What Are Your Rights After Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that can continue to affect a victim’s health and wellbeing years after the incident. It’s also more common than you might realize: According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds.
While most people know that sexual assault is a crime, fewer people are aware that sexual assault victims also have the right to bring a civil lawsuit against their attacker (and any other liable parties.) In this blog post, our attorneys will provide a brief overview of the differences between civil and criminal sexual assault cases.
Criminal Sexual Assault Cases
Sexual assault is a crime everywhere in the United States, although the charges vary depending on the circumstances and nature of the assault. If the victim is a child, individuals classified as “mandatory reporters” are required to report the incident to the police. Mandatory reporters include healthcare providers, counselors, teachers, and other professionals who work with children in some capacity.
Once the police receive a report about sexual assault – whether from a mandatory reporter or the victim – the local prosecutor may choose to bring charges against the alleged attacker or “defendant.” While adult victims are not required to participate in the criminal justice process, the prosecutor may decide to pursue a case against the defendant anyway. Additionally, some states enforce “mandatory medical reporting” to track cases of adult sexual assault in the healthcare system.
Depending on your state, sexual assault may include any of the following actions:
- Unwanted physical contact (such as fondling, groping, and kissing)
- Coerced sexual acts
- Non-consensual sex acts with an intoxicated or sleeping person
- Forced genital touching or oral sex
- Rape or forced sexual intercourse
- Child molestation
Unfortunately, even when prosecutors pursue sexual assault charges, it is often extremely difficult to get a conviction. This is because the criminal justice system relies on a high standard of proof: Unless the prosecutor can prove that the sexual assault happened “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the perpetrator will not be convicted.
Civil Claims for Sexual Assault
In the civil justice system, sexual assault is classified as an “intentional tort,” meaning that victims can sue their attackers for wrongdoing. Although a criminal conviction may bring some peace of mind, a civil lawsuit allows the victim to seek restitution for their losses – and a successful lawsuit makes it easier to get appropriate medical treatment and take time away from work.
Oftentimes, it is better for a victim of sexual assault not to bring a claim against the attacker, but against another party that should have, but failed to prevent or limit the attack. That is because the court places duties on some people and entities to take reasonable actions to prevent sexual assault. This may include schools, stores, restaurants, hotels, and religious institutions. Oftentimes, the attacker will not have adequate resources to compensate the victim, especially if they are imprisoned as a result of the attack. Other parties, however, may have insurance and other assets to pay a settlement or judgment entered against them.
Civil claims are completely separate from criminal cases, which means that you can choose to pursue a civil lawsuit even if the state has failed to bring criminal charges.
Other unique advantages to bringing a sexual assault lawsuit:
- There is a lower burden of proof. In the civil justice system, the standard of proof is “a preponderance of the evidence.” That means the plaintiff must only show that it is more likely than not that the assault happened.
- You can sue multiple parties at once. As noted above, in some cases, parties besides the attacker(s) may be liable for the attack. For instance, if you are attacked at a bar without appropriate security measures, that bar may be partially responsible for your assault.
- Victims have more control over the proceedings. In a criminal case, the state controls the proceedings, with the victim acting as a witness for the state. In a civil lawsuit, however, all of the major decisions rest with the plaintiff. This process can be empowering for sexual assault victims because it helps them regain a sense of security and control over their lives.
Representing Sexual Assault Survivors in Washington DC, Virginia, and Maryland
At Simeone & Miller, LLP, we have helped more than 1,000 injured clients throughout the Washington DC area and beyond. With experience, compassion, and skill, we can help sexual assault and abuse survivors come forward and find their voice through the civil justice system. No matter what you decide to do about your civil sexual assault claim, we are here to serve as your guide through the legal process and advocate for your interests.
If you’ve been sexually assaulted, we invite you to contact our legal team today for a free and completely confidential consultation. Contact us to schedule an appointment.