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Nashville Sexual Assault and Abuse Attorneys on Your Side

Representing survivors in Nashville, Hendersonville, Clarksville, and throughout Tennessee

Healing after sexual assault is a complicated process. The psychological trauma can be extensive. It can worm its way into every aspect of a survivor’s life. It can leave a victim unable to work or withdrawn from the world. It can also lead to anger, depression, and anxiety.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we want to help you on your path toward it. Rocky McElhaney Law Firm treats you and your case with the dignity, care, and compassion you deserve. Our sexual assault and abuse attorneys in Nashville, Hendersonville, and Clarksville understand that these cases are about taking back control and holding your attacker accountable for the harm you suffered. We are passionate about getting you justice. Contact us today to get started.

"When I was a teenager, Dad got hurt. Insurance company
wouldn't pay. We lost our house. But, Dad got a lawyer and we
got justice. That's the moment I decided to become an attorney.
As a lawyer, I have dedicated my life to helping injury victims."

~ Rocky

How does Tennessee define sexual assault?

“Sexual assault” is a catch-all phrase. Per TN.gov, it encompasses “any sort of non-consensual sexual contact by one person against another,” sexual battery to domestic violence to aggravated rape. Tennessee has specific criminal statutes for sexual offenses, but there is no specific “sexual assault” action for civil claims. Instead, sexual abuse and assault lawsuits are considered torts: “acts or omissions that give rise to injury or harm to another and amount to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability. In the context of torts, ‘injury’ describes the invasion of any legal right, whereas ‘harm’ describes a loss or detriment in fact that an individual suffers.”

What does this mean? It means that you can seek damages in a court of law (or through a settlement negotiation) for the losses you sustained, just as you would with a personal injury lawsuit. Because there is no specific civil action for assault and abuse, your lawsuit might cite actions for Assault, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, or Negligent Security.

Does a criminal case matter if I file a lawsuit for sexual abuse?

Your injury lawsuit is a matter entirely separate from criminal charges. They operate in different spheres of the justice system. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 310 sexual assaults out of 1,000 are even reported to police, and only 50 out of 1,000 will lead to an arrest. But do not lose hope: even if there are no criminal charges, you can still be successful in your claim for damages in civil court.

In a criminal case, the prosecutor (or District Attorney, known as a “DA”) will look at the evidence and decide whether to file criminal charges. Once at trial, the prosecutor must prove that your attacker/abuser is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The punishments can include jail or prison time; fines and fees; and a loss of rights, like the right to vote or get a loan.

In a civil case, your attorney (the “plaintiff’s attorney”) files a lawsuit against the liable parties (the defendants) to seek damages. Additionally, the burden of proof is much different in civil claims. Your lawyer must show that it is more likely than not that the defendant was liable. This is achieved through a “preponderance of evidence.” If the jury finds for you, you are awarded monetary compensation, or damages, for your injuries and harms.

What are the signs of sexual abuse or assault?

It is difficult enough for adults to talk about their experiences with rape or sex abuse. Many victims feel they will not be believed or will be blamed for the actions of their rapists and abusers. When the victim is a child or a member of a vulnerable population – like adults with special needs or the elderly who are suffering from dementia – it may not be possible for them to communicate what happened.

RAINN offers the following warning signs of potential sexual assault or abuse:

In children

Physical signs:

  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Signs of trauma to the genital area, such as unexplained bleeding, bruising, or blood on the sheets, underwear, or other clothing

Behavioral signs:

  • Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics
  • Keeping secrets Not talking as much as usual
  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
  • Regressive behaviors or resuming behaviors they had grown out of, such as thumb sucking or bedwetting
  • Overly compliant behavior
  • Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Spending an unusual amount of time alone
  • Trying to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe

Emotional signs:

  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in mood or personality, such as increased aggression
  • Decrease in confidence or self-image
  • Excessive worry or fearfulness
  • Increase in unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches
  • Loss or decrease in interest in school, activities, and friends
  • Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
  • Self-harming behaviors

In teens

  • Unusual weight gain or weight loss
  • Unhealthy eating patterns, like a loss of appetite or excessive eating
  • Signs of physical abuse, such as bruises
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other genital infections
  • Signs of depression, such as persistent sadness, lack of energy, changes in sleep or appetite, withdrawing from normal activities, or feeling “down”
  • Anxiety or worry
  • Falling grades
  • Changes in self-care, such as paying less attention to hygiene, appearance, or fashion than they usually do
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Expressing thoughts about suicide or suicide behavior
  • Drinking or drug use

Recognizing these warning signs is important. According to data compiled by TN.gov, children between the ages of 14 and 17 account for the greatest number of victims: 445.6 (out of every 100,000 people in Tennessee) teens in this group were victims of sexual assault in 2019.

Who can be held liable for sexual assault in Nashville?

In most sexual assault and abuse claims, the liable party is the person who committed the acts. However, there may be third parties who are also liable. These third parties can include:

Rocky McElhaney Law Firm routinely handles complex litigation. Our Nashville injury lawyers are particularly adept at establishing liability when there are multiple parties involved. If you are a sexual abuse or assault survivor, let us help. We provide a safe and secure environment in which to tell your story which can help us determine which parties may be liable in a lawsuit.

Related Content: Sexual Assault by a Doctor Is an Inexcusable Betrayal of Trust

What are mandatory reporters?

A mandatory reporter is a person – usually in a position of authority, but not always – who is required by law to report suspected abuse against a child. Mandatory reporters are granted immunity if they make their reports in good faith but turn out to be incorrect in their suspicions. When it comes to sexual abuse of children, the following individuals are considered mandatory reporters:

  • Physician, osteopathic physician, medical examiner, chiropractor, nurse, or hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of persons;
  • Any other health or mental health professional;
  • Practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing;
  • School teacher or other school official or personnel;
  • Judge of any court of the state;
  • Social worker, day care center worker, or other professional child care, foster care, residential or institutional worker;
  • Law enforcement officer;
  • Authority figure at a community facility, including any facility used for recreation or social assemblies for educational, religious, social, health or welfare purposes, including, but not limited to, facilities operated at schools, the boy or girl scouts, the YMCA or YWCA, the boys and girls club or church or religious organizations; or
  • Neighbor, relative, friend or any other person.

For the elderly, a mandatory reporter is “any person, including, but not limited to, a physician, nurse, social worker, Department of Human Services personnel, coroner, medical examiner, alternate care facility employee, or caretaker.”

Failure to report is a Class A misdemeanor in Tennessee and punishable by fines and/or up to three months in prison. A mandatory reporter who fails in this duty may also be named in a civil lawsuit.

How long do I have to file a sexual assault or abuse case in Tennessee?

Under Tennessee law, you have one year to file a sexual assault of abuse lawsuit. However, this statute of limitations extends when the victim is a minor. Per TN Code § 28-3-116:

[A] civil action for an injury or illness based on child sexual abuse that occurred when the injured person was a minor must be brought:

  1. For child sexual abuse that occurred before July 1, 2019, but was not discovered at the time of the abuse, within three (3) years from the time of discovery of the abuse by the injured person; or
  2. For child sexual abuse that occurred on or after July 1, 2019, within the later of:
    1. Fifteen (15) years from the date the person becomes eighteen (18) years of age; or
    2. If the injury or illness was not discovered at the time of the abuse, within three (3) years from the time of discovery of the abuse by the injured person.

If an action is brought against someone other than the alleged perpetrator of the child sexual abuse, and if the action is brought more than one (1) year from the date the injured person attains the age of majority, the injured person must offer admissible and credible evidence corroborating the claim of abuse by the alleged perpetrator.

Our sexual assault lawyers in Nashville, Hendersonville, and Clarksville understand that the decision to pursue compensation can be a delicate and difficult one. We want you to make the best decision for your needs and future, but we also know that time is not always on your side. You should contact Rocky McElhaney Law Firm as soon as possible so you are not time-barred from making a claim.

What kinds of damages are available for sexual assault survivors in Tennessee?

Tennessee survivors of sexual assault and abuse can seek compensation (or damages) for their losses and injuries. This can include:

  • Medical expenses, including doctors’ visits and mental health services
  • Lost wages, including a loss of future earning potential
  • Property losses, if applicable
  • Pain and suffering, including mental and emotional trauma

One of the most difficult aspects of sexual assault is that the physical harms may not be apparent, but the psychological trauma can last forever. Research published by the University of Washington in the journal Trauma, Violence, & Abuse analyzed 22 different studies of PTSD in thousands of sexual assault survivors. Per the findings, “81% of sexual assault survivors had significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTSD) one week after the assault. One month afterward – the first point in time that PTSD can be diagnosed – 75% of sexual assault survivors met criteria for the disorder. That figure dropped to 54% after three months and 41% after one year.”

Do you have a sexual assault attorney near me?

Rocky McElhaney Law Firm maintains multiple offices throughout Middle Tennessee to better serve you. We have two Nashville locations (545 Mainstream Dr #105 and 615 Main St. M2), a Hendersonville location (475 Saundersville Rd.) and a Clarksville location (2197 Madison Street, Suite 103). If you are unable to travel, we can schedule a video conference or meet you at your home. You can meet with a male or female attorney.

Fighting for sexual assault survivors throughout Tennessee

Rocky McElhaney Law Firm provides compassionate counsel to survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and rape. Our injury lawyers in Nashville, Hendersonville, and Clarksville are here to help. Let us focus on the fight so you can focus on healing. To schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team, please call 615-425-2500 or fill out our contact form.