Abuse of a child is a crime. Beyond the criminal system, our personal injury lawyers can help the victims of these crimes file civil lawsuits to recover compensation from those who performed the abuse, and those who had knowledge of the abuse, but did nothing to alert the authorities and stop it. This page was designed to help survivors of child abuse, their families and loved ones, learn more about their legal rights.
Child Sexual Abuse
There is nothing more tragic than the fact that children are sexually abused, that innocence is lost, and childhood destroyed by the heartless, violent actions of abusers nationwide. But the United States is home to a secret epidemic, one that threatens the very lives of our most beloved, and vulnerable members. According to Childhelp, more than 6 million children are the victims of abuse each year. But that number only takes reported cases of child abuse into account; the actual number is much higher.
If you, or a loved one, are a survivor of child abuse, no number can accurately portray the devastation that an abuser has caused. But justice is possible. In recent years, survivors and their families have brought numerous abusers to justice, and found new sources of healing. If unpunished, instances of abuse tell children everywhere that they are not safe, that there are those in the world who would stop at nothing to harm them. If we fail to hold child abusers and their enablers accountable, we are doing the exact opposite – allowing children to believe that it is not they we will protect, but those who make them victims.
What Is Child Abuse In The Eyes Of The Law?
According to America’s Administration For Children & Families, instances of child abuse include “any act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” “Child” is defined as any person under the age of 18.
In addition to this blanket federal definition, New York State has its own legal definition. New York considers “abuse” to encompass only “the most serious harms committed against children,” when a parent or other legal guardian inflicts “serious physical injury, creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury or commits an act of sex abuse.”
Every case of child abuse is unique and should be treated as such. While physical and sexual abuse are the most publicized forms of child mistreatment, neglect and maltreatment are just as serious, and just as deserving of legal action. Child neglect includes any instance in which a caretaker fails to provide a child with the elements necessary for proper development, including adequate supervision, housing, food, water, clothing, medical treatment, and hygienic resources.
Thankfully, New York’s courts have begun to recognize emotional abuse and neglect as forms of mistreatment just as devastating to children as physical and sexual abuse. Forms of emotional child abuse include:
- Repeated humiliation or belittling
- Limiting, or intentionally withholding physical contact and affection
- Repeated yelling or threats
- Exposing a child to the abuse of others, including pets
Sexual abuse still bears a hurtful stigma in our society. Even within those communities that should be most supportive, many survivors of child abuse face social difficulties, including outright ostracism, in addition to the personal obstacles they must overcome. Perhaps this stigmatization explains the vast under-reporting of child abuse, a prohibition on speaking out that clouds our eyes to the true extent of child abuse as an epidemic in America. But there is no act stronger than standing up to an abuser, and no act more just than holding an abuser accountable.
If you suspect that your young loved one is being victimized, be vigilant for the following common signs of child abuse:
Common Signs Of Child Sexual Abuse
Inappropriate non-touching activities can be just as damaging to a child’s sense of safety and psychological development as acts of sexual abuse that involve physical contact. And thankfully, they are just as illegal. But because most do not leave physical marks, recognizing these non-touching forms of sex abuse can be more difficult. In many cases, the signs of sex abuse are psychological, like drastic, inexplicable changes in mood. Watch out for these psychological signs:
- Playing with toys in a “new,” sexualized way
- Nightmares and other sleeping problems
- Withdrawal from friends and/or family
- Regression, a return to earlier behaviors, like bed wetting
- Becoming excessively “clingy”
- Inexplicable anxiety or fear of particular people or locations, including reluctance to go home or to school
- Emotional outbursts, anger, hostility, or hyperactivity
- Drastic changes in educational performance
- Loss of appetite
- Using “adult” words for body parts, without explanation
- Activities of self-harm, like cutting and burning
- Running away
Physical signs of child sexual abuse include:
- Pain, bruising, bleeding, or discharge around genitals, anus, or mouth
- Unexplained injuries, including bruises and cuts
- Blood in underwear
- Difficulty sitting or walking
- Recurrent pain during bowel movements or urination
Noticing the signs of child sex abuse is horrifying. It is also, at first, unbelievable – how could someone do this to my child or loved one? Many parents and guardians who witness the signs soon fall into denial, which can be psychologically preferable to fully realizing the horror of your victimized child’s life. But you must take action, and contacting a child abuse lawyer may be the best option.
Organizations That Harbor Child Abusers
Our attorneys are focused on holding the institutions that protect child abusers accountable. As impossible to understand as it may be, there are numerous organizations in our country that actively hide pedophiles within their ranks. We must hold these monsters responsible for the harm they have done, for our children and our children’s children.
Schools: Teachers, Mentors, & Students
According to the US Department of Education, almost 9.6% of all American students become the victims of educator sexual abuse. Tragically, there are still schools in our country that would harbor these abusive teachers, rather than foster safe, caring environments for our children.
Churches: Priests & Clergy
In recent decades, allegations of child sex abuse against members of America’s church communities, primarily the Catholic Church, have come to widespread attention. BishopAccountability.org, a website created by lay Catholics to document the Roman Catholic Church’s ongoing abuse crisis, reports that more than “3,000 civil lawsuits have been filed against the church” in America. And while much work has yet to be done, this increased pressure seems to be changing the Church’s long-held culture of secrecy. To date, dioceses in which child abuse occurred have settled with victims for over $1.5 billion. The Church itself has responded by increasing background checks for members who will work with children. The institution of “Safe Environment” training seeks to educate employees and clergy members on the signs of sex abuse.
Foster Care: Foster Parents and Siblings
Underfunded and understaffed, America’s foster care system often finds itself unable to properly supervise children within its care. While a lengthy pre-screening process is required by law, to eliminate potential abusers from the pool of foster homes, many go unnoticed. Reports have surfaced that detail the hellish nightmare some foster children enter, shuttled from one abusive family to another. New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services and the subcontractors that it employs can be held accountable when they fail to adequately protect children in their care, or intentionally ignore signs of child abuse.
What To Do If You Suspect Child Abuse…
The first step is to remove the child from the abusive environment and make sure to inform the authorities. If a crime is being committed, the criminal justice system must be engaged and the relevant authorities will investigate and prosecute those responsible.
The second step is to ensure that the child and family receive adequate compensation in a civil lawsuit from the abuser and accomplices/enablers who allowed the abuse to happen in their institution. A civil lawsuit will not bring back the innocence that was taken from the child, however, it will compensate for therapy and make provision for the future. Such civil judgments will also penalize the institution and hopefully increase awareness to where new safety protocols are put in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen to another child.
Despite the seriousness of child abuse and the absolute necessity of holding abusers accountable, New York State enforces strict statutes of limitation on child abuse lawsuits. If you suspect child abuse or are an abuse survivor yourself, it is imperative that you act now. Contact a child abuse lawyer to learn more about your options immediately.
Every year in the United States around 3 million reports of child abuse are made. As a society, we’re working hard to ensure that abused children around the country are protected from their abusers, but there are still countless cases of child abuse that go unreported, or even worse, are overlooked by government agencies.
A Child Lost
Little Nixzmary Brown was one of the overlooked children. Prior to her death as a direct result of child abuse on January 11th, 2006, Nixzmary was a beautiful seven-year-old girl, who had the potential to blossom into a vibrant young woman. That opportunity was taken away from her by her stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez.
On January 11th, Rodriguez flew into a rage after finding that some yogurt was missing from the
refrigerator, and a computer printer had been damaged. Rodriguez beat Nixzmary with his hands and a belt, bound her hands, duct taped her mouth shut, and subjected her to repeated immersions in cold water.
It is suspected that the blow to her head which ultimately resulted in her death came from a water faucet in the bathroom.
As the police performed an investigation of her death, it was determined that the New York City Administration for Children’s Services had been alerted to the possible abuse in the home not just once, but twice. The first complaint was filed when Nixzmary missed over 40 days of school, and the second complaint occurred when she came to school with a black eye. It appeared that both times ACS failed to look into the matter properly.
Changes Made to New York Law
While nothing could be done to change the fate of Nixzmary, her death did lead to positive changes in the New York City child services department. Mayor Bloomberg created a city panel to determine why Nixzmary’s abuse had gone undetected, and what changes could be made so that future victims of abuse would not also be overlooked.
Changes to the system included a full-time police supervisor to the child welfare headquarters to encourage better communication between the two agencies, a 24 hour hotline at the police department for the child welfare employees, the ability for caseworkers to obtain an entry order if parents refused the caseworker entry into the home, and new rules and regulations for school systems when reporting prolonged absences.
Filling In the Missing Pieces
In spite of the changes made to the NYC child services department, abuse cases still slip through the cracks. Statistics show that some children may compensate so well that they don’t show the outward signs of abuse and teachers and government officials may not be alerted to their dire situation. For these children, a loved one’s initiative is the only hope. The attorneys at Banville Law are here to support families dealing with an abusive situation and provide a legal path to safety for the child.
When is a Child Abused?
A child is abused when their adult caretaker either intentionally causes them physical or emotional harm, or when the caretaker allows a child to be harmed by neglecting them. In cases of neglect, while the caretaker is not literally causing the physical harm, they are failing to prevent physical harm, such as malnutrition, from happening.
Legally a child is considered to be anyone under the age of 18 who is not legally emancipated.
Types of Child Abuse
The abuse of a child is not limited to physical harm. Child Abuse can include:
- Sexual Abuse
- Physical Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Physical Neglect
- Emotional Neglect
Physical abuse is when physical harm comes to a child as a result of the actions of an adult. Abuse is contact in which the abuser intends to cause suffering and bodily harm. Sexual abuse is a common form of physical child abuse.
Emotional abuse of a child comes in many forms. These forms can include:
- Bullying – using strength to intimidate a child into doing you want.
- Threats – implying that you will cause injury or damage to a child if they don’t comply with what you want.
- Belittling a child – for example, telling them they are a “mistake”.
- Humiliation – causing a child to feel shame for something. For example, mocking them for wetting the bed in public.
- Ignoring a child – not speaking to them or giving them physical contact or signs of affection
The effects of emotional abuse can lead to a lifetime of mental health issues, including depression and social anxiety.
Neglect is defined as “the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.” This is one of the most common forms of child abuse in America. Children who are physically neglected are often also emotionally neglected.
What are the Warning Signs?
Warning signs of Physical Abuse can include:
- Frequent injuries – cuts, bruising, burns, or broken bones
- Difficulty walking or being uncomfortable while sitting
- Cowering when physically touched or jumping at sudden movements
- Wearing odd clothing choices – for example, long sleeves during summer in order to hide injuries
Warning signs of Emotional Abuse:
- Anxiety or excessive fear in social settings
- Children who are not excited or fearful to go home
- Lashing out at others – hitting or behaving aggressively towards others
Warning Signs of Neglect
- Bad hygiene – this includes tangled hair, uncut finger, and toenails, body odor from not being bathed
- Often missing from school or late to school with no adult attending them
- Clothing that is too small or too big and is worn repeatedly
Children who have been neglected or abused have a higher risk of developing both physical and mental health problems later in life.
Studies have shown that physical abuse can lead to impaired brain development. Repeated abuse and neglect can result in an impaired growth of the brain, which can have long-term effects on language development, cognitive abilities, and academic abilities. In adulthood, the abused are at a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease.
Emotionally, the abused have been shown to have a higher risk for anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, and attachment disorders. This is hardly surprising considering the people who should have been there to love and care for them instead caused them harm. As teenagers and adults, the victims often turn to drugs, alcohol, and high-risk sexual activities in order to try and cope with their emotional damage.
If you or a loved one are the victims of child abuse know there are people who wanted to help you. The following resources are available to victims:
- National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
- Justice for Children Hotline: 1-800-733-0059
- New York State Office of Children and Family Services – 1-800-342-3720
- National Children’s Alliance
Contact a New York City Child Abuse Lawyer
The attorneys at Banville Law understand that cases of child abuse require a special level of sensitivity and compassion. We only want to help, in any way we can. Schedule a free consultation today.
Banville Law is based in Manhattan, and while the majority of our clients hail from the areas listed below, we do handle child abuse civil lawsuits on behalf of clients from all over the state of New York: