The Courts May Be Closed—But for Sexual Abuse Victims, the Wheels of Justice Are Still Turning

The Courts May Be Closed—But for Sexual Abuse Victims, the Wheels of Justice Are Still Turning
Michelle Simpson Tuegel has represented sexual abuse survivors in high-profile cases such as the Larry Nassar litigation against Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee; sexual assault survivors at the University of Southern California; and clergy abuse survivors connected with the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and nationwide.

At this moment, the world doesn’t feel like it’s working the way it’s supposed to. But for sexual abuse survivors, that’s a feeling they’re already familiar with.

Intimate relationships are supposed to be intertwined with love and trust—not violation. When you tell the story of what happened to you, listeners are supposed to be supportive—not skeptical. When you seek justice against a criminal, you should believe that the system is easing your path—not creating a new struggle.

Sexual abuse survivors have endured an exhausting journey only to learn now that their long-awaited day in court is postponed to an unknown date. They’ve been thrown into fresh anguish, uncertain that justice will ever be attainable. 

I reassure my clients, as well as survivors everywhere, that there is a silver lining. This pause in the court system may ultimately make their cases stronger. My clients are on their third layer of trauma: They’ve endured the initial crime, the painful process of reliving that trauma while describing it in detail to law enforcement and attorneys and now this delay of justice. Heaped atop that is the removal of social support networks, access to in-person therapy and camaraderie in general.


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As I try to help my clients feel less isolated, I remind them that they’re not alone. I’m still hard at work for them.

Because I’m not traveling or rushing off to scheduled hearings and trials, I have room to step back and look at their cases with a new perspective and a creative eye for how we might continue to put the pieces together. I have an opportunity to work up their cases into something even stronger, an opportunity to gather additional records and plan in more depth and detail our negotiation and trial strategies. There’s time for more research, more discovery. I have room to dig deeper, and that can be a positive.

Lawyers always have a lot of balls in the air; everything is moving fast. Now when I get to the courtroom, I can hold the opposing side’s feet to the fire more than ever before.

If you’re a sexual abuse survivor and you’re struggling with the delay, use this time to schedule a virtual meeting or phone call with your attorney to discuss gaps or missing pieces of information that the attorney might still need from you or to ask questions you might have about the process moving forward. This time doesn’t have to be a negative roadblock; we can use it for positive development of your case.    

Do things for yourself while you’re waiting. Besides general self-care, make use of resources for online counseling or therapy. Don’t let the lack of face-to-face contact with a therapist be a deterrent or a reason to withdraw from visits. Mental health care has actually become more accessible and potentially more affordable during this crisis.

Anti-sexual violence organization RAINN says that in this difficult time, “ncertainty and feeling a lack of control over our lives may feel especially overwhelming for survivors of sexual violence already coping with trauma and stress.”

For those needing help, RAINN offers services at 800.656.HOPE, at their website rainn.org and via live chat at hotline.rainn.org/online. Services are free, confidential and 24/7.  

If you’re on Medicare, new COVID-19 legislation has waived restrictions on the use of telehealth services. Also, if you have private health insurance, a number of providers such as Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield are waiving copays for telehealth visits. Some states have even ordered insurers to cover telehealth services. 

Turn the delay into a time to regroup and access some of the organization and mental health support you’ve been needing for a long time. Gather all of the information your attorney requested from you months ago, do those virtual sessions you’d been putting off with your therapist, create that timeline of events that only you know and can provide to your attorney and reach out to work with your attorney to develop your case further. 

Justice delayed will not be justice denied for survivors. While this crisis and the trauma surrounding it will continue to be overwhelming for everyone—even more so trauma survivors—using the time in healthy and positive ways will not only help you care for yourself, but it will also help your attorney fight for you. 


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About

Michelle Simpson Tuegel has represented sexual abuse survivors in high-profile cases such as the Larry Nassar litigation against Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee; sexual assault survivors at the University of Southern California; and clergy abuse survivors connected with the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and nationwide.