Albuquerque Sexual Abuse and Assault Attorney

This video features Shannon L. Kennedy, a Civil Rights attorney based in New Mexico.

Civil Rights Lawyer Empowers Victims on Path to Recovery

Video Transcript:

Shannon Kennedy: 

Society needs to both address and confront the perpetrators, the monsters, but also at the same time, address the culture that allows abuse to continue.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So how can an attorney help survivors of sexual abuse to regain their power? Well, that's what we're gonna find out right now, because that's what we're gonna ask the lawyer on this episode. Hi again, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com, and my guest is New Mexico attorney Shannon Kennedy. I wanna let you know right off the top that if you'd like to ask Shannon questions about your situation, it's easy, just go to askthelawyers.com, click the button in the upper right-hand corner that says Ask A Lawyer, and it'll walk you right through the very simple process, or you can call the phone number that you'll see on the screen during our conversation. Shannon, it's good to see you. Thank you so much for helping us out.

Shannon Kennedy: 

Good to see you.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So let's just start, let's talk a little bit about your experience, your background in this area. Tell me a little bit about your experience helping clients who have experienced sexual abuse.

Shannon Kennedy: 

Well, I've been a civil rights lawyer for approximately 25 years, and one subject area that I focused on is that of the sexual abuse of children, school children by educators and coaches. And I had the privilege of representing the family of a young girl who in first grade was sexually molested by a substitute teacher in the classroom with two other little girls, and through the process of suing the educator who used his position of power to exploit these children, we were able to win a multimillion-dollar verdict for that child, and in that process, began representing other families that unfortunately had to face the nightmare of being betrayed by an educational system and/or a coach.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So one of the things I know that you do is you help to empower the clients by telling their stories. Tell me a little bit about more of that.

Shannon Kennedy: 

Well, a key to that first case was we had a successful criminal prosecution of the educator molester, so liability was not at issue. In other words, there's no question that this is what had happened. The only question was the harms and losses suffered by the child and the child's family. And so we really focused our case on prosecuting the sexual offender and focusing on not the act itself, not the salacious act itself, which oftentimes the media can be sidetracked by focusing on the molestation instead of on the harms caused by the molestation. So the child in that case did not have to testify because it was clear he had plead guilty that what had happened had happened, and instead we had professionals testify about the psychiatric injuries caused by sexual assault and created a psychiatric life care plan to explain that essentially the body keeps the score, and that throughout the life of the survivor of sexual assault will be hurdles not met by people not traumatized by a betrayal of sexual assault.

Rob Rosenthal: 

That's fascinating. So you're also able to help people who... Victims who might wanna remain anonymous and...

Shannon Kennedy: 

Well, no, no. You cannot remain anonymous. A child has the protection of proceeding in litigation through initials, so they do not have to disclose their identity. But they're not anonymous. All the parties in the court know who they are. There has been a shift, I would say, in the last 20 years, where the shaming of the sexual molestation has been taken from the shoulders of the child who's a survivor of sexual abuse and shifted to where it belongs on the shoulders of the perpetrators and those that cover up sexual abuse rather than expose it.

Rob Rosenthal: 

And speaking of covering up, explain what institutional abuse is and how you decide who's to be held responsible in those kind of cases?

Shannon Kennedy: 

Well, oftentimes, it can be two injuries resulting from sexual trauma and abuse. The first injury, of course, is the trauma of the sexual abuse itself, the dissociation that takes place, the chronic PTSD that can arise from having not been safe in one's own body. But the second level of abuse of betrayal is institutional abuse of betrayal, and we've seen that exposed in what the US gymnastics team did to the hundreds of young female gymnasts who were betrayed by one doctor who was only able to continue the cycles of abuse because the reality of the survivors was not acknowledged by institutions. So institutional trauma is compounding, it's a rubbing of the salt in the wound of the original trauma, and the society needs to both address and confront the perpetrators, the monsters, but also at the same time, address the culture that allows abuse to continue.

Rob Rosenthal: 

When it's institutional abuse, how do you decide who's to be held responsible? Is it ultimately whoever is running the institution? Is it... How does that work?

Shannon Kennedy: 

Well, certainly the institutions have to be held responsible, and the institutions have to change policies so the survivors of sexual abuse are supported, are believed, and that there's dignity in the process itself. Part of creating dignity for survivors is training people to whom the survivors must report on how to do what's called a trauma-informed interview. In other words, you do not make a survivor a suspect, instead you understand memory as it is created in the moment of trauma, and you conduct the interviews that support the exploration of the event instead of essentially a soft cross-examination of a person who's a survivor, not a suspect. And so, for instance, the FBI agents that re-traumatize the young gymnasts that came forward because they weren't trained in treating survivors as survivors, as opposed to criminal suspects.

Rob Rosenthal: 

So, what are potential outcomes in these kind of cases, Shannon? Obviously, there's the rewarding of damages to the victims of the abuse, but are there other outcomes you hope to see achieved?

Shannon Kennedy: 

Well, certainly we wanna see change. The outcome we want to achieve is empower survivors with voices changing institutions so that there are no more victims, so that sexual abuse stops, and so that people who are using positions of authority to gratify their sexual impulses are identified and pushed out of institutions as quickly as possible instead of emboldened. Success is stopping accomplices from working with those who abuse power, because they're attracted to their power. So that's the sort of cultural shift and change we've really seen with the MeToo Movement, and that we're seeing in every single institution of power, is this knowledge that we can all do better, we can all be healthier, we can all have more powerful institutions if they're based on notions of equality as opposed to power over.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Are we seeing those changes in your opinion so far? Have there been some examples of those kind of institutional changes, and are you hopeful for more?

Shannon Kennedy: 

Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that, like the way in which our culture is facing and addressing institutionalized racism is that we have a language now for identifying systems that silence and oppress and isolate people based on their gender or on their ethnicity, and we're learning as a culture that we all lose when that happens, and that there is... That this is an approachable problem, and then it's gonna be solved through the voices of those who are speaking from a position of experience and resilience. And so what we're seeing in the lives of survivors is instead of life-long oppression that ends in suicide, we're seeing a kind of voice and resilience, and that kind of cultural shift is inspiring. I have so much optimism about the systems of justice meeting these survivors and supporting their resilience and changing institutions for the better.

Rob Rosenthal: 

Fascinating information. Thank you so much for making some time to answer our questions, I do appreciate you, Shannon.

Shannon Kennedy: 

Thank you.

Rob Rosenthal: 

And that's gonna do it for this episode of Ask The Lawyer. My guest has been New Mexico attorney Shannon Kennedy. I'll remind you, if you'd like to ask Shannon questions about your situation, go to askthelawyers.com, click the button at the top that says Ask A Lawyer, and it's a very simple process right there that'll walk you right through it. Thank you for watching. I'm Rob Rosenthal with Ask The Lawyers.

Disclaimer: This video is for informational purposes only. In some states, this video may be deemed Attorney Advertising. The choice of lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.


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