Child Victims of Sexual Abuse Fight Back in Civil Court

By Larry Bodine Publisher, The National Trial Lawyers


Parents everywhere were horrified to hear that two police officers, a rabbi, and a Boy Scout den leader were among 71 people arrested recently on child pornography charges in a federal crackdown on sexual predators.

“The sheer volume of confirmed and suspected instances of individuals engaging in the sexual exploitation of children … is shocking and the professional backgrounds of many of the defendants is troubling. We can no longer assume that the only people who would stoop to prey on children are unemployed drifters,” said James Hayes, the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Locally, the FBI is contacting several hundred individuals in the DC area who were victims of school teacher William Vahey, one of the most prolific pedophiles in recent memory, for molesting at least 90 boys. The FBI put a contact form online for people to get counseling and provide information about Vahey, who killed himself after evidence about the molestation emerged.

As law enforcement brings criminal charges against the sexual predators, many of the young victims – some of whom are now adults — are turning to the civil courts to file lawsuits against their tormentors to recover damages. Schools, sports programs and churches have a legal duty to protect the children in their care. When they are found guilty of negligence by allowing an unsafe environment, the courts have held them responsible too.

Preyed on in the School Bathrooms

In Miami, a seven-year old boy was repeatedly abused in the bathrooms of the Downtown Miami Charter School. An older student at the same school repeatedly forced the child to perform sex acts on him there. The older student threatened kill the child’s mother if he told anyone. The boy tried to get help when it first happened, but he could see that the school just didn’t believe him. Finally the boy and his mother sued the school for failing to protect him even after the instances of abuse were first reported. Last month a jury held the school liable for $5.25 million in damages for its negligence. The money will be used to get therapy and medication for the boy to help him move on from the traumatic incident.

Assaulted on Ski Trips

A three-year old girl from Massachusetts who went on ski trips in Vermont was sexually abused by an adult chaperone. The assaults continued until she was nine years old, and only stopped after she spoke to a doctor about the molestation. Now age 24, the woman filed suit against her predator. Expressing its own revulsion, a jury in Vermont returned a $35 million jury award against him last month.

“The verdict sends another strong message that Vermont juries will not tolerate anyone, regardless of his or her position or status, taking advantage of children to satisfy their own sexual urges,” her lawyer told the Insurance Journal. It was the largest award in a child sex abuse case in Vermont.

“Juries want to make it clear that what these victims have suffered is incredibly damaging and that they want to deter other people from doing that,” said Jeffrey Dion, the director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association.

The pedophile, Scott Isaacson, 56, of Hyannis, MA, was convicted in Massachusetts in 2000 of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.

“I … still suffer from the abuse,” the woman said in an affidavit filed with the Burlington court. “I have flashbacks of the abuse. I suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.”

School Principal Rapes Boy

A seventh-grader attending St. Benedict School in Wallingford, WA, was raped and sodomized on a weekly basis in the school bathrooms by Daniel Adamson, the school principal. Adamson also had an elaborate train set at his home that he used to lure children into his basement to molest them. The school is run by a Catholic order of priests. The boy, now an ex-Marine and police officer, kept the horrific memories to himself until he returned to his school for a reunion. The visit prompted him to file suit against the school and the Seattle Archdiocese for allowing the attacks to happen. A King County jury awarded $6.4 million to the victim and against the school in 2012, believed to be the largest ever against the Catholic Church in that state. The Archdiocese settled their part of the lawsuit for $500,000. Adamson died in the 1970s.

A Policy of Secrecy

A nine-year old girl was a member of the North Fremont Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Fremont, CA when an adult congregant, Jonathan Kendrick, repeatedly molested her. The abuse continued because the religion’s national leaders had formed a policy to keep child sex abuse accusations secret. Congregation elders followed that policy even when Kendrick was convicted of child molestation. She sued the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, the organization that oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for negligence for allowing the abuse to happen and for covering it up. An Alameda County jury awarded the girl, now an adult, $28 million in damages in 2012.

“Nothing can bring back my childhood,” the girl told the Oakland Tribune. “But through this (verdict) and through, hopefully, a change in their policy, we can make something good come out of it.” She encouraged other victims of sexual abuse to come forward. Kendrick, 60, is a registered sex offender who lives in Oakley, CA.

Telltale Signs of Child Abuse

Parents should be alert to warning signs that their children are being molested by a sexual predator. Child sexual abuse includes touching a child’s genitals for sexual pleasure, or making a child touch someone else’s genitals. Examples of non-touching activity include showing pornography to a child, photographing a child in sexual positions or context, or encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts. According to Parents Protect, behavior to watch out for in children includes:

  • New adult words for body parts and no obvious source
  • Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
  • Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
  • Nightmares, sleeping problems
  • Becoming withdrawn, very clingy, or unusually secretive
  • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings, and insecurity
  • Regressing to younger behaviors, e.g. bedwetting
  • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
  • Self-harm (cutting, burning, or other harmful activities)

Child abuse is a plague on humanity. Sexual predators are everywhere and can unexpectedly be well-educated, successful people in positions of authority. While the damage can never be erased, victims no longer have to live their lives without getting justice. It is clear that American juries will award damages not only against the molester, but against the organizations that permit the abuse to take place.  


Larry Bodine is a lawyer and journalist. Currently he is the publisher of The National Trial Lawyers and is the former Editor in Chief of Readers can follow @Larrybodine on Twitter, on Google+ and on LinkedIn, where he moderates several marketing groups.