Articles Posted in Sexual Abuse Injury Attorney

A mother and daughter have filed a lawsuit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court alleging they were sexually abused by masseuses at the national chain’s Boca Raton storefront.

The May 2017 incident is just one of nearly a dozen separate assaults described in the lawsuit and describes how rampant sexual abuse is at the chain that grew into a national sensation by making massages affordable to regular working people.

The two unidentified women were among 11 who joined in the lawsuit that claims the Arizona-based company put profits ahead of customer safety at its franchises in West Palm Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and three locations on Florida’s Gulf coast.

When complaints of inappropriate touching, groping and even rape were brought to the company’s attention, the 163-page lawsuit claims the company concealed it.

Instead of alerting police or a state licensing board, the company’s policies allowed the abuse to continue, reports indicate.

A similar lawsuit against the company was filed this month in California. The suits grew from a November 2017 investigation by BuzzFeed that found 180 women across the country had been molested by Massage Envy therapists.

Each of the cases is unique. In two separate incidents, women said male masseuses fondled their genitals at the chain’s locations on Southern Boulevard in Royal Palm Beach and on Village Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Some of the women were receiving massages to cope with lifelong back pain or other injuries. In many cases, the women didn’t know the names of the massage therapists who assaulted them.

The exception was a woman in Largo who filed a complaint with the Florida Board of Massage Therapy. The board responded by revoking the license of the therapist. It is unclear whether any criminal charges were filed.

Massage Envy policies state that franchisees must conduct their own prompt, fair and thorough investigation of sexual assault. However, the main problem with this policy is that it does not provide much guidance on how to do so and there are very few employees who feel capable of doing their own investigations.

After a sexual assault occurs, filing criminal charges can be first step in bringing this person to justice. A criminal case will not provide financial compensation for what you have had to deal with as a result of the assault, which is where our Florida Sexual Abuse Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can help. We can explore your legal options for obtaining compensation for the physical, financial and emotional damages you have suffered.

Continue reading

A 72-year-old priest who was affiliated with Ascension Catholic Church in Boca Raton is accused of molesting a 9-year-old boy and sexually abusing unidentified others in a report issued Tuesday by a Pennsylvania grand jury that conducted a sweeping investigation into clergy misconduct.

The man was among the scores of “predator priests” the grand jury mentioned by name in a 1,356-page report of its roughly two-year investigation, the most comprehensive in U.S. history. The man, according to the document, served at the church on North Federal Highway from 2007 to 2009 and still lives in Boca.

The man said the Vatican cleared him of any wrongdoing in 2014.

The grand jury report noted that police officials in Pennsylvania said their investigation determined the allegations of abuse by the priest were credible. By the time the allegations were presented to prosecutors, the statute of limitations had run out, the jury said.

Diocesan officials ignored several other abuse allegations against Benestad, the grand jury report states.

In its report, the grand jury urged lawmakers to change the law so sexual predators won’t escape prosecution if victims are reluctant to come forward for years. Further, they asked that changes be made so the church can’t hide behind confidentiality agreements. They also want to see laws requiring people to report sex abuse to be beefed up.

Sexual abuse can lead to serious, lifelong emotional and psychological injuries. Our Florida Sexual Abuse Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton know the scarring that can come along with abuse, which is why we retain highly skilled and experienced mental health professionals to help evaluate victims’ damages. If you or a loved one was molested by a priest, bishop, deacon, nun or any other employee of a Catholic Church, regardless of when it occurred, please contact us to help you determine what options are best for you.

Continue reading

Hundreds of priests were said to have molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s, and senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., allegedly covered up the abuse, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.

The “real number” of abused children might be in the thousands since some secret church records were lost, and victims were afraid to come forward, the grand jury said.

The grand jury accused a Cardinal, who leads the Washington archdiocese, of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop.

Most of the Pennsylvania victims were boys, but girls were abused, too, the report said.

The abuse ranged from groping and masturbation to anal, oral and vaginal rape. There are also accusations that child pornography floated around the church.

The report put the number of abusive clergy at more than 300. In nearly all of the cases, the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead, and many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.

The grand jury said it found cases in which police or prosecutors learned of clergy sex abuse allegations but did not investigate out of deference to church officials.

The grand jury concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability. They failed to report accused clergy to police and sent abusive priests to so-called “treatment facilities,” which “laundered” the priests and “permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry,” the report said.

The grand jury probe was the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state. U.S. bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church.

Sexual abuse by priests or clergy members is now well known. When priests take advantage of their position and sexually abuse children, it is a heinous action that warrants both criminal punishment and civil liability. In many cases involving the Catholic Church, individuals in authority knew of abusers and failed to take appropriate action, as this case highlights. Sadly, abusers were given complete freedom to take advantage of adolescents for years, even decades.

Continue reading

The Justice Department is currently investigating the Lowell Correctional Institution in Central Florida, where female inmates have complained for years about sexual, physical and mental abuse inflicted by corrections officers.

This investigation mirrors that of the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama where women were raped, sodomized, forced to engage in oral sex and fondled by corrections officers as state corrections officials looked the other way for nearly two decades.

In 2013, the prison was considered among the 10 worst prisons in the nation. At least one third of its staff was suspected of sexual misconduct, and inmates who dared to report the abuse were punished by being locked in confinement, a more restrictive form of incarceration.

A civil-rights investigation at the prison in 2013 showed that understaffing, poor medical care, inadequate sanitary supplies, overcrowding and poor security fostered an environment where sexual violence and abuse thrived.

Lowell apparently has a huge problem with sexual abuse of prisoners. It has been on the Justice Department’s radar for several years.

In April, John Gore, acting attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice, sent a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, informing him, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Julie Jones, secretary for the Department of Corrections, that the department had launched a federal probe into conditions at Lowell.

In July, DOJ’s civil rights division sent a subpoena to Florida’s Department of Corrections, demanding records ranging from policy and training manuals to a listing of staff members who were terminated, transferred, suspended or resigned from the prison as of July 1, 2015.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division investigates when there is cause to believe that inmates are being subjected to conditions that deprive them of their constitutional rights — in this case, in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protection against Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

Federal investigations follow a standard trajectory that takes anywhere from two to five years. The procedure calls for the department to visit the prison, inspect conditions and to interview inmates.

As part of the probe, the DOJ is holding a community meeting on Aug. 19. Investigators are inviting former inmates and family members of current inmates to the meeting at the Marion Baptist Association in Ocala.

The DOJ reached an agreement with the state of Alabama and its corrections department calling for a series of reforms to protect inmates. It concluded that Tutwiler guards had violated prisoners’ rights.

At Tutwiler, DOJ found that inmates lived in an environment of repeated, open and forced sexual behavior by corrections officers. Prison officials were criticized for failing to address the problems despite repeated complaints. The DOJ was especially critical of state corrections officials who “demonstrated a clear deliberate indifference to the harm and substantial risk of harm to women prisoners.’’

The probe found that Alabama had been on notice of the abuse for more than 18 years but had chosen to ignore them.

The Lowell investigation comes after years of complaints by inmates and activists, who organized in the aftermath of a 2015 Miami Herald investigation, “Beyond Punishment.’’ The series included interviews with more than three dozen former and current inmates at Lowell who described being forced to have sex with officers just to obtain basic necessities such as soap, toilet paper and sanitary napkins.

When someone is taken into custody for allegedly committing a crime, prison conditions can certainly be uncomfortable, but they should never include sexual abuse at the hands of other prisoners or prison staff. Prison guards have the legal and moral obligation to protect the rights of prisoners. Partaking in or allowing unwanted sexual advances is a direct violation of their duty.

Continue reading

A Roman Catholic diocese identified 71 priests and other members of the church who had been accused of child sex abuse on Wednesday.

They said they are holding accountable the bishops who led the church for the past 70 years, announcing their names will be stripped from all church properties.

At a news conference to detail the church’s actions, a Harrisburg Bishop apologized to those who were abused, the Catholic faithful and the community and expressed his “profound sorrow.”

With its announcement, the Harrisburg Diocese became the second of six dioceses under investigation by the state to get out in front of a pending grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. The Erie Diocese released its own findings on clergy abuse in April.

The release of the nearly 900-page state grand jury report has been held up by challenges by some priests and former priests. The state Supreme Court ruled last week a version with some names blacked out can be made public as early as next week. The court said it identified more than 300 “predator priests” in the six dioceses.

The Harrisburg Diocese was making public the names of all those who faced allegations of child sex abuse but that it did not determine whether they all had merit, though some of those on the list have been convicted of crimes.

The Harrisburg list includes 37 priests, three deacons and six seminarians from the diocese, nine clergy members from other dioceses and 16 from religious communities. The conduct was classified as indecent behavior, inappropriate behavior such as kissing and inappropriate communication with children.

Most of the allegations date from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, the diocese said.

The church is adopting a series of new procedures to deal with complaints and to help protect against future abuse, the bishop said.

Any new complaint will be immediately forwarded to local authorities, background checks will be conducted on people working for the church, including volunteers, and all employees will be required to take part in training on how to recognize and report abuse, the diocese said.

Court documents have revealed that the pending state grand jury report, the work of a two-year investigation, includes allegations of obstruction of justice by people “associated with the Roman Catholic Church, local public officials and community leaders.”

Many people who suffer sexual abuse continue to suffer in silence years after the abuse occurred.  Many are ashamed or afraid to come forward. Our Florida Sexual Abuse Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are dedicated to helping victims of abuse by a church or clergy member. We can investigate your case to determine the liable parties. In addition to the abuser, church officials and the church itself may be liable for allowing the abuse to occur.

We represent people of any faith, including abuse involving:

  • Catholic Church
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Protestant churches
  • Judaism
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  • Church Of God In Christ, Inc. (COGIC)
  • Seventh-Day Adventists
  • Islam

Continue reading

A Jacksonville man was convicted Wednesday of aggravated sexual abuse by force on an 18-year-old woman aboard the Carnival cruise ship Elation.

The 23-year-old was convicted after 90 minutes of deliberation.

According to the original criminal complaint, the man was in a hot tub with a number of people, including a young woman with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, when he touched the woman over her bathing suit before she pushed his hand away. The man then groped her under the water before getting out of the Jacuzzi.

The woman left the Jacuzzi and immediately reported what happened to her grandmother, who reported it to ship security.

The ship was at sea at the time, and the FBI was notified of the report. FBI agents and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office were present when the ship returned to port in Jacksonville

The man will remain in custody of the U.S. Marshals until his sentencing October 22. He faces up to life in prison.

When you are on a cruise, you should not have to worry about being sexually assaulted by another passenger or a member of the crew. Sadly, rapes and other types of sexual abuse happen all too often on cruise ships.

The cruise line could be held liable for your suffering, including psychological and emotional injuries. They could also be liable if they handled the aftermath of the assault negligently. This can entail not providing adequate medical care to the victim, not restraining the assailant, etc.

In order to protect your rights after being sexually assaulted on a cruise ship, it is important that you seek legal advice from our Florida Cruise Ship Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton as soon as possible after the incident in which you were injured. We are experienced in dealing with cruise line negligence and can assist with your case right away. You want to act fast as there are statutes of limitations set forth on cruise ship injury claims, which could prevent you from seeking compensation past a certain date.

Continue reading

Two former University of Miami football players avoided jail time after accusations that they raped an intoxicated female student in a dorm room on the Coral Gables campus.

Now the victim has filed suit against the University of Miami in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleging the school failed to protect a minor student athlete, coming to the university for the first time, from sexual assault on its Coral Gables campus.

She was 17 at the time and had come to UM to play soccer.

The 2014 incident, involving two of UM’s ex-linebackers — who were 20 and 19 at the time and immediately kicked off the team and expelled from the school — was resolved when both agreed to enter a pretrial diversion program for first-time offenders, undergo sex-offender treatment classes and complete 100 hours of community service.

She is seeking damages “far in excess” of $15,000, according to the suit.
The lawsuit lists 15 instances in which UM failed her.

Among them:

▪ Negligently allowing minors into a dormitory where there are not protections from other students, particularly other students who the University of Miami knows or should have known had “violate tendencies.”

▪ Negligently allowing minors into a dormitory where there was “no meaningful guarding” from being brought back into the dorm in an impaired state by two student athletes.

▪ Failing to have adequate security measures and policies in effect which would prevent a sexual assault and rape in a University of Miami dormitory.


As a victim of a crime that the government elects to avoid prosecution, you have options for seeking damages. Our South Florida Injury Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are dedicated to obtaining justice for people harmed by the intentional acts or negligence of others. We do this by forcing institutions to take responsibility for their carelessness by obtaining compensation for victims and making them change the way they operate. This helps the victim get started on their own recovery and prevents others from being victimized in the future.

We offer free consultations. We can help you achieve some sense of accountability and recover the financial compensation you need for medical care and counseling, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.

Continue reading

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has reached a $210 million settlement to be shared amongst 450 survivors of clergy sexual abuse as part of its bankruptcy reorganization, according to reports.

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2015, two years after the Minnesota Legislature opened a three-year window that allowed people who said they had been sexually abused in the past to sue for damages, according to The Associated Press. This netted hundreds of claims filed against the archdiocese.

A formal reorganization plan will now be submitted to a bankruptcy judge for approval, and then it will be sent to the survivors for a vote.

The money will go into a trust fund to pay survivors, with the amount for each person to be determined.

Because of the lawsuit, 91 clerical offenders in the archdiocese have been exposed and listed as credibly accused offenders.

This is the second largest settlement involving the Catholic church in the United States, after a $660 million settlement reached in 2007 by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and 508 people who said they had been abused, according to reports.

There are many different types of abuse that may have been committed by clergy against victims. Clergy misconduct and sexual abuse can include the following:

  • Child molestation
  • Child pornography
  • Indecent exposure
  • Lewd or lascivious acts
  • Statutory rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Touching with or without clothing
  • Unconsented touching

When a civil lawsuit is filed against a church, the punishment is not jail time, rather it is about recovering monetary damages. Damages can include economic damages, non-economic damages, and possibly punitive damages. Economic damages are those distinguishable as medical bills and lost income. Non-economic damages are what is commonly referred to as “pain and suffering” damages. Many judges and juries award significant sums to survivors of sexual abuse for enduring such pain and suffering on a daily basis.

Continue reading

A CNN investigation has found that at least 103 Uber drivers in the U.S. have been accused of sexually assaulting or secually abusing their passengers. The allegations date back to the past four years.

The results of the investigation have shown that the questionable drivers were either arrested, are wanted by police, or have been named in civil suits related to the incidents.

Shockingly, nearly 31 drivers have been convicted for crimes ranging from forcible touching and false imprisonment to rape, and at least a dozen more have criminal and civil cases that are pending, according to CNN analysis.

This is strictly coming from analysis conducted by CNN involving in-depth review of police reports, federal court records and county court databases for 20 major U.S. cities. There is no publicly available data for the number of sexual assaults by Uber drivers or for drivers of other rideshare companies.

Most of these cases involve the passengers being intoxicated or passing out in their Ubers. Some of these cases have even lead to opened investigations into other potential crimes,

A few of the cases have resulted in a class action lawsuit against Uber.

One woman is even suing Uber for representing its services as “safe.”

Uber launched in 2010 in San Francisco as “everyone’s private driver,” and is currently valued at $70 billion and operates in 630 cities worldwide. Uber provides an estimated 15 million rides a day.

It will be interesting to see how the company further responds to this CNN investigation.

According to CNN, last week the company posted a sexual assault prevention video on its website on “how to create a safer community.” Uber also announced plans to host 50 community forums nationwide for advocates, leaders, drivers and riders across to talk about the issue.

An Uber spokesperson said safety is the company’s top priority this year and cited recent protocol updates such as rerunning driver background checks on an annual basis moving forward. The company also told CNN it plans to roll out a dedicated “safety center” within the Uber app where riders can designate contacts they want to share trip details with while they ride and they will also have an emergency button allowing users to call 911 from inside the app.

Lyft, an Uber competitor that provides an estimated one million rides daily in the United States and Canada, is also dealing with some allegations of sexual assaults by its drivers. A similar CNN review using the same methodology found 18 cases of Lyft drivers accused in the past four years. Of those cases, four drivers have been convicted.

Keep in mind that it is quite common for Uber and Lyft drivers to work for both companies simultaneously. However, each company is required to perform its own background checks.

While using a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft to avoid a potential DUI seems like a safe, economical decision, these sexual assault reports raise some major red flags for passenger safety. If using your phone to get a ride in about 3-5 minutes sounds too good to be true, you could be correct as you are virtually relying upon a stranger to get you to your next destination safely. Our Florida Injury Lawyers at Whittel & Melton have compiled a few safety guidelines for you to follow if Uber or Lyft is your go to:

  1. Before getting in to the vehicle, make sure you identify your driver and car. Uber sends you your driver’s name, photo, vehicle make, model, and plate number once you have booked your trip. Always compare that information with your ride when it arrives. If something does not match up, do not get in.
  2. Never get into an Uber car that you didn’t order. If you are intoxicated, have someone you trust wait with you and check the the driver and car upon arrival.
  3. Share your ETA with a friend or someone you trust. Uber sends you a destination link once the driver is on their way. Share it with someone so they know where you are and where you are supposed to end up.
  4. Always go with your gut. If you are not 100% comfortable when your Uber driver arrives, don’t take the ride. The minor $5 cancellation fee is absolutely worth your safety.
  5. Know the accident coverage liability: If you are injured while in an Uber accident and the driver is at fault, be aware of who is responsible and the limits to Uber’s $1 million liability amount. Familiarize yourself with Uber’s Terms & Conditions you agreed to during registration.
  6. Rate your driver: Leave comments and feedback about your Uber experience. If you felt unsafe, share the information. Remember, these can be anonymous.

Continue reading

A canon lawyer has recently spoken out about a widespread cover-up of clergy sex misconduct in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. She is claiming that archbishops and their top staff are lying to the public and of ignoring the US bishops’ pledge to have no tolerance of priests who abuse.

Her claims go on to share that the church used a chaotic system of record-keeping that helped conceal the backgrounds of guilty priests who remained on assignment.

She said that when she started examining records in 2008 of clergy under restrictions over sex misconduct with adults and children she found “nearly 20” of the 48 men still in ministry. She said she repeatedly warned the church about the risk of these placements, but they took action only in one case. As a result of raising alarms, she said she was eventually shut out of meetings about priest misconduct. She resigned last year.

The archdiocese has for years pledged it was following the national bishops’ policy, known as the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which lays out a series of requirements — from conducting background checks to alerting parishioners about offender priests and barring guilty clergy from parish assignments.

However, this woman alleges she discovered in 2008 that the archdiocese hadn’t conducted background checks on most priests since the early 1990s. When she drew attention to the lapse, she said she was told to eliminate references to the date of background checks in a form pledging a priest is suitable for ministry.

The woman also claims she found important information scattered among storage locations throughout the archdiocese, such as priests’ records, including the history of allegations against them, their compliance with the monitoring program, and evidence of their misconduct that did not make its way into various priest’s personnel files.

She is the highest-level official from a US diocese to make claims of a cover-up. A canon lawyer educated at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, she served as a judge on church tribunals in Minnesota and was trained through the US bishops’ conference on child safety and monitoring guilty clergy.

The Catholic Church plays a significant role in the growing number of child sex abuse claims, especially with all the scandals and cover-ups. At Whittel & Melton, our Florida Sexual Abuse Injury Attorneys stand ready to help those who have been subjected to inappropriate acts by clergy members. If you or a loved one have been abused by a member of the clergy, we are ready to advocate on your behalf and help you pursue the restitution you deserve.

We are well aware of the Catholic Church’s approach in these sexual abuse cases and the tactics they will employ to minimize the claims of victims. We firmly believe  that no authority, religious or otherwise, is excused from responsibility when sexual misconduct or any abuse occurs. We will fight aggressively to hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions.

Continue reading

Contact Information