Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?

Hiring a Sexual Abuse Lawyer: What Every Survivor Needs To Know

The decision to pursue legal action after experiencing sexual abuse is an intensely personal one, layered with complex emotions and legal considerations. If you’ve been a victim of sexual abuse, a thorough understanding of the process and potential outcomes can empower you to assert your rights and begin your journey to healing.

Explore when consulting with legal counsel is advisable, what a sexual abuse lawyer may be able to do for you, and the actionable steps involved in filing a civil lawsuit if you choose to pursue that avenue. Helping Survivors is here to support you with resources and may be able to connect you with a sexual abuse lawyer if you choose to pursue civil legal action.

When To Consult a Sexual Abuse Lawyer

The choice to consult with a sexual abuse lawyer is ultimately yours to make. Different situations may warrant different courses of action, and there is no right or wrong decision.

Criminal Charges

You do not need to consult a lawyer to seek criminal charges against the perpetrator. Instead, you pursue a criminal case by filing a police report. Law enforcement will investigate the allegations and share any available information with a state prosecutor, who will decide if there is enough evidence to press charges.

If the authorities decline to press charges, your options for seeking justice within the criminal justice system are limited. Individuals do not have the power to press criminal charges—only the government can do so. However, you may still have the option to pursue a civil lawsuit. If you believe law enforcement is unjustly covering for the perpetrator, you may be able to speak with a sexual abuse lawyer about filing a civil claim against law enforcement and/or the perpetrator.

Civil Lawsuit

A sexual abuse lawyer’s role is to help survivors pursue civil sexual abuse lawsuits. Civil lawsuits are legal proceedings in which survivors seek compensation for damages they suffered from perpetrators and others, such as an institution like a workplace or school, responsible for the abuse. It is not a criminal case and will not result in jail time for the perpetrator. However, it can provide survivors with a sense of justice and closure, in addition to compensation for the damages caused by the abuse.

If you are unsure whether to pursue a civil lawsuit, it can be helpful to discuss your options with a sexual abuse lawyer. They can help you understand the potential outcomes and guide you in making an informed decision. Most sexual abuse lawyers offer free initial consultations, so there’s low risk in seeking their advice.

Last Date Modified
March 18, 2024
Content Reviewed By:

Kathryn Kosmides
Managing Director | Helping Survivors

Filing a Civil Lawsuit Against a Perpetrator of Sexual Abuse

A civil lawsuit enables the recovery of the monetary damages. It can also result in a public record of the abuse, which can be particularly important for survivors in cases where criminal charges are not an option.

There is one major limitation to pursuing a civil lawsuit, however. You can only get monetary compensation if the perpetrator has money or substantial assets. Suing an offender with no assets may result in no financial recovery, even if you win the case.

Most sexual abuse lawyers operate on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if they win and can recover compensation. Their fee is typically a percentage of the total compensation awarded. This fee structure allows survivors lacking financial resources to pursue claims without upfront costs.

Be wary of lawyers who demand payment upfront on an hourly basis. The average cost of a civil lawsuit ranges from $43,000 to $122,000, and few survivors of sexual abuse have the means to cover these expenses. Hourly billing structures also leave little incentive for lawyers to work efficiently, which can prolong the legal process and cause additional stress and trauma. 

As mentioned, when you file a civil lawsuit, it is a public record. While you may be able to sue under a pseudonym, this is not always the case. This means your name and information will likely also be public, including the details of the trauma that happened. Additionally, the defendant in the case (the accused), has a right to file counterclaims against the Plaintiff (the person filing). These counterclaims may include false statements meant to cause you further harm and put your reputation in question. They are allowed to do this until the claims are proven false – and retaliatory litigation or litigation abuse are real tactics individuals use to protect their own reputations.

Process for Filing a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against a Perpetrator

Civil suits against institutions that enabled or facilitated the abuse, such as schools, churches, or foster care systems, often make the most practical sense. These organizations often have significant financial resources and liability insurance, which increases the likelihood of a successful result for the victim.

Whether you choose to sue an individual or an institution, the process usually begins with an investigation of the facts, followed by filing a complaint and serving it to the perpetrator or institution. The defendant will then have an opportunity to respond to your complaint and, if they so choose, file counterclaims, before discovery begins.

During discovery, both parties exchange evidence and conduct interviews (also known as depositions) under oath with witnesses and experts. This stage allows both parties to gather information to build a strong case. After discovery, the parties can attempt to settle the case through negotiation.

The case will proceed to trial if the parties cannot reach a settlement agreement. In the event of a trial, both sides will present their arguments and evidence, and a jury or judge will decide whether to award damages and the amount of compensation.

Expect the perpetrator to file counterclaims. These allegations against the plaintiff may include claims of defamation or false accusations. They have a lot to lose, and will often misuse the legal system to try to protect their own reputation while ruining yours. If this happens, a sexual abuse lawyer can help you respond to these counterclaims and defend your case.

Average Length of the Civil Suit Process

The entire civil suit process often takes several years, with many cases lasting three to five years. The wait can feel frustrating, but each step is crucial in ensuring a thorough and just resolution.

When it Makes the Most Sense to Hire a Sexual Abuse Lawyer

A sexual abuse lawyer can serve as a trusted advocate as you face the aftermath of sexual abuse. If any of the following apply, you may want to consider hiring a sexual abuse lawyer:

  • You are unsure of your legal rights and options and are seeking assistance in understand best options and potential outcomes
  • The abuse has impacted you financially by causing you to miss work or incur medical expenses
  • You have suffered emotional or psychological harm due to the abuse, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression as documented by a mental health professional
  • You experienced physical injuries as a result of the abuse
  • The perpetrator holds a position of power or authority, making it difficult for you to speak out against them alone
  • You believe an institution or organization allowed the abuse to occur or attempted to cover it up
  • You want to hold the perpetrator accountable and seek justice for yourself and others who may have also suffered abuse

Timely action is crucial if you are considering hiring a sexual abuse lawyer. Each state has a statute of limitations setting a deadline for filing a civil lawsuit and/or prosecutors being able to file criminal charges. You might not need to start a lawsuit immediately, but speaking with a lawyer can help you understand the deadlines that apply to your case to make an informed decision about how to proceed.

Proving Sexual Abuse in a Civil Lawsuit

The burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is a “preponderance of the evidence,” a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” required in criminal cases.  To succeed in a civil suit, you and your lawyer will need to present sufficient evidence to show that it is more likely than not that the abuse occurred.

While proving sexual abuse in a civil lawsuit is easier than in a criminal case, it can still be quite challenging. This is especially true if the survivor is a minor or if the abuse happened a long time ago. The court may require you to present physical evidence, such as DNA, surveillance footage, or medical records, which may not be available in all cases. It may also request witness testimony to corroborate your claims, which can be difficult to obtain if the abuse happened in private.

If you don’t have this evidence, it may still be possible to prove your case through testimony and other circumstantial evidence, such as emails, texts, or journal entries. Witness testimony of changes in behavior or mental health following the abuse may also strengthen your case.

If you do proceed with a civil lawsuit, you will likely have to testify. Testifying can be a nerve-wracking and potentially traumatic experience. Your lawyer should prepare you and can connect you with resources to address any concerns you may have. In addition, some jurisdictions have laws limiting what defense counsel can ask victims about their prior sexual history and what they can or cannot use.

What Are the Damages You Can Recover in a Sexual Abuse Claim?

Damages are the legal term for the losses you can seek compensation for in a civil lawsuit. These can cover a range of economic and non-economic losses.

Medical Expenses

You may be entitled to compensation for the cost of any medical treatment related to the abuse. This includes treatment for any physical injuries you suffered, plus mental health services such as therapy or psychiatric care. It can also cover the cost of any necessary medication.

Lost Income

Sexual abuse can significantly impact a person’s ability to work. If you had to take time off work or lost your job due to the abuse, your compensation may include lost wages and future earning potential.

Emotional Distress

Trauma from sexual abuse can have long-lasting effects on a survivor’s mental health. Compensation for emotional distress can cover the pain, suffering, and anguish experienced as a result of the abuse. These damages are often difficult to quantify but are a vital aspect of accounting for the full impact of the abuse.

Punitive Damages

In some cases, you may be entitled to punitive damages. These punish the perpetrator and deter others from engaging in similar behavior in the future. These damages are not available in all civil lawsuits and typically require evidence of extreme misconduct or intent to harm. However, they are particularly common in sexual abuse cases since the conduct is usually deliberate.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning if you have a potential claim, you can reach out to Helping Survivors.

Want To Speak With A Lawyer?

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