Sexual Assault Lawsuits
Sexual assault can happen to anyone at any age. It’s important to know that sexual assault or abuse is never your fault. Sexual assault lawsuits can be criminal or civil in nature. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, you can press charges and file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. The former is intended to punish the offender and prevent them from assaulting other victims, whereas the latter may provide you with financial compensation.
Sexual assault and abuse are illegal. Offenders face serious criminal penalties such as jail time and fines. As a victim, you may be entitled to money in a civil suit to pay for medical bills, therapy, and lost work. A sexual assault lawyer can assist you with knowing what to expect from a sexual assault lawsuit. You can locate a lawyer experienced in sexual assault and abuse by searching your state’s Bar Association website.
What constitutes sexual assault?
Sexual assault is any sexual act that occurs without the permission of the recipient. This could include attempted rape, rape, or unwanted touching. It is never your fault if you are sexually assaulted, no matter the circumstances. Most sexual assaults happen in people’s homes — either the victim’s or the perpetrator’s — but could take place in a workplace, place of worship, and even online.
In recent years, popular ride-share services have become a place of sexual assault. There are actions you can take before getting into a ride-share vehicle to prevent sexual assault. These include confirming the vehicle is the same make and model and license plate number that the app says and reviewing the driver’s profile.
What to Do After You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted?
If you have been a victim of sexual assault, first find a safe space. You can call the police if you need help getting to safety.
Once you are safe, report the sexual assault. You can file a report directly with the police. The counselors at the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-HOPE are trained in supporting sexual assault survivors and can provide you with local resources. A local shelter could also help you file a police report.
After a sexual assault, it’s recommended that you see a doctor for any possible injuries, treatment, and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Avoid showering or changing your clothes before seeking medical treatment or calling the police, as there may be evidence that can help your case.
The hospital or medical provider may use a rape kit to collect data, including DNA evidence from your body. Requesting this exam does not mean you will have to file a lawsuit, but the evidence contained can be useful if you decide to file one at a later date.
Be sure to keep any additional evidence, including text messages and voicemails. These would bolster your evidence in a sexual assault lawsuit.
You can find support after a sexual assault through support groups either locally or online, which can help with recovery.
Civil Actions vs. Criminal Charges
If you are a victim of sexual assault, you can pursue both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit. In criminal cases, the accused will face possible jail time. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, of those sexual abuse offenders who are convicted at trial, 98.8 percent are sentenced to prison for an average of 16 years.
For a criminal charge to be prosecuted, an attorney will review your police report and the resulting investigation and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed. If the prosecutor believes there is enough evidence to satisfy the burden of proof, the state will be the plaintiff pressing charges against the offender, and you will not be a party to the case.
You may be involved in evidence gathering and may be asked to testify. However, if the prosecuting attorney believes there is not enough evidence, they will not move the case forward. This does not mean that you weren’t sexually assaulted, and you still have the option to file civil charges.
Civil cases, on the other hand, use monetary penalties to punish the accused. In a civil case, you — not the state — will be the plaintiff. As a party to the case, you will have more control over the strategy and possible settlement of the case. A sexual assault lawyer will assist you by drafting documents, appearing on your behalf in the courtroom, and negotiating a settlement or bringing a successful jury verdict.
Proving Sexual Assault: Burden of Proof
Because of the difference in the severity of charges, the legal standard to satisfy the burden of proof is significantly lower in a civil case than in a criminal case.
To prove a civil case, your legal team must convince a jury that your attacker “more likely than not” caused you harm. Finding a preponderance of the evidence will satisfy the burden.
Conversely, the jury in a criminal case must be convinced “beyond all reasonable doubt,” which can be challenging for sexual assault cases because consent, or lack thereof, can be difficult to prove.
A sexual assault lawyer can help you navigate your options in the court system.
Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault Lawsuits
The statute of limitations dictates how much time you have to file a lawsuit after the sexual assault occurred. Each state has different statutes of limitations. Once the time limit has run out, you will not be permitted to file your claim.
Some states have longer statutes of limitations if you were a victim of child sexual abuse or assault. Victims of child sexual abuse and assault may not initially realize that what they experienced was in fact abuse or assault, and the statute of limitations may be longer for those cases for this reason. Also, some states may have longer statute of limitations based on the severity of the crime. For example, if a person was a victim of first-degree rape they may have a longer statute of limitations.
Damages & Compensation for Sexual Assault Lawsuits
A sexual assault lawsuit can be filed to compensate you for your medical bills, psychological damages, and lost wages. Punitive damages can even be brought against the defendant as a way to punish them financially for their actions.
A civil lawsuit may go to a jury to determine a compensation amount, but many cases settle before reaching this point. You would be included in any settlement discussions with your sexual assault lawyer, who would advocate for you.
Depending on the case, you may receive compensation to pay for bills, make up for lost work, recognize pain and suffering, or even loss of consortium (your relationship with a significant other). Consult a sexual assault attorney regarding what you can expect for the circumstances of your experience. Compensation can depend on the severity of the assault, the facts of your case, and your unique situation.