
Criminal prosecution is a key aspect of justice after any sexual crime. But these courts are more concerned with punishing predators than helping victims. From Hyannis and Boston to Worcester and Pittsfield, a civil lawsuit can help you where the criminal justice system fails to, including:
- Holding perpetrators liable, in some cases even when they're not convicted in criminal court
- Holding third parties liable for covering up, enabling, or failing to report sexual abuse
- Providing financial compensation for damages related to the misconduct
We can help you learn more about finding justice through a private civil lawsuit. When you feel ready, just get in touch with us for a free and confidential consultation.
Massachusetts Sexual Crime Laws & Statutes
We’ve summarized the main Massachusetts sex crime statutes as a reference for victims who want to know what punishment their offender will face. If you want to find out more about how you can find justice through both the criminal and civil court systems, contact us today for a free consultation.
According to Massachusetts law, rape occurs when one person forces another to engage in sexual intercourse through the use of force or the threat of bodily injury. On a first conviction, this crime is punishable by up to 20 years in state prison. Subsequent convictions are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.
If the victim suffers a serious physical injury, the charge will be upgraded to aggravated rape, which is punishable by life in prison.
If the offender was armed with a firearm during the crime, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in state prison and a maximum life sentence.
If the offender used drugs to incapacitate the victim, there is a mandatory minimum of 10 years in state prison with a maximum life sentence.
Assault With Intent To Commit Rape
In Massachusetts, anyone who is convicted of physically assaulting another person with the intent of raping them will face up to 20 years in state prison. On a second offense, the punishment increases to a possible sentence of life in prison. If a firearm is involved in this crime, the minimum sentence is 5 years in state prison, with a second offense resulting in 20 years to life in prison.
A person is considered guilty of indecent assault and battery if the following four conditions are proved in court:
- The victim was at least 14 years old when the crime occurred
- The offender committed assault and battery against the victim (any intentional touching without consent)
- The assault was indecent, meaning it involved touching of the victim’s private parts, such as the genitals, buttocks, or breasts of a female
- The victim did not consent to the act
When determining consent, the court will consider how drugs, alcohol, a mental disability, injury, or sleep deprivation may have impaired the victim’s ability to consent to the act. If the victim was elderly or disabled, the charge will be upgraded to aggravated indecent assault and battery.
Indecent assault and battery is punishable by up to 5 years in state prison or by up to 2.5 years in the house of correction. If the victim was elderly or disabled, the charge will be upgraded to aggravated indecent assault and battery, which is punishable by up to 10 years in state prison. On subsequent offenses, this crime is punishable by up to 20 years.
Rape Of A Child
A person who has sexual intercourse with or sexually abuses a child under 16 years old is guilty of a felony punishable by up to a maximum sentence of life in prison.
If the child is under 12 and there is more than a 5 year age difference, or between 12-16 with a ten year age difference, the charge will be upgraded to aggravated rape of a child due to an age difference. This is punishable by a minimum sentence of ten years in prison.
If force is used to commit the crime, the charge will be aggravated forcible rape of a child, which carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.
In Massachusetts, the age of consent is 16 years of age. So even if a child willingly engages in the sexual activity, the adult can still be convicted of statutory rape.
Laws Regarding Third Party Negligence
In each state, there are laws which also apply to the people responsible for reporting or preventing child sexual abuse:
While the specifics may vary, all states have laws which require professionals who frequently work with children to report suspected abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families (DCF). If one of these professionals fails to report signs of misconduct, that person can be fined up to $1,000 and possibly face liability in civil court. If the wrongdoing results in serious bodily injury or death, a mandatory reporter may face a fine up to $5,000 and up to 2.5 years in jail.
In Massachusetts, the following professionals are considered mandated reporters:
- Healthcare professionals
- Public and private school teachers, administrators, and counselors
- Preschool and childcare staff members
- Social workers, foster parents, probation officers, and parole officers
- Firefighters and police officers
- School attendance officers, allied mental health and licensed human services professionals
- Psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and drug and alcohol counselors
- Clergy members
Negligent Supervision Or Conduct
In some cases, a sexual crime could have been prevented if it weren’t for the negligence of a third party. In Massachusetts, these parties can be held liable in civil court for up to 35 years after the alleged acts have occurred or 7 years after the victim discovered or reasonably should have discovered that an emotional or physical injury occurred because of the act.
Some examples of negligent third parties which could be held liable for damages include:
- Property owners who fail to provide adequate security
- Employers who fail to properly background check employees
- Organizations that attempt to cover up sexual assault (such as the Catholic Church or college football programs)
Determining liable parties in a private civil case is a complicated process. In order to fully protect your rights and ensure you get the full financial support you need, it’s best to discuss your legal options with an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.
Massachusetts Statutes Of Limitations
As we've seen, sexual abuse survivors and their loved ones often have the right to file a civil lawsuit, in addition to any criminal charges pursued by the prosecutors. These private lawsuits are distinct from the criminal justice system and occur in different courts.
But there is a time limit. In Massachusetts, a law known as the statute of limitations works as a legal clock, counting down the amount of time you and your loved ones have to file your lawsuit. Complying with the statute of limitations is of paramount importance. If you try to file your case after the statute of limitations has run its course, your lawsuit will be dismissed from court without a second chance. As a result, it's critical to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights continue to be protected. This is essential. Don't hesitate. Act now.
The general statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Massachusetts is three years, beginning on the date of the assault or abuse. There are various exceptions to this rule, however. For example, an exception may hold if you had a legitimate reason for delaying the filing of your lawsuit, for example if you feared for your safety. In most cases, this three year statute of limitations applies to cases of sexual assault involving adult victims.
A different statute of limitations applies to cases of childhood sexual abuse. According to Massachusetts law, sexual abuse survivors who were abused as minors have up to 35 years after the abuse occurred to file suit, or within 7 years of their discovery of the abuse's emotional or psychological damage, whichever date comes later. Note, however, that this statute of limitations does not begin running until the survivor reaches their 18th birthday. This statute of limitations applies both to cases filed against the direct perpetrator of the sex crime, as well as cases filed against a negligent third-party.