How Taking Legal Action Helps Sexual Abuse Survivors Heal

By: Tyler Aliperto and Patrick Noaker

When asked whether legal action can help abuse survivors heal, one survivor recalled:

“Walking into the room where my press conference was held, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders and I literally stopped walking with hunched shoulders for the first time since I was a happy-go-lucky kid, pre-abuse.” – (Participant 530)

For that survivor, the biggest turning point in his survival was not only something that he could feel, but something others could see. This physical and emotional transformation, resulting from the beginning stages of a lawsuit, is what Dr. Scott D. Easton, Danielle M. Leone-Sheehan, and Dr. Danny G. Willis termed the “turning point” in a survivor’s recovery from child sexual abuse in their March 2015 scientific article titled “From that Moment on My Life Changed”: Turning Points in the Healing Process for Men Recovering From Child Sexual Abuse” published in the Journal of Child Abuse. (1)

According to their study, “Men who report a history of childhood sexual abuse are at increased risk for a variety of long-term health problems in domains such as physical and mental health, interpersonal relationships, psychosocial functioning and quality of life… The negative effects can, in fact, last across the life span.” These issues in multiple areas can manifest in a self-identity crisis for some survivors, as is further discussed here.

When discussing their recovery from these effects, many survivors point to specific turning points that caused them to view themselves and the world differently and changed the outcome of their lives. These turning points were not simply a temporary detour, but rather moments that provided lasting change that truly altered their life trajectory.

A Story of Healing

For one of our clients here at Noaker Law Firm, Jimmy Halpin, this lasting change and turning point came when he received compensation from the Archdiocese of New York through their Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program (IRCP).

It validated what I thought I made up,” said Halpin after reading others reports of abuse by his perpetrator.

Following being sexually abused by a priest, Fr. Joseph Theisen, then 15-year-old Halpin went on a drug and alcohol-fueled “tailspin” that lasted as long as his life had up to that point: 15 years.

Now 52-years-old — Halpin is 23 years sober, a father of two, and a third grade teacher in Harlem.

Research Behind Taking Legal Action

While an inspiring story of recovery that anyone can look up to, Halpin is not the only survivor who received closure and found a turning point in his life through settlements or legal action. According to Dr. Easton, Leone-Sheehan, and Dr. Willis’ research, “pursuit of justice” can serve as one major turning point for survivors.

[Image via: https://now.uiowa.edu/2012/04/case-art-and-law]

Within their pursuit of justice, researchers included: the official filing and reporting of abuse, advocating for or helping others, and facing an abuser. Researchers stated that these actions “empower participants to take control over their experience of child sexual abuse.” For many, all three of these things can be considered as part of the legal process — as a lawsuit can be a form of protecting others from abuse as well as being seen as one way to confront an abuser.

I think pursuing justice also helped me a lot, I became unrelenting. [Even] when I was denied justice over and over, I would not rest until justice was served.” – (Participant 190)

Although male survivors of child sexual abuse face many barriers to disclosure, the authors of this study conclude that: “Our findings clarify the importance of survivors’ communication of child sexual abuse through acts of disclosure and seeking justice.”

For anyone who has suffered from child sexual abuse, the first step to recovery is always disclosure. In other words: please, tell someone.

Every survivor deserves to have their story heard and to find their turning point in the recovery process. Legal action can help abuse survivors heal.  Here at Noaker Law Firm, we are ready to listen to you and to take legal action on your behalf, whenever you are ready, to help you in your process of healing.


About the Authors:

Tyler Aliperto, a recent graduate of the HECUA: Inequality in America program, is a Research and Social Media Advocate with the Noaker Law Firm LLC and a Digital Communications and Journalism major at St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota.

For 27 years, Patrick Noaker has represented clients in courtrooms across the country, including hundreds of sexual abuse survivors. He is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum for winning multiple jury trial verdicts exceeding $1M and for winning millions more in settlements. Patrick has also been selected by his peers as a Minnesota SuperLawyer.

(1) Scott D. Easton, Danielle M. Leone-Sheehan, Ellen J. Sophis & Danny G. Willis (2015) “From that Moment on My Life Changed”: Turning Points in the Healing Process for Men Recovering from Child Sexual Abuse, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 24:2, 152-173, DOI: 10.1080/10538712.2015.997413.