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Life after a sexual assault or child sexual abuse can feel surreal. As a victim, you may be feeling a complicated mix of emotions and uncertainty about what to do next.

First and foremost, you must understand that what happened to you is not your fault. Secondly, realize that there is a network of support available to help you get through this difficult time.

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Q. What Is Sexual Assault?

The legal definition of sexual assault varies from state to state. But generally, sexual assault is defined as any form of unwanted touching or contact of a sexual nature. This includes everything from someone intentionally brushing up against you on a crowded subway to forced penetration with the use of a deadly weapon. Remember that any type of touching which you did not consent to may be considered assault. Also, keep in mind that the victim is never to blame for an assault. There is no good reason for another person to violate your boundaries.

Q. Who Can Be The Victim Of Sexual Assault?

Anyone can be the victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse. Although a large majority of rape victims are women, a CDC study found that 1 in 71 men in the US has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. However, these crimes are underreported for victims of all genders.

Men may hesitate to report because of a stigma associated with male rape victims or the common misconception that men cannot be raped. Women may fear that they won't be believed or that their attacker will retaliate against them. In either case, know that the police and those close to you are on your side.

Q. What Is Child Sexual Abuse?

Child sexual abuse is inappropriate physical or sexual contact between a child and an adult or older adolescent. Examples include direct sexual contact, indecent exposure of private body parts, child grooming, and the production of child pornography. This abuse causes devastating mental trauma which can stay with a child for the rest of their lives, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In roughly 90% of child sexual abuse cases, the offender is either a family member or acquaintance of the family. Many abusers seek positions of trust and authority to more easily commit their crimes, such as priests or Boy Scout leaders. It's important for parents to maintain an active role in their kid's lives and to teach them about boundaries regarding touching, private parts, and personal space.

Q. What Should I Do If I've Been Sexually Assaulted?

If you've been sexually assaulted, you may be feeling scared, depressed, and uncertain of what to do next. But there are steps you can take to help hold your attacker responsible for their actions:

  • Save physical evidence - Your first instinct after an assault may be to wash up or shower. This is understandable, but you may wash away important forensic evidence if you do. As difficult as it may be, try to refrain from brushing, combing, or cleaning your body. Don't change your clothes or touch anything at the scene. This will help to preserve possible evidence for when the police show up.
  • Go to the emergency room - Sexual assault can cause serious internal injuries, sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancies. It's important to get treatment for your injuries as well as emergency contraception and medication which can prevent STIs. The medical staff will also use a rape kit which collects forensic evidence of the crime, including DNA from your attacker and signs of physical trauma. If you suspect that you were drugged, make sure to notify a doctor or nurse.
  • Get emotional support - Reach out to a close friend or family member for emotional support. No one should have to suffer the trauma of a sexual assault on their own. You are not alone, and you deserve to know it. You may also wish to contact a support group for sexual assault survivors. These groups have trained volunteers and counselors who can help guide you through this difficult time. The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 800-656-HOPE.
  • File a police report - Many victims choose not to press charges as they would prefer to put the experience behind them. But it's important to hold these criminals responsible and to prevent them from hurting other people. It can also be deeply empowering to fight for justice. You have the power to overcome this experience and find your voice again. If you're unsure of how to file a report, you can find more information here.
  • Consider contacting a victims' rights lawyer - The criminal justice system is in place to punish the perpetrators of these crimes. However, criminal courts aren't concerned with providing support for victims. An experienced victims' rights lawyer can offer you compassionate legal counsel, help guide you through your recovery, and help you to receive compensation for the various damages you're suffering from after a sexual assault.

Q. What Should I Do If My Child Has Been Sexually Abused?

If your child has told you about sexual abuse, or if you've picked up on the signs on your own, you may be feeling angry, frustrated, and panicked. Our deepest condolences go out to you. Even though all parents are aware of dangerous child predators, it's hard to handle the torrent of emotions you experience when your child becomes a victim.

If your family is currently dealing with this type of tragedy, try to keep the following points in mind:

  • Be supportive - First and foremost, it's important to show support for your child. Make sure that they know they've done nothing wrong, and that they're going to be okay. As emotional as you may feel, try not to show anger or panic in front of your child. Child sexual abuse can unquestionably affect victims well into their adult lives, but the right combination of protection, support, and therapy can help them to recover eventually.
  • Make your child feel safe - Make sure your child knows that this abuse was wrong and that it will never happen again. Establish a family safety plan and ensure that your child is no longer left alone with the abuser or without an adult you trust.
  • Call the police - Angry parents may be tempted to confront the alleged abuser personally, but we strongly advise against this. The police are well-trained to handle these situations, so contact them as soon as possible. Though this may be difficult, if the abuse was recent, don't bathe your child or wash their clothes before contacting the police. This could wash away evidence which could be used in court.

Q. What If My Partner Sexually Assaulted Me?

It doesn't matter what the relationship is between you and your attacker. Boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends, wives, and anyone else you're in a relationship with can be guilty of sexual assault if they engage in sexual contact without your consent. You deserve to be loved, not violated.

Just because you've given your consent in the past does not mean that your partner has a free pass to engage in sexual activity with you whenever they want in the future. That's assault, too. We understand that it may be difficult to ask for help in an abusive relationship. But remember that there are resources available to support you. The police, victims' rights lawyers, and victims' advocates' groups like RAINN can provide you with the protection and guidance you need.

Q. What Can I Do As An Adult About Sexual Abuse I Experienced As A Child?

That depends on the statute of limitations in your state. Each state has a different time limit for both criminal and civil trials regarding child sexual abuse. In many states, it's 8 years after your 18th birthday.

However, with the recent influx of high-profile child sexual abuse scandals in the media, some states have reduced or eliminated the statute of limitations for these crimes. To find out what your options are, it's best to consult with a victims' rights lawyer who has experience trying cases in your state.

Q. Can I File A Lawsuit For Sexual Assault Or Sexual Abuse?

Yes, you may file a personal injury lawsuit against your attacker and any entities who may have been complicit in your sexual assault or a child's sexual abuse. This is often the only way to receive financial compensation for the trauma you have suffered.

Q. What Are The Benefits Of Filing A Lawsuit?

A lawsuit can help provide compensation for the variety of damages you may be facing after your assault, including:

  • Medical care
  • Psychiatric care
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Emotional distress

Juries are usually sympathetic to the victims of these heinous crimes, so it's common to see very high compensation amounts for these cases. A lawsuit can also help other victims gain the courage to come forward if they've also suffered abuse from the same attacker or within the same institution. We've seen this in cases like the Bill Cosby scandal, where dozens of other victims came forward after the first claim was made.

Q. What's The Difference Between Civil & Criminal Sexual Assault Cases?

When you file a report with the police, the criminal justice system will handle the case from that point on. The prosecution's job is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They will gather evidence and present it in court, interview witnesses (including you), and make their case for the jury.

In a civil case, the standard of proof is not as high. Instead of the "reasonable doubt" standard, you only need to convince the jury that your attacker is more than likely guilty. Legally, this is defined as a preponderance of the evidence. Additionally, you will have more control in the sense that you can choose whether to accept a settlement or take the case to civil court. These two choices are not mutually exclusive. Your offender may be tried in both criminal and civil courts. A conviction in criminal court will likely increase your chances of winning in civil court, but you don't need a conviction to win a lawsuit. Ideally, your attacker will suffer criminal punishment and also be forced to provide the compensation you and your family need for suffering such a painful experience.

Q. What Will The Police Do If I File A Report?

The police will investigate your claim and gather evidence of the crime. They will speak with you (or your abused child) to get your side of the story and also interview any possible witnesses. They may also set up something called a "pretext call", where they have you call your attacker from the police station and attempt to elicit a confession over the phone. This call will be recorded and can be used in court.

They may also ask you to complete a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) exam which collects forensic evidence of the crime. These exams are completely voluntary, but it would be wise to undergo one so that you have the evidence you need in a trial. If the police find enough evidence of a crime, they will arrest your attacker. If he or she is released on bail, he or she will be prohibited from contacting you or any witnesses. If they violate this order, they will be sent back to jail until the trial.

Q. Besides The Abuser, Who Else Might Be Responsible For Sexual Assaults & Child Sexual Abuse?

In many cases of sexual assault and abuse, there are several parties who either covered up the crimes or did not do enough to stop the abuse. We've seen this in recent years with organizations like the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America covering up child molestation or allowing sex offenders to work with kids. Other examples include colleges, universities, and employers not taking sexual assault seriously or attempting to cover it up.

Additionally, property owners are sometimes responsible for neglecting to fix dangerous conditions which made their properties more susceptible to crime. For example, if you were assaulted in a poorly lit parking lot, the owner could face liability in a lawsuit. In many states, it's illegal not to report child sexual abuse if you suspect it. Those who see something wrong and don't say anything also bear some of the responsibility for sexual crimes.

Q. Can Religious Organizations Be Held Liable For Covering Up Child Molestation?


Religious organizations routinely cover up child molestation in order to protect the image of the organization. This is indefensible, as such complicity protects predators and allows them to continue to abuse with few consequences. A lawsuit against a religious organization can help hold the organization responsible for their complicity. This may encourage religious leaders to do more to punish offenders and to protect children in the church. Additionally, it raises public awareness of the problem and may help other victims find the courage to come forward.

Q. Can Youth Organizations Be Held Responsible For Not Preventing Child Sexual Abuse?


Just like religious organizations, any other group that works with children has a duty to protect those kids from harm. It's crucial to take claims of abuse seriously, to turn over offenders to law enforcement, and to properly vet volunteers and employees who will be working with kids.

Organizations that allow sex offenders to slip through the screening process or attempt to cover up abuse may be held liable for the harm they've caused in a civil trial. This includes groups such as:

Q. How Can Lawyers Help Victims Of Sexual Assault & Child Molestation?

Victim's rights lawyers can provide the compassionate counsel which the criminal justice system sorely lacks. As a plaintiff in a criminal trial, you'll be represented by a district attorney. The DA's office is all about getting convictions. While a conviction is an important aspect of the healing process for victims, criminal prosecutors fail to provide the additional support victims need.

A civil lawyer can help to provide you with the resources you need during your recovery, such as referrals to survivor groups. Additionally, while financial compensation can't take back the past, it can help provide for a better future. Moving on from a sexual assault or child molestation experience can take years, if not decades. Victims often require financial assistance to get back on their feet, which can only be achieved through a lawsuit.

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