Criminal child abuse may occur in many forms and may include many types of mistreatment being inflicted upon a child. Child abuse often includes:
- Physical abuse;
- Emotional abuse;
- Sexual abuse or exploitation;
- Medical abuse; or
Every category of abuse may result in both a child abuse lawsuit and criminal prosecution. It is important to note that all states have laws against assault, battery and homicide that would also apply to physical attacks against children.
Many states, however, have additional laws that specifically define these offenses when they are committed against children as child abuse. These laws vary by state, however, they all prohibit and criminalize any kind of cruelty towards children, including:
- Physical battery;
- Mental abuse; and
Child abuse and neglect are also handled through a system of civil laws and government agencies that work to to remove children who are abused children from the homes in which they suffer abuse or to otherwise protect the child and help provide treatment for families.
Child abuse is specifically defined as:
- Any action that results in:
- imminent risk or serious harm;
- serious physical or emotional harm;
- sexual abuse; or
- Of a child; and
- By a parent, caretaker or any individual that is responsible for the child’s welfare.
What Is Physical Abuse?
Child abuse laws make a physical attack against a child or actions that result in harm to a child criminal offense. If an adult intends to inflict them on a child, both minor injuries, such as bruises, and serious injuries, such as broken bones, are all considered abusive.
Even in cases where an adult does not intend to cause injury or does not cause an injury, intentionally assaulting a child is a criminal offense.
What is specifically considered child abuse may vary by state. In most states, however, the following conduct would likely qualify as child abuse:
- Hitting with a belt, paddle or object other than a hand;
- spanking is generally not against the law;
- Pinching hard enough to leave a mark that does not go away within seconds;
- Burning, for example, with:
- a lighter;
- an iron; or
- the stove top burner;
- Biting hard enough to leave a bruise or break the skin;
- Pushing into walls;
- Knocking to the floor; and
- Other actions, such as:
- kicking; or
What Is Mental or Emotional Abuse?
There are many states that include verbal threats and emotional abuse in their definitions of child abuse. In these states, a child does not have to suffer any physical harm in order for an act to be considered abusive.
For example, if a caregiver repeatedly humiliates or terrorizes a child, they have committed child abuse. A parent who subjects their child to the sight of physical abuse may have also committed child abuse.
A child is being emotionally abused when a parent, another individuals in the household, or a caretaker engages in the following:
- Calling the child names that are degrading or demeaning;
- Telling the child that they are worthless, stupid, or a mistake;
- Telling the child that they are never good enough or cannot do anything right;
- Telling the child they wish the child had never been born;
- Threatening the child with physical abuse or threatening to physically abuse others in the household.
What Is Neglect?
Neglect arises when a parent or caregiver does not provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional and educational needs. The failure to meet these needs may result in injury or even death.
Examples of neglect may include, but are not limited to:
- Not providing needed age appropriate care;
- Failure to give proper supervision;
- Failure to provide proper:
- clothing; or
- shelter; or
- Denying medical care.
Who Is Required to Report Child Abuse?
Child abuse laws in many states require that once a physical injury on a child becomes apparent, certain individuals are required to report it, including:
- School officials;
- Doctors; and
If one of these individuals was aware child abuse was occurring and did not report it, they may be held responsible to the child for the injuries they suffered at the hands of their abuser.
Can I Bring a Lawsuit for Child Abuse?
If an individual believes they need to bring a lawsuit for child abuse, they should consult with a personal injury lawyer. Every state has a statute of limitations, or time limit when an individual is permitted to bring a lawsuit.
If an individual delays past the time period, they will be prohibited from bringing a lawsuit for child abuse. An individual’s lawyer can advise them regarding the time limits for bringing a child abuse lawsuit in their area.
What is Tolling the Statute of Limitations for Child Abuse?
In many states, the statute of limitations for bringing a personal injury case is two years. In some cases, a state will extend the time limit within which an individual can bring a child abuse lawsuit.
These states typically allow a lawsuit to be filed in a specific number of years after the child reaches adulthood or after the abusive memory that was repressed resurfaces.
What about Criminal vs. Civil Court?
There are different issues and proceedings that arise in criminal cases versus civil cases. In a criminal abuse case, the defendant is prosecuted by the local district attorney’s office for committing child abuse.
If an individual is facing criminal charges, they will be in criminal court. In these cases, it is important for a defendant to have a criminal defense lawyer.
A civil child abuse case involves a victim suing the individual who committed the child abuse against them in order to recover damages for their injuries. If an individual wants to sue someone for their child abuse injuries or if an individual is being sued by a child abuse victim for money, they will be in civil court and will need a personal injury lawyer.
Can I Recover Damages as a Victim of Child Abuse?
Victims of child abuse often face difficulty when trying to recover for their losses. The majority of child abuse incidents involve individual abusers who do not have sufficient assets or insurance to pay for the victim’s injuries.
There may be exceptions, such as when the abuser was a member of an organization, for example, a church, or an individual who had a duty to report the abuse but failed to do so, such as a doctor.
If the individual who committed the child abuse does have the ability to pay, an abuse victim may be able to recover for their damages, including:
- Medical expenses;
- Loss of earning capacity; and
- Pain and suffering.
Should I Hire an Attorney for Help If You or a Loved Is a Victim of Child Abuse?
If you or a loved one has been a victim of child abuse, it is important to consult with a lawyer immediately in order to learn more about preserving our rights and remedies. Your family lawyer can explain the value of your case and help you navigate through the complicated legal process.
If you have been accused of criminal child abuse, it is important to consult with a criminal lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your rights, what defenses may be available to your, and the complex criminal legal system. Your lawyer can also advise you regarding the penalties you may face in your state.