In 2002, priest Lawrence Hecker quietly retired from his position within the Catholic Church. His retirement came three years after he gave a statement to church leaders confessing he committed “overtly sexual acts” against several boys decades earlier. Now, the disgraced Louisiana priest is charged…
Understanding Your Legal Rights for Louisiana Sex Abuse
Sex abuse is a horrific – and unfortunately commonplace – crime that can destroy the lives of survivors. In 2019, 406,970 women and 52,336 men in the United States were victims of sexual assault or rape. Someone undergoes rape or attempted rape every five minutes in America. While assaults perpetrated by strangers are regularly occurring, most assailants are someone the victim knows personally. Only 14% of Louisiana’s sex crimes are committed by a stranger.
Louisiana has harsh penalties for sex crimes. Those convicted of first-degree rape face life sentences without the possibility of parole. Even lesser charges, such as sexual battery, can carry sentences of up to 10 years. Unfortunately, sexual assault is underreported to law enforcement, so most predators won’t ever see prison time. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 31% of sexual assault victims come forward, and just 2.5% of perpetrators face incarceration. While most sexual abuse victims are women, male victims are less likely to file police reports.
Types of Sexual Abuse
Sexual Assault: Sexual assault encompasses a range of crimes, including rape, forcible sodomy, unwelcome touching, incest, and any other unwanted sexual contact. Sex between an adult and a minor, even if it’s consensual, is considered sexual assault unless the minor is at least 17.
Sexual Harassment: Often occurring in the workplace or classroom, sexual harassment involves unwanted sexual comments or requests for sexual favors. It often involves an imbalanced power dynamic; for example, a teacher harassing a student or a manager making inappropriate comments to their subordinate.
Childhood Sex Abuse: Children experience some form of sexual assault every nine minutes in the U.S., and it’s almost always done by someone they know. 25% of girls and 16% of boys will be abused before adulthood, and male adults are most likely to hurt minors.
Elder Abuse: Older people are targeted for sexual abuse because they’re often more vulnerable. Conditions like dementia can make it difficult for older adults to defend themselves or articulate that they’re being abused, traits that a predator may seize on.
Intimate Partner Violence: Sometimes, abuse is perpetrated by the victim’s closest person. Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone regardless of gender. It occurs when someone assaults or rapes their romantic partner. Many of these victims have also experienced domestic violence in the same relationship.
Where Sex Abuse Happens
Sexual abuse can happen anywhere. Some people are abused at home, which is supposed to be a sanctuary from the world’s dangers. Others encounter abusers while working, studying, at church, or serving time in prison. These are a few of the most common settings.
Workplaces: The Civil Rights Act protects employees from sex-based harassment in the workplace and makes it illegal for employers to retaliate when their employees file complaints. Unfortunately, some employers may still try to force an employee who’s faced sexual harassment out of the company, whether through outright intimidation or giving poor feedback hoping that the employee will leave on their own.
College Campuses: Women between 18-24 are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than the general female population. Research has found that fraternity members are three times more likely to commit rape, and Greek life members are at particular risk for sexual assault. Experts say that college sex abuse crimes are underreported by students, some of who may have lost faith that the school will care about them.
Religious Institutions: A church is the last place you’d expect to shelter abusers from accountability. Unfortunately, it is disturbingly common. Thousands of priests in the Catholic Church have been credibly accused of violating children. People abused by clergy often struggle to reconcile the idea that the church does good things and is a safe place with their traumatizing experiences.
Boy Scouts: The Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation’s largest scouting organizations, and it promises enriching experiences for children ten years old and up. On the contrary, thousands of scouts who are now adults have accused the organization of covering up abuse. The Boy Scouts have faced so much sex abuse litigation that the group filed for bankruptcy protection in 2020.
Jails & Prisons: The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than 200,000 prisoners experience sexual assault every year. The abuse sometimes comes from fellow inmates, but it’s also perpetrated by the guards and wardens hired to maintain order. Prisoners can put themselves in danger when they speak up about misdeeds, and they might wonder whether they’ll face retaliation if they do.
Groups Most Likely to Experience Sex Abuse
No demographic group is entirely unaffected by sex abuse, but some are more vulnerable than others. Marginalized community members often have risk factors that increase their chances of suffering sexual violence. Knowing which communities these are can assist us in helping those who need it the most.
LGBTQ+ Individuals: Members of the LGBTQ+ community are extremely likely to experience sexual abuse. One in three transgender and gender non-conforming people are survivors of some form of the crime.
Immigrants: Recent investigations have shown a troubling pattern of immigrants being sexually abused by officers while in governmental custody. These immigrants might fear deportation if they report their assaults. Officers tell detainees that no one will believe them.
Girls and Women: A worrying percentage of underage girls are victims of sex abuse. One in three female rape victims are between the ages of 11 and 17, and nearly 18% of all women have endured rape or attempted rape.
Native Americans: The sex abuse rate among Native American women is much higher than among non-native American women. They are also more likely to be murdered. More than half have experienced sexual violence.
Military Members: Here’s something shocking to consider: women in the military are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a fellow servicemember than shot at by enemy forces. Just one in four comes forward to report it, so there are very likely far more victims who have not.
Effects of Sexual Abuse
The effects of sexual assault can last a lifetime. Survivors are frequently diagnosed with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. It’s common for survivors to deal with traumatic flashbacks and have trouble maintaining relationships and trusting others. 13% of women who are raped will attempt suicide. Other potential side effects include:
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Substance abuse
- Trouble eating
Therapy and medication can help sex abuse survivors recover and heal from the terrible things they’ve experienced. Still, treatment is often expensive, which is why some survivors pursue legal action against their attackers or the institutions covering up the sexual abuse.
Where To Seek Help
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse, there are resources to get you the help you need. The Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault is a coalition agency that empowers survivors of sex abuse and provides training to state sexual assault crisis centers. The agency can be reached at 888-995-7273. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) to connect with a staff member at a local sexual assault service provider. Victims in New Orleans can call the New Orleans Family Justice Center at 504-866-9554, which is open 24/7. Lastly, Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response is a 501c3 non-profit organization for sexual trauma survivors. You can reach them at 855-435-STAR.
Louisiana Sex Abuse Legislation
In June 2021, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill that gives sexual abuse victims more time to pursue legal options. Before this legislation, child sex abuse survivors could only sue before their 28th birthday. Now, there’s no deadline. Survivors of Louisiana clergy abuse have expressed vocal support for the law. The bill also created a three-year lookback window for anyone wanting to bring forth child sex abuse lawsuits, regardless of when the crime occurred.
The lookback window closes in 2024, which gives victims who weren’t previously able to file legislation an opportunity to seek justice. Many predators convince their victims they’ll be in trouble if they tell anyone, and that fear can be difficult to shake. It can take years for survivors to come to terms with what happened to them, especially if they were children at the time. When someone is ready to come forward, they have options for both civil and criminal action.
After HB 492 became law, arguments were made in various Louisiana sex abuse court cases that HB 492 references a 1993 statute, so the legal window should only be applied to abuse in the last 29 years. In June 2022, the Louisiana House and Senate unanimously approved new sex abuse legislation to clear up any confusion. Gov. Edwards signed House Bill 402 into law on June 10, 2022. The new bill clarifies that no matter how old a sex abuse survivor is now or when the abuse took place, the Louisiana “lookback window” to file a sex abuse lawsuit is in place until June 14, 2024.
Sex Abuse Lawsuits & Penalties
Law enforcement agencies will investigate all sex crimes, regardless of when they occurred. Ideally, every perpetrator would face criminal charges. In reality, 97.5% of them go free. It can also be difficult to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in court years after the crime occurred. Louisiana uses the following sentencing guidelines for any predator who is successfully convicted:
First Degree Rape: Life imprisonment with hard labor and without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence
Second Degree Rape: Five to 40 years imprisonment with hard labor. Prisoners must serve at least two years of the sentence without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence.
Third Degree Rape: Up to 25 years imprisonment with or without hard labor but also without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence
Sexual Battery: Up to 10 years imprisonment, with or without hard labor, without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence
Second Degree Sexual Battery: Up to 15 years imprisonment, with or without hard labor, without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence
Misdemeanor Sexual Battery: Up to $1,000 fine or imprisonment for up to six months, or both
Oral Sexual Battery: Up to 10 years imprisonment, with or without hard labor, without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence
Given the slim chance of conviction and prison time, civil sex abuse lawsuits can provide justice that’s difficult to find in the criminal court system. Civil plaintiffs also have a lower burden of proof. Instead of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the plaintiff must only prove that it’s more likely than not that the defendant perpetrated the crime.
Filing a lawsuit against a sex abuser is a brave decision that can be emotionally trying, and having an experienced attorney on your side makes a difference. The attorneys at Herman Herman & Katz advocate on behalf of all sexual abuse victims. Contact us online or call 844-943-7626 for a free, confidential case review.