New Connecticut law helps victims of childhood sexual abuse

In May, Connecticut's General Assembly passed "Erin's Law," named for Erin Merryn, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who is now a national advocate for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Erin's law aims to educate children on how to avoid becoming victims of child molestation. The law would implement age-appropriate education in Connecticut's schools to teach children about sexual molestation and how to avoid it. The curriculum will include such programs as "How to Tell Today," "How to Get Away" and "My Body Belongs to Me."

Education will include the difference between good and bad touching and how to find a trusted adult to report abuse. And anything that can help childhood victims is needed. Federal data shows that one in four girls and one in six boys are molested before age 18. Child victims of sexual abuse can face a lifetime of struggles. The Department of Justice has reported that up to 95 percent of female offenders were abused before the age of 12, while up to 68 percent of male offenders similarly faced physical or sexual abuse or neglect as children.

Currently 14 states have passed Erin's Law; 23 states have similar legislation in the works. Connecticut would be the 15 th if Governor Malloy signs the bill into law as expected.

Connecticut and 36 other states already have Megan's Law, which forces sex offenders to register to a database made available to the public online and also prevents many registered sex offenders from living in certain neighborhoods and near schools.

Civil lawsuits may help

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are generally most concerned with preventing other children from suffering the same abuse as they experienced. That is why reporting sexual abuse, while extremely difficult, is also an important step, as offenders usually victimize more than one child. In a civil case, the burden of proof to find a defendant guilty is a "preponderance of the evidence." In a criminal case, on the other hand, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Because of this, some victims can find justice in a civil case even if a criminal case was unsuccessful.

A victim of sexual abuse may also be able to obtain money damages in a civil suit for help with medical and therapeutic expenses, in addition to recovery for the difficulty many victims have in moving on with their lives. A civil suit can also provide a victim with a sense of closure and empowerment. Most importantly, a civil suit can bring to light the actions of the abuser and make it less likely other children will become victims themselves.

In 2002, Connecticut passed a law that made the statute of limitations for bringing personal injury claims for sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a minor to 30 years after the minor reaches adulthood. Essentially, in Connecticut a victim of childhood sexual abuse has until age 48 to bring a claim against his or her abuser.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse ready to bring a claim against an abuser should contact an experienced personal injury attorney familiar with sexual abuse claims to discuss legal options and next steps.