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Home > Pennsylvania Personal Injury > Pennsylvania School Sexual Abuse Lawyers

Pennsylvania School Sexual Abuse Lawyer

When children suffer sexual abuse at school, they are forced to face their perpetrator daily and may experience abuse repeatedly. Schools are liable for any harm that befalls a child. If you or your child has been sexually abused at school, a Pennsylvania school sexual abuse lawyer at Cordisco & Saile may be able to help you recover substantial compensation.  

This page has been written and edited by a team of experienced legal writers . This page was approved by Managing Partner, Michael Saile who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

Children spend the largest portion of their days in school, and parents rightfully expect school personnel to keep their children safe. School staff have an authority role in children’s lives, and this power dynamic creates a line that must never be crossed.

Children have no choice but to attend school. When sexual abuse occurs, they must repeatedly return to the site of a major trauma, where they are continually reminded and forced to face the abuser, who may maintain an authoritative role. The abuser may continue to misuse authority to revictimize a child repeatedly, with no means of escape for the child.

Whether a child has been coerced into sexual activity or a teen is involved in a sexual relationship with a school staff member, any sexual conduct between school staff and a student constitutes sexual abuse. Such abuse may result in significant long-term harm, including depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.

At Cordisco & Saile, our nationally recognized personal injury lawyers are passionate about holding schools accountable that fail to protect children. We provide every client with personalized, compassionate attention, and you can count on us to stand by you until you get the justice you deserve. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation.

How Cordisco & Saile LLC Helps Victims of Sexual Abuse

When you contact our award-winning sexual abuse lawyers, you become empowered to confront the wrongdoing and place the blame where it belongs—with the perpetrator and the school that failed to prevent the abuse.

We will start by thoroughly analyzing your case and calculating the value of your claim. You can always count on us to do the following:

  • Believe you
  • Provide emotional support
  • Advocate for you
  • Help you report the abuse to the appropriate authorities
  • Identify the responsible parties
  • Skillfully and fearlessly negotiate for a maximized settlement amount  
  • Present the case before a jury when the school fails to take responsibility and voluntarily pay a fair and reasonable settlement

Our clients know we truly care about them because we treat every client like family and consistently achieve successful case results. Our work is rewarding because we make a difference in our clients’ lives, allowing them to recover to the fullest extent possible. We regularly received unsolicited client testimonials such as the following:

“Honesty, integrity, caring, and professionalism are a few words that come to mind regarding this firm. Mike Saile and his staff work around the clock to ensure my case goes as smoothly as possible. When time was of the essence, they stayed past their normal hours on a Friday to accommodate me. Mike and his staff greeted me, helped walk me through the preliminary steps of my case, and have been behind me like a true warrior and friend to ensure everything goes smoothly.”

“Steve is someone who goes above and beyond for his clients. Responsive, knowledgeable, and thorough, he bends over backward like you are family. His attention to detail, compassion, and understanding are second to none. You can trust him with every nuance of your case and he will deliver for you.”

How Common Is Sexual Abuse in Schools?

According to the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission, nearly one in 10 students experiences sexual abuse by school employees. More than half of all disciplinary actions against educators in Pennsylvania are for sexual misconduct. In 2022 alone, 162 teachers received disciplinary action.

Student-on-student assault is also a crisis in schools. According to a report by Penn Live, 335 student-on-student sexual assaults were reported in Pennsylvania public schools from 2011 to 2015, and this does not include unreported incidents. Sexual assaults by students are estimated to be nine times more prevalent than assaults by school staff.

Is My Child at Risk of Educator Sexual Abuse?

Unfortunately, children may experience sexual abuse at school at any age and regardless of gender. However, some students have a higher risk of abuse than others.

According to The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit news organization, statistics on sexual abuse at schools show the following:

  • Approximately two-thirds of students assaulted at school are in high school
  • The average age of students experiencing sexual abuse at school is 15
  • Approximately 25 percent of children sexually assaulted at school are middle school students
  • Eight percent of sexually assaulted students are in their elementary years. 
  • 60 percent of school sexual abuse victims are girls
  • 75 percent of school sexual abusers in schools are men 

Pennsylvania maintains a public database of teachers disciplined for various reasons, including sexual abuse.

Pennsylvania attorneys John F. Cordisco and Michael L. Saile, Jr. pictured before a transparent background
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What Are the Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Schools?

If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing sexual abuse at school, it is important to speak with the child’s doctor and obtain a referral to a psychological counseling service. They can usually assist you in assessing whether your child has been abused. It is okay to ask your child, but many children cannot self-disclose due to fear of the abuser.

The signs of sexual abuse, especially during the teen years, could be signs of problems other than sexual abuse, such as bullying, problems with peers, and normal teenage angst. Displaying some of these signs does not always mean your child has been sexually abused.

When these symptoms are sudden, unusual, or extreme, it is important to investigate the cause. Most children and teens will not display all of the signs of sexual abuse, and some may not display any. Every child handles sexual abuse differently.

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Teens

Teens who experience sexual abuse at school may exhibit the following warning signs, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network:

  • Weight changes
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Unexplained bruises or other signs of physical abuse
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • A decline in academic performance
  • Changes in hygiene and personal grooming habits
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Substance use

Self-disclosure of the abuse is also an important indication that it occurred. Teens rarely fabricate sexual abuse. Disclosing sexual abuse is an act of courage and a cry for help. Believe your teen, take immediate action to protect them, and report the abuse to the school and the proper authorities.

Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

Children who experience sexual abuse are less capable of processing, verbalizing, and understanding what occurred. The warning signs of sexual abuse in children may include the following: 

  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Injuries to the genital area
  • Inappropriate sexual knowledge, discussion, or behavior for the child’s age
  • Secretiveness
  • Regressive behaviors
  • Isolation
  • Reluctance to remove clothing for bathing
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Mood changes
  • Aggression
  • Decreased self-image
  • Fearfulness
  • Stomach aches
  • Headaches
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Self-harm

If you believe something is wrong, trust your instincts. It is okay to ask your child what happened. However, do this carefully while reassuring your child they are safe and not at fault for what happened. If your child still does not disclose, it does not mean sexual abuse is not occurring. It may be due to fear of the abuser or an inability to understand what happened.

Warning Signs of Inappropriate Conduct in Adults

Adults that sexually abuse children do not always display obvious warning signs, but you may be able to pick up on the warning signs of grooming and inappropriate interest or familiarity of a school staff member. Look for the following behaviors:

  • Refuses to respect boundaries
  • Excessively touches the child
  • Pursues friendship with the child rather than an adult role
  • Confides personal problems in the child
  • Spends time alone with the child outside of school activities
  • Displays an unusual interest in the child’s sexual characteristics
  • Sexualizes the child’s normal behavior
  • Showers the child with gifts or attention

How to Determine Liability in a School Sex Abuse Case

Whether public, private, religious, or charter, all schools have a legal duty to provide a safe environment for the children who attend. Parents place great trust in schools to protect their children, and schools owe it to parents and children to take this responsibility seriously.

Sexual abuse occurs at school when schools fail to appropriately screen prospective staff, implement policies and procedures to prevent abuse, and report abuse that occurs. 

Perpetrators in a school may include teachers, administrators, coaches, custodians, and other students. They are liable for their own actions. In addition, the staff who supervise them and any other staff who knew or should have known about the abuse may be liable. The schools themselves are liable for any failure that helped lead to the abuse.

Negligent Hiring

Pennsylvania schools are legally obligated to perform thorough background screening before hiring teachers, coaches, administrators, or other staff members. In 2014, the General Assembly enacted legislation requiring schools to investigate the following when evaluating a candidate for employment:

  • Whether the candidate was the subject of sexual abuse allegations at a previous school
  • Whether the candidate was ever disciplined for sexual misconduct
  • Whether the candidate is the subject of an ongoing sexual misconduct investigation
  • Whether a professional license has ever been suspended or revoked because of sexual misconduct.

Before this legislation, Pennsylvania schools regularly engaged in a practice known as “pass the trash.” This occurred when a teacher under investigation for sexual abuse at one school would voluntarily resign and apply for a position at another school. 

The original school would end the investigation, and the misconduct would remain undocumented in the personnel file, allowing the teacher to pass a background check. This allowed sexually abusive staff to move from school to school and prey on children without detection.

Failure to Report Abuse

A school may be liable for sexual abuse when it fails to report suspected sexual abuse. School employees are mandatory reporters, which means they must report sexual abuse to the appropriate authorities as follows if they have a reasonable suspicion that sexual abuse has occurred:

  • Non-administrative employees must report abuse to the school administrator.
  • The school administrator must report abuse to law enforcement and the district attorney.
  • If a school employee suspects an administrator is an abuser, the school employee must report the abuse to law enforcement and the district attorney using a written form provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Failure to Provide Appropriate Training

Schools must inform all staff on how to report child sexual abuse and recognize the signs of abuse. Schools should also educate students about inappropriate touching and how to report it.

Failure to Implement and Enforce Policies and Procedures to Protect Children

Schools could largely prevent sexual abuse by implementing and enforcing common-sense rules to avoid placing children in compromising positions with school employees. Examples of such policies include the following:

  • Not allowing school employees to host children in their homes or cars
  • Prohibiting staff from being alone with students in locker rooms
  • Regulating online interactions between staff and students

When to File a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit in Pennsylvania

The sooner you file a lawsuit against the school for sexual abuse against a child, the easier it will be to prove your case. Prevailing in any personal injury lawsuit requires evidence to support your allegations, such as the following:

  • Physical evidence
  • Medical records
  • Eyewitness testimony
  • An evaluation by a forensic psychologist
  • Confession by the perpetrator
  • The testimony of other victims
  • Testimony about any suspicious behavior by the abuser
  • Testimony about the effects of the abuse
  • A successful criminal prosecution

This type of evidence is generally easier to acquire soon after the abuse occurs. Pursuing this type of case can take a strong emotional toll. A therapist can help your child prepare for a deposition or court testimony, should it be required. 

We understand how difficult it can be to confront the parties responsible for sexual abuse in court. Our attorneys will work hard to gather all the available evidence to ensure your case is strong. This increases the likelihood of obtaining a fair and reasonable settlement.

If you are an adult who suffered sexual abuse as a child at school, you also may be entitled to file a civil claim. The law requires you to do so before you reach the age of 55. If you were 30 or older before 2019, your right to file a civil claim may be barred. However, pending legislation known as the Child Victims Act may change this.

When you contact our compassionate sex abuse attorneys, we can determine how the statute of limitations applies to your case.

What Legal Recourse Is Available to School Sexual Abuse Victims?

If you or your child suffered sexual abuse at school, you have the right to seek justice through the criminal and civil justice systems. 

Sexual abuse is a crime for which a perpetrator can be sentenced to significant prison time. Criminal justice can be an important step in the healing process because it reinforces that the perpetrator—not the victim—is at fault for the abuse. 

However, the criminal justice system does not provide financial compensation for the harm done by the abuse. Child sexual abuse is a shattering experience that can significantly affect a child for many years and often well into adulthood. Some children never recover.

The long-term effects of child sexual abuse carry a high emotional and financial cost. It can disrupt college, employment, physical health, and psychological well-being. No sexual abuse victim should have to foot the bill for these costs.

A civil lawsuit provides the opportunity to make the responsible parties pay for the damage you or your child has suffered. Compensation in a sexual abuse lawsuit may include the following:

  • Economic damages – Compensation for your monetary losses, such as medical expenses, therapy costs, lost wages, and loss of earning capacity
  • Non-economic damages – Compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, and other intangible losses related to your quality of life
  • Punitive damages – Compensation awarded as a punishment in cases involving willful and intentional misconduct

Punitive damages are not available in all cases, but they may be available if the school engaged in active concealment of the abuse or intentionally placed you or your child in harm’s way.

How Much Compensation Can I Recover in a School Sexual Abuse Claim?

The average estimated award in a Pennsylvania sexual abuse lawsuit is $325,000 to $500,000, according to the Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy. However, it is possible to recover a significantly higher amount. Sexual abuse survivors in Pennsylvania have recovered as much as three million dollars. The factors that may influence a sexual abuse settlement include the following:

  • You or your child’s age at the time the abuse occurred
  • The severity of the abuse
  • The number of times the abuse occurred
  • The psychological impact of the abuse
  • The financial losses stemming from the abuse

What to Do If Your Child Was Sexually Abused at School

The betrayal of trust and horror of knowing your child has experienced something so traumatic as sexual abuse can be overwhelming. You may feel a combination of anger, hurt, and shock. Our compassionate sexual abuse attorneys understand the devastation parents experience, and we can stand with you to get justice.

You can take certain actions to help your child recover and start building a strong case against the perpetrator and the school that allowed the abuse to occur. We can help you through this process.

File a Formal Complaint

The school should have a formal process for filing a complaint against personnel. If your school has not provided a contact person, schedule an appointment with the principal to report the abuse. The school must investigate and report the abuse to law enforcement and the district attorney.

Document Everything

Keep records of everything that has occurred to the best of your ability. Write down anything you remember in hindsight about your child or the abuser. Write down how you first learned about the abuse and the details of any conversations with school personnel related to the abuse. 

This information may be important as we investigate and build your civil case. It may also assist law enforcement with their investigation.

Seek Medical Attention for Your Child

Your child will need a medical examination to determine whether the abuse caused physical injuries, including venereal diseases, requiring treatment. The medical examination results may also be important for court in civil and criminal cases against the abuser.

Your doctor may be able to provide a referral to support resources and a therapist. If your child is young, the doctor may refer you to a play therapist.

Contact Law Enforcement

Although the school is required to report abuse to law enforcement, you can and should also file a report. You may have additional information to assist with a criminal investigation. In addition, reporting the abuse to law enforcement can hold the school accountable to do its part to investigate the abuse and provide the police with evidence.

Contact a Pennsylvania Sexual Abuse Lawyer

When you contact a Pennsylvania sexual abuse lawyer at Cordisco and Saile, we can help you document your case and connect you to important resources to help you and your child heal. We will also provide you with caring support and a listening ear while fighting on your behalf. 

We serve all of Pennsylvania with offices in the following locations:

Contact a Pennsylvania school sexual abuse lawyer today to schedule a free consultation.

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