Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?

Weaponizing the Courts: Litigation Abuse

Many individuals who have caused harm and have been forced into the justice systems will retaliate against the victim within the family or civil court systems through what is known as abuse of process, also known as litigation abuse.

Victims of sexual abuse and assault already must contend with unimaginable challenges when seeking justice within the legal systems. Adding insult to injury, many face a secondary victimization known as litigation abuse, in which perpetrators use the very systems designed to protect victims against them.

Facing litigation abuse can make you feel powerless, but there is hope. You have the legal right to stand up for yourself and take back power and control. And you don’t need to do it alone. An attorney experienced in dealing with sexual abuse cases can help you navigate the legal system and fight against those who seek to silence and discredit you. With the proper support, you can overcome litigation abuse and hold your abuser accountable for their actions, prevent future harm, and seek compensation for the damages they’ve caused.

What Is Litigation Abuse?

Also known as abuse of process, frivolous litigation, or vexatious litigation, litigation abuse encompasses a wide range of actions where perpetrators misuse legal procedures to intimidate, harass, or exhaust the resources of individuals who seek recourse in the legal system. It is malicious, deliberate, and unjustified conduct that aims to undermine the legitimacy of a victim’s claim and discourage them from pursuing legal action.

Sexual violence survivors are common targets of litigation abuse. The legal system can be a powerful tool for these survivors to hold their abusers accountable, but it also leaves them vulnerable to retaliation. Perpetrators of sexual violence often turn to litigation abuse in an attempt to maintain or re-establish power and control over a victim. In other words, the legal system becomes another weapon in the abuser’s arsenal.

Examples of Litigation Abuse

Litigation abuse may occur in either a civil, family, or criminal court setting. The following are some examples of how litigation abuse can manifest in a sexual abuse case.

Last Date Modified
March 18, 2024
Content Reviewed By:

Kathryn Kosmides
Managing Director | Helping Survivors

Defamation Lawsuits

After a survivor speaks out about their experience, the abuser may file a defamation lawsuit or false counterclaims against them, alleging that their statements are false and have caused harm to their reputation. 

In reality, these lawsuits are often thinly veiled attempts to intimidate the survivor into silence. They also serve to discredit the victim and cast doubt on their credibility, both in the public eye and in court.

Frivolous Court Orders

Perpetrators may also file frivolous court orders, such as restraining orders, against the survivor. These orders are not based on legitimate safety concerns but rather serve as a way for the abuser to continue exerting control over the survivor’s life and movements. 

In some cases, the perpetrator may falsely accuse the survivor of violating the terms of a frivolous court order to subject them to further legal consequences. The survivor must spend time and resources defending against these baseless claims, hindering their ability to advocate for themselves and heal from the trauma.

Multiple Motions

Relentlessly filing motions and appeals is a common ploy to drain a victim’s resources. Perpetrators may pursue the same legal matter in multiple courts or repeatedly appeal decisions even after the court has ruled against them. They employ this tactic to exhaust the survivor and their legal team, causing them to lose motivation and potentially drop the case altogether.

The Impacts of Litigation Abuse on Victims

Litigation abuse affects survivors in multiple ways. Survivors may experience financial, emotional, and practical obstacles due to the perpetrator’s misuse of the legal system.

Financial Strain

Litigation is expensive, and when bad actors weaponize the legal process, they force their victims to bear the brunt of these costs. This constant drain on resources affects the victim’s ability to fight their legitimate case and has real-world implications for their daily lives and well-being. They may spend significant amounts on legal fees, court costs, and other related expenses. 

In addition to the direct financial burden, litigation abuse can negatively impact their earning potential. Time and energy spent on legal matters may result in missed work opportunities or job loss.

Time

A harrowing reality of litigation abuse is the investment of time and energy required to manage a case. The hours spent on paperwork, in courtrooms, and consulting legal counsel can add up quickly, significantly straining the survivor’s daily life. 

This time commitment may also limit their employment opportunities, including due to having to take time off. Additionally, this time and overall process takes away from someone engaging in other activities that could contribute positively to their healing journey. Their families and loved ones may also suffer as the survivor’s time and resources are diverted away from them towards managing the legal process.

Mental Health

The very notion of reliving traumatic experiences in a public forum, at the demand of those who caused the trauma, is deeply unsettling. This psychological warfare can lead to a re-traumatization of the abuse survivor in which they must continuously confront the perpetrator and the painful memories associated with them. 

Litigation abuse can also cause an individual to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues as they grapple with the constant stress and uncertainty of the perpetrator’s legal maneuvers.

Safety Concerns

Litigation abuse can also pose a direct threat to the survivor’s safety. The legal process may provide the perpetrator access to sensitive personal information, such as their address or place of employment, and put them at risk of further harm. 

Ordering a survivor to appear in court or attend depositions may also force them into contact with their abuser and allow the abuse or assault to occur again.

Common Defenses Against Litigation Abuse

Litigation abuse is illegal. It may be possible to petition the court for relief. Judges can often stop abusive litigation. Many states allow judges to issue court orders that do the following:

  • Hold the perpetrator in contempt and impose fines or other sanctions
  • Require the abusive litigant to pay the other party’s attorney fees
  • Prohibit new filings or lawsuits without the court’s authorization
  • Limit the number of court filings
  • Limit the scope of discovery
  • Restrict appeals

In addition, you can file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator for abuse of process or malicious prosecution. In such a lawsuit, you can seek compensation for your damages. In some jurisdictions, you may even be able to pursue criminal charges if the litigation abuse rises to the level of a crime, such as criminal harassment or perjury.

The perpetrator may try to defend their actions by claiming immunity, asserting their First Amendment rights, claiming the statute of limitations has passed, or arguing they committed the alleged act in good faith. However, you do not need to succumb to your abuser’s manipulative tactics. A lawyer can empower you to protect your rights by presenting counterarguments and evidence disproving the perpetrator’s claims. 

Want To Speak With A Lawyer?

Understand your legal rights and options as a survivor of sexual assault and abuse.