Sexual abuse is a deeply distressing and heinous crime that causes severe long-lasting damage to its victims. It is an issue that demands more than a whisper or hushed conversation. It calls for action and, more importantly, accountability.
Perpetrators have been able to continue to sexually abuse people for years. Their victims are either too afraid or ashamed to come forward. Accountability in the context of sexual abuse involves acknowledging the harm and damages done to the victims. It is about forcing offenders to take responsibility for their actions and make amends. Without accountability, sexual abuse will persist. It will be as if the abuse never happened.
Holding perpetrators legally accountable for their actions
In the legal sphere, accountability translates to perpetrators facing the consequences of their wrongful actions. Victims could pursue criminal charges. If the evidence is enough to prove the perpetrator is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the court could sentence them to jail or probation or order the sexual abuser to participate in treatment programs.
However, legal accountability does not stop at the criminal court. Victims of sexual abuse can take their fight to civil court and seek damages for the harm they have suffered at the hands of the abuser. The burden of evidence is lower. Victims can potentially receive financial compensation to help recover the costs associated with loss of earnings, pain and suffering, medical treatment, and much-needed therapy.
Accountability extends beyond the individual perpetrator
Victims and advocates have held schools, religious organizations, and other institutions liable for their role in enabling or ignoring sexual abuse. Institutions or organizations fail to prevent sexual abuse or worse, cover it up. In fact, the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Catholic Diocese of Oakland recently filed for bankruptcy because of the hundreds of lawsuits and claims of sexual abuse against their priests. The priority of these religious organizations was to maintain secrecy.
Perpetrators and complicit institutions should be held accountable for allowing sexual abuse. It is not only about retribution. It is about encouraging victims to come forward to seek justice and prevent such abuses from happening again. The pursuit of accountability is a crucial step in the journey toward healing and justice.