By: Shaunestte Terrell, Attorney

News of a federal investigation into sexual abuse claims within the Catholic Church in New Orleans has gained national attention. And while this type of news isn’t as surprising as it once was, the nature of this investigation and the possible legal claim is.

Reports of alleged sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans involve priests who allegedly abused children during trips to camps and amusement parks in Mississippi, Texas and Florida. Sexual abuse claims that involve travel across state lines fall under the scope of the Mann Act, an anti-sex trafficking law. And while some of the reports about New Orleans priests involved alleged abuse that happened decades ago, there is no statute of limitations for violations of the Mann Act. This means that adults who were allegedly molested as children are able to bring a claim against these predator priests and the church under the Mann Act.

Mann Act and Justice For Sexual Abuse Survivors

The application of the Mann Act is important as the average age for disclosure of sexual abuse is 52, well after the abuse occurred. Many sexual abuse claims are barred by state laws that contain time limits on how long a victim has to file a lawsuit, aka statute of limitations. For instance, in Indiana a victim of sexual abuse generally has until the age of 25 to file a lawsuit if they were sexually abused as a minor. That means if they wait until they are 52, which is the average age of disclosure, it will be too late for them to take legal action in Indiana. Of course, there are some exceptions. It is important for anyone who has suffered sexual abuse to speak with an attorney experienced with sexual abuse lawsuits who can advise them of their legal rights and options.

It takes courage for survivors to report sexual abuse. There are a variety of factors that influence when, or even if, a survivor will disclose the abuse they suffered. Sexual abuse perpetrated by priests, religious leaders and faith community volunteers can inflict a deep sense of shame and guilt. Victims are often left to struggle with sexual abuse trauma as well as conflicts with their religious beliefs. Our sexual abuse litigation team at Cohen & Malad, LLP has represented people who suffered sexual abuse within faith communities and can help you.

Sexual Abuse Crisis in Faith Communities

The Catholic Church has certainly garnered the most attention for its history of failing victims of sexual abuse. Investigators found church leaders covered up reports of abuse for decades and allowed perpetrator priests to relocate to other diocese where they often continued to prey on children. But this problem isn’t unique to the Catholic Church. If fact, the Southern Baptist Convention was recently the subject of a investigation by Texas journalists who exposed decades of sexual abuse reports within the church that SBC leaders ignored or mishandled. After the media broke the story, SBC leaders hired Guidepost Solutions to conduct an independent investigation into reports of sexual abuse within the church. A 259-page report was published in May 2022 which included a number of findings regarding the mishandling of sexual abuse claims and allegations of mistreatment of sexual abuse victims by Executive Committee members which spanned 20 years.

Across social media the #ChurchToo movement has helped sexual abuse survivors find their voice. Our attorneys have represented survivors in civil court for over 20 years and have fought to get compensation for sexual abuse survivors so they can pay for mental health services and other resources to heal from the trauma of sexual abuse. If you have been sexually abused by a priest, pastor, faith leader or anyone within a religious community we believe you and stand ready to help you. You are not alone. Contact us now.