Can Individuals That Enabled an Abusive Coach Or Therapist Be Held Responsible for Damages as Accessories to the Crime?

January 10, 2022

In some cases involving an abusive coach or therapist, a civil suit can also be filed against another party that enabled the crime. 

What Is an Accomplice?

The person who commits the actual crime is known as the “principal,” and anyone who assists is called an “accomplice” or an “aider and abettor.” In other words, an accomplice helps or encourages another person to commit a crime. An accomplice in a sexual abuse case can be punished equally to the principal, although they only played a supporting role. On the other hand, an accessory gets involved after the crime, such as helping someone conceal the crime or evade capture or prosecution. 

What Are Criminal Penalties Associated With Aiding & Abetting Criminal Sexual Conduct?

In Minnesota, aiding and abetting a sexual abuse offender is broken into three categories: helping and concealing, obstructing the investigation, and taking responsibility for criminal acts. If the prosecution can prove that an accomplice had the intent to help with the sexual abuse being committed, the following penalties may apply:

Helping and Concealing

Penalty of up to three years in prison or $5,000, or both, for aiding an offender. 

Obstructing the Investigation

Penalty of up to half the statutory maximum prison time and half the maximum fine for the offender’s crime. 

Aiding with Responsibility 

Aiding with responsibility is charged separately from the original crime, which, if only tried for orchestrating, can face up to half the maximum imprisonment time and half the maximum fines. However, there can still be a charge for the original crime. 

The punishments for aiding and abetting criminal sexual conduct are proportional to the abuse’s severity. 

First-Degree Sexual Assault

Sexual penetration and the presence of at least one of the following conditions:

  • A dangerous weapon.
  • The victim is younger than 13, and the defendant is at least three years older.
  • The defendant is in a position of authority; the victim is 13 to 16 years of age, and the defendant is at least four years older.
  • The victim had a fear of bodily harm.
  • There was a physical injury due to the assault.
  • The defendant is helped by an accomplice to make the victim submit.
  • The defendant has a significant relationship with the victim (relative or adult who lives in the house), and the victim is under 16 at the time of the assault.

A conviction carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison and a $40,000 fine. In addition, the defendant must register as a sex offender. 

Second-Degree Sexual Assault

Engaging in sexual contact with a victim without penetration under the same circumstances listed above. This is a felony offense punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a fine of $35,000. The minimum sentence is 7.5 years in prison.

Third-Degree Sexual Assault

Sexual penetration under the following circumstances:

  • The victim is under 13 years of age, and the defendant is no more than three years older
  • The victim is 13-15 years old, and the defendant is more than two years older but no more than ten years older
  • The defendant uses force or coercion to penetrate the victim
  • The defendant knows the victim is mentally or physically incapacitated

This is a felony offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $30,000. If the victim is 13-15 and the defendant was not more than four years older but more than two years older, the maximum punishment is 5 years in prison.

Fourth-Degree Sexual Assault

Sexual contact without penetration, under the same circumstances as third-degree sexual assault. This is a felony offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

Fifth-Degree Sexual Assault

Engaging in non-consensual sexual contact or knowingly masturbating or exposing one’s genitals in the presence of a child under 16 years of age. This is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $3,000. When a defendant has a prior conviction, this charge could become a felony that carries up to 7 years in prison and a fine of up to $14,000.

Vicarious Liability

Under the legal doctrine of vicarious liability, organizations or employers can be held accountable for the intentional misconduct of their employees. As a result, if the sexual abuse by a therapist or a coach happens at their place of work, a school, a club, or other establishments, that entity could be responsible as well. A survivor, for example, may be able to hold an entity liable due to: 

  • Negligent supervision;
  • Inadequate security;
  • Failure to protect vulnerable individuals (e.g., children or someone with special needs).

Sexual assault claims against a coach or therapist can be incredibly complex, especially since there may be multiple liable parties. Having an experienced sexual assault lawyer on your side can make all the difference in the outcome of your case.