The barriers to coming forward about sexual abuse can feel overwhelming. Processing the abuse in one’s own life is often complicated, exhausting, and distressing, and the time it takes and complexities of reporting assault and fighting for justice can often feel like too much. Fear of retaliation, judgment, or not being believed are just a few of the concerns that may keep survivors from taking action.
At Wallace Miller, we fight for justice for individuals who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of institutions and organizations that should have been there to protect them. Our legal team is committed to supporting survivors and holding perpetrators and the systems that enabled them accountable—not only to achieve some measure of recompense for the individual but to prevent the same abuse from happening again.
We represent individuals who have been abused by a member of an institution or organization, including religious groups, healthcare facilities, schools and school groups, and youth organizations. Sexual abuse, especially in these scenarios, relies on a power imbalance. Survivors may feel powerless, ashamed, or alone. They’re not just going up against the individual who abused them, but the entire system that allowed it.
We help survivors take back that power through legal action. All decisions that impact our clients’ cases—from filing under a pseudonym to accepting or rejecting a settlement—are made in direct consultation with the individuals we represent. We help survivors assess their options for pursuing justice based on their unique circumstances. And we work every day to ensure that survivors do not have to go through the legal process alone.
While it is a powerful recourse for many, legal action is not the right option for everyone who has suffered from sexual abuse. Survivors deserve to make decisions about potential litigation based on full information and to have those decisions consistently and emphatically supported by those around them, including their legal team.
The team at Wallace Miller sees the people we represent as far more than cases or parts of a system. Every individual, every circumstance, and every lawsuit is different from any other. We are here to listen to the individual stories of survivors, to ensure that they have autonomy throughout the process, and to help represent them in the way they want to be represented in their fight for justice.
We provide initial confidential consultations completely free of charge for survivors and their loved ones. Call our Chicago office at 312-261-6193 to speak to our legal team.
What is sexual abuse?
Any act of sexual contact someone suffers without their consent constitutes sexual abuse. Consent may refer to someone’s agreement to sexual acts, or to legal consent—for example, if a victim is a child, they are not legally able to provide consent.
Common types of sexual abuse include molestation, rape, incest, unwanted sexual communications, and sharing pornographic images without consent. Abuse is not limited to physical acts and may include communication or interactions of a sexual tone or nature. While many people have a set idea of what sexual abuse entails, crimes such as hazing, organizational sexual abuse, and online sexual harassment may also qualify.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline provides confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can be reached online at online.rainn.org and by phone at 1-800-656-4673.
Who can suffer sexual abuse?
While some groups may be believed to suffer sexual abuse more often, anyone can be a victim. Wallace Miller represents individuals across a wide variety of experiences, irrespective of age, race, gender, ability, or circumstance. Misconceptions about the “typical” victim of sexual assault can lead to isolation and shame, as survivors may fear that they will not be believed.
The majority of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the victim knows. In the U.S., 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Many people are also sexually abused by someone in a position of power, whether that is a youth group leader, a teacher, a pastor, or a doctor. Survivors in these situations may fear reprisal from the individual or the organization or worry that those around them won’t believe their side of the story.
Each survivor’s story is different. We are here to listen to those who have gone through sexual abuse, hear what they want to achieve through legal action, and fight by their side for justice and compensation.
Childhood sexual abuse
Every child deserves to be safe, supported, and cared for. Through civil litigation, Wallace Miller fights to hold those who abuse their positions of power over children accountable and to reform the systems and institutions that allow such abuses to occur.
One in 20 boys and one in 9 girls younger than 18 experience sexual abuse. A majority of perpetrators are known to their victim: 59 percent are acquaintances, while 34 percent are family members. Children often struggle to understand and process their abuse, particularly when the adult is in an explicit position of power, such as a teacher, priest, or doctor.
The effects of abuse can be insidious and long-lasting. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are much more likely to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mental illness, and substance abuse as adults than those who were not abused. Healing often involves years of therapy and medical treatment, which can be expensive and time-consuming. While civil lawsuits cannot undo the damage that has been done, they do provide a way to hold the perpetrator accountable and improve the victim’s quality of life through monetary compensation. Taking legal action and seeking justice against the perpetrator of sexual abuse can also be an important part of the healing process.
Resources for loved ones of survivors
Family and friends of sexual abuse survivors may try to report their loved one’s assault in order to help or protect them. Particularly in cases of child sexual abuse, a victim’s parents, family members, or relatives may choose to speak to an attorney about the assault. Discussing traumatic events with strangers can be difficult, so the victim may find it helpful for someone to advocate on their behalf. In addition, as children are not legally able to represent themselves, an adult assisting with their case may be necessary.
However, speaking on behalf of someone who has suffered sexual assault can sometimes do more harm than good, especially if the victim is an adult. Individuals who have suffered sexual abuse often feel a loss of power, autonomy, and control, and if loved ones speak to an attorney without their permission, it can perpetuate their sense of helplessness. In speaking to others about their situation and advocating for their rights, it is crucial that the wishes of the survivor are respected. If your family member, friend, or loved one has experienced sexual assault as an adult, your most important role is to support them in their journey, even if they don’t choose to handle it the way you believe they should.
For cases of child sexual abuse, the role of a loved one can be more extensive. Children cannot bring their own cases, and so an adult must work with them to seek justice. Many adults who work with children are “mandated reporters,” or individuals who are required to report suspected abuse. This includes social workers, registered nurses, teachers and school employees, and coaches.
Beyond the legal requirements in cases of sexual abuse, friends, family, and loved ones play a vital role in providing emotional support. Coming forward about sexual abuse at any age is a difficult and courageous decision. Survivors deserve to be believed, supported, cared for, and protected from further harm. Prioritizing their choices—whether those involve seeking professional help, involving the police, reaching out to a law firm, or taking time to process and think through a decision—is the most important thing a loved one can do.
What is a sexual abuse lawsuit?
There are several legal avenues for survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault to pursue justice. The most well-known option is the criminal justice system. Victims of sexual assault may decide to file a police report and pursue a criminal case against the perpetrator. The case is then tried in court and, depending on the verdict, the perpetrator may face jail time, fines, and other consequences. In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty.
Civil litigation after sexual assault is a less well-known option but can be equally effective. Civil lawsuits do not bring criminal charges, so they do not result in jail time. Instead, they seek to achieve financial restitution for harm caused. These lawsuits have a lower burden of proof than criminal lawsuits: rather than proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution works to prove that it is more likely than not they are liable for the harm caused.
Many individuals who suffer sexual abuse file both a criminal and a civil lawsuit. Depending on the circumstances, it is entirely possible for a survivor to have a pending or resolved criminal case and choose to file a civil lawsuit. The parallel legal avenues allow individuals to seek the most appropriate forms of recourse and to address both the perpetrators of sexual abuse and the institutions that allowed it to occur.
Wallace Miller focuses on civil lawsuits that involve organizations, institutions, and facilities. In these types of sexual abuse cases, the abuse perpetrated by an individual may be intentionally or unintentionally permitted, overlooked, or covered up by the institution itself. Attorneys at our firm have represented survivors against the Boy Scouts of America, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, the Catholic Church, public schools in Illinois, and others.
Civil lawsuits like those pursued by the Wallace Miller law firm focus on achieving financial compensation. This system is not perfect—we know that money cannot undo the harm that has been done or heal long-lasting trauma. However, awards from settlements or verdicts can improve a plaintiff’s quality of life and help provide closure. They can pay for medical bills, compensate the survivor for pain and suffering, and punish the defendant for the harm they caused. We believe that these lawsuits also hold perpetrators accountable and serve as a message to culpable institutions that these patterns and systems will not be tolerated.
Who can be a defendant in a civil sexual abuse lawsuit?
Our law firm represents sexual abuse survivors against a variety of institutions responsible for the abuse. Common categories of defendants include:
Organizations including the Catholic Church and the Church of Latter-Day Saints have faced allegations of widespread sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse in healthcare facilities may be perpetrated by doctors, nurses, administrators, mental health professionals, and others.
Schools and school groups
Children spend much of their time at educational institutions. While these organizations have a responsibility to keep their students safe, some still allow abuse to occur.
Youth organizations including the Boy Scouts of America have been accused of sexual abuse by organizers and leaders.
Some of our clients don’t fall into any of the above categories. They may have suffered sexual assault from an employer, undergone hazing in the military, or survived abuse in another setting.
The legal framework around these types of litigation is complex and can be overwhelming. With more than 75 years of cumulative experience, the attorneys at Wallace Miller are experts in navigating it.
Starting your lawsuit at Wallace Miller
Many survivors find it difficult to talk about their abuse with close family and friends, much less the representatives of a law firm. The legal system can often feel opaque, complicated, and clinical. At Wallace Miller, we do our best to make sure every step of the litigation process is handled with care, transparency, and consideration for what our clients have been through.
This is what potential clients can expect when they reach out to Wallace Miller:
You will speak with someone on the phone. This is a trusted, specially trained member of our staff, but it will likely not be an attorney. We have a dedicated team of professionals who are responsible for talking with potential clients, and you can request to speak with a man or woman if you would prefer to do so.
This individual will gather your information, including your name, phone number, email address, and date of birth, so that we can keep an accurate file and easily contact you. This information is stored on our secure online portal and shared only with the legal team and attorney working on the case.
They will ask questions about your situation and your history of sexual abuse. They may ask for information including the date(s) and duration of the abuse, the perpetrator of the abuse, the organization or institution in which the abuse occurred, any injuries sustained as a result, and any medical and mental health treatment required. This phone call is not recorded, but our firm representative will take notes in our secure client database in order to maintain an accurate and up-to-date file. These notes are only accessible by trained members of our legal team.
An attorney with years of experience and specific knowledge in sexual abuse-related cases will review your potential case. They may follow up with you directly, or they may request that the original person you spoke to follow up with you.
If we are able to take your case, we will email you a Retainer Agreement to sign and return to us. This is the official contract of our work for your case.
Once you have completed the Retainer Agreement, we will email you a questionnaire and begin gathering the documents we will need to file your case (medical records, for example).
Throughout the case process, you will have direct contact information for your paralegal and the attorney on your case. They will keep you up to date on the progress of your suit through phone calls, emails, and text messages.
What if Wallace Miller can’t take my case?
While we fight for justice for everyone that we can, our specific expertise in organization-based sexual assault lawsuits means that we sometimes have to decline cases. This does not mean that these cases are without merit or that the individuals involved don’t deserve justice. It simply means that other avenues may be better options in these situations.
For cases that do not involve religious organizations, youth groups, healthcare facilities, schools, or other institutions, survivors may still be able to file a criminal case against the perpetrator. The Chicago Bar Foundation helps connect individuals to accessible legal services while the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) provides free legal representation to survivors of sexual harm and can help individuals connect to other attorneys and resources. For those outside of Illinois, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides a directory of organizations across the country, including sexual assault coalitions, support organizations for survivors, and organizations specific to LGBTQ+ communities and communities of color. Take Back the Night also runs a legal hotline for advice on litigation and representation.
Wallace Miller operates on a contingency fee model. This means that there are no initial or out-of-pocket charges for the client. If we successfully reach a verdict or settlement, a portion of that amount will go to the law firm in order to cover our operational costs. If we are not able to achieve compensation in a client’s case, we don’t get paid either.
Should I pursue a sexual abuse lawsuit?
Legal action, whether civil or criminal, is not necessarily right for everyone. Ultimately, the only person who can decide if litigation is the right path is the individual filing the suit.
Survivors and their loved ones may choose to pursue legal action in order to seek justice for their abuse, receive compensation for the harm they suffered, protect themselves from the perpetrator, and ensure that the same abuse does not happen again to others. Others may decide that the best option for them is to move forward and seek recovery outside of the legal system.
At Wallace Miller, we support everyone’s reactions to and decisions regarding how to respond to their sexual abuse. The person best qualified to choose a course of action is the survivor themselves, supported by their loved ones. Our legal team is here to listen and assist with the legal side—we provide initial consultations free of charge via phone at 312-261-6193.
Sexual abuse can make survivors feel alone and powerless. We fight to help survivors regain that power and know that they are not alone in fighting for justice.