In many cases of sexual assault and child sexual abuse, the perpetrator of the crime was enabled by others. If your family has recently been affected by sexual violence, you may have many concerns:
- What are our legal options?
- How can third-party enablers be held accountable?
- Should we consider speaking with a victims' rights lawyer?
Our California sexual assault victims' lawyers are proud to help families affected by sexual crimes fight for justice.
When the people who can prevent sexual abuse fail to do so, our lawyers hold them accountable.
"Thank you." They're passionate about helping victims and made sure we got justice.
Were you or a loved one sexually assaulted or sexually abused in California? Our compassionate personal injury attorneys are here to help. You are not alone, though it may feel impossible sometimes. Support is available. As a survivor of sexual violence, you have powerful legal options.
Justice For Sexual Abuse & Sexual Assault Survivors In California
Thanks to California's long-standing tradition of civil law, eligible survivors are empowered to pursue justice on their own terms by filing a private civil lawsuit. The criminal justice system plays an invaluable role in pursuing and prosecuting criminal offenders, but it's only one part of the equation.
There is a second justice system, the civil justice system, in which survivors and their families are allowed to pursue accountability and financial compensation on their own behalf. If you or a loved one are the survivor of a sexual crime, you have the power to file a civil lawsuit, both against direct criminal perpetrators and also any organizations, institutions or individuals who facilitated the misconduct through negligence.
You were harmed, in the most horrendous way. Your rights as a human being were violated. But you are not a victim. You are a survivor, and you have an important story to tell. All too often, sexual misconduct survivors live in the shadows in our society, intimidated into silence, living out lives of quiet desperation as they struggle to come to terms with what happened to them.
Meet Our Experienced California Attorneys
Our dedicated attorneys understand the painful range of emotions that sexual abuse and assault can cause. Anger, fear, shame, depression, embarrassment - these are natural reactions to a terrible trauma.
Know that you are not alone. We believe you, and we believe your story deserves to be told. AbuseGuardian.com is sponsored by a national network of experienced personal injury attorneys who have devoted their careers to supporting survivors. Over decades of combined trial experience, our California team has gained the experience and resources you need to pursue your case with confidence. We fight hard every day to protect the rights of our clients.
Our dedicated attorneys have helped numerous survivors stand up, raised their voices and demand justice from the responsible parties. As a survivor of sexual misconduct, you have powerful rights in the criminal justice system, but your rights only begin there. In the civil justice system, you can secure necessary financial compensation to support your recovery.
Pursuing Civil Liability In California
You are not alone. Our experienced legal team can help. Unfortunately, many sexual abuse and assault survivors struggle to deal with painful feelings of shame and despair. Some survivors fear the ramifications of stepping forward, while others are intimidated into silence. Please know that you did nothing wrong. This was not your fault. You were violated, in the most horrific way imaginable. No one deserves to be hurt like this.
Justice and recovery are possible. In California, a strong tradition of civil common law empowers survivors to take justice into their own hands. You may be eligible to file a private civil lawsuit against the responsible parties, including the direct criminal offender who hurt you. In addition to first-party perpetrator lawsuits, claims can also be filed against institutions, businesses and organizations that enabled the misconduct to occur.
What Is The Civil Justice System?
All of us agree that sexual abuse and sexual assault stand among the most horrendous crimes, violations that deserve a swift and decisive response. In this regard, the criminal justice system serves an invaluable role, prosecuting and punishing the direct perpetrators of crime. But the criminal justice system is also a single-minded beast, focused almost entirely on its task of pursuing and punishing criminal offenders. Meanwhile, the supports for survivors can be lacking. We've spoken to many survivors who felt like they were used by criminal prosecutors, treated as no more than glorified pieces of evidence.
The civil justice system offers millions of survivors just like you an additional avenue to pursue justice. In filing a civil lawsuit, you can seek the justice you so desperately deserve on your terms, forcing both direct offenders and negligent third-party defendants to account for their actions. There are no prosecutors to consider. This is your lawsuit, and you can pursue it with your own best interests at heart.
In the criminal justice system, prosecutors hold direct criminal offenders accountable to society, seeking punishments for violations of societal codes of conduct. The civil justice system is a different matter. It's about you - your justice - not society as a whole. In a real sense, you, and you alone, become the heart of the matter.
Civil Sexual Abuse & Assault Laws In California
California's strong criminal code holds offenders accountable for their actions, demanding responsibility and doling out punishments. These criminal laws have developed over the decades at the hands of generation after generation of legislators, working in collaboration to design an over-arching criminal legal system.
In addition to California's criminal system, the state is home to an additional set of laws, a code of behavior that guides our conduct in the civil sphere. Their mandates are simple and clear. We should not touch other people in a harmful or offensive manner when they don't want us to. We should never put another person in fear of imminent harm. Nor should we intentionally inflict emotional distress on another person.
These codes of conduct can be found in California's civil legal system. Civil law in California is built on the back of a vast body of guidelines, rules that guide our behavior and form the foundation of civil liability. Civil law has developed over centuries of court decisions and legal scholarship, which stand distinct from the codes that rule the criminal justice system.
California's civil code defines what are known as causes of action - legitimate reasons to sue someone else for financial compensation. The proper causes of action relied on in your case depend on who you intend to sue. As we've already seen, California law allows survivors to pursue lawsuits against two different kinds of defendants: direct criminal offenders - the individual who hurt you - and negligent third-party defendants. These two kinds of lawsuit depend on different legal theories. Third-party defendant cases are based on the legal theory of negligence, while lawsuits against direct offenders rely on intentional torts.
What Is An Intentional Tort?
In most cases, civil cases filed against the direct perpetrators of crime - the person who committed the sexual wrongdoing - are premised on legal theories known as intentional torts. A tort is a form of wrongdoing, committed against another person and recognized by civil courts.
In general, first-party offender lawsuits are based on three interrelated intentional torts: assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. You'll notice from the outset that, unlike the theory of negligence, all of these torts require a finding of intention or extreme recklessness - the defendant must have meant to cause the harm for the charge to stick, or alternatively, have acted so outrageously in disregard of the ramifications.
- Assault - The average person thinks of "assault" as a violent attack, but in California's civil law, the terms has a more specific meaning. In civil cases, the term "assault" refers to a gesture, action or statement that makes a victim fear the threat of imminent physical harm. No actual physical contact is required - a raised fist or threat of violence will suffice. This concept is about the threat of physical harm, not the harm itself.
- Battery - "Battery" actualizes the threat of physical harm we saw in assault. It's the physical harm threatened in the tort of assault. In technical terms, battery constitutes the intentional touching of another person in an offensive or harmful manner without the person's consent.
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress - The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is self-explanatory. The charge applies whenever a defendant intentionally or recklessly acts in order to cause severe emotional distress in a victim.
It should go without saying that most sexual abuse and assault cases come to meet the elementary conditions for the torts of assault and battery. The vast majority also come to fulfill the requirements for intentional infliction of emotional distress, although these claims tend to be harder to prove.
How Does Negligence Work?
Along with lawsuits against direct criminal perpetrators, California's civil code also empowers survivors to file suit against the institutions, businesses, organizations and third-party individuals that facilitate these horrible crimes. But these lawsuits depend on a different legal theory - the doctrine of negligence.
In elementary terms, negligence is defined as the failure to uphold a legal duty, usually through a failure to act with reasonable care for the safety and wellbeing of others. As such, the theory of negligence acknowledges that certain organizations and institutions owe other people a duty to use reasonable care in fulfilling their function. Negligence is what happens when one of these organizations or individuals fails to uphold their duty.
Think of a doctor. Doctors enter a special relationship when they take a new patient, a relationship that entails certain responsibilities. One aspect of a doctor's duty to patients is to provide medical care in accordance with the recognized standards of medical practice. If the doctor fails to do so, it's medical malpractice. In a similar way, doctors also have a duty to work with professionalism and treat their patients with dignity. Thus, doctors who assault their patients have breached their duty of care, committing another form of medical malpractice in the process.
But the doctrine of negligence goes even further. There's no doubt that a doctor who sexually assaults a patient can be held accountable for their actions in a civil lawsuit, but compensation may also be available from the hospital or medical office overseeing the doctor's actions. That's because hospitals and medical offices have a duty to use reasonable care in hiring physicians and monitoring their behavior. If one of these organizations failed to use reasonable care in hiring or overseeing the doctor's behavior on the job, they can be held accountable for negligence.
In the event that negligence allowed the misconduct to occur, the hospital can be held accountable for failing to prevent the sexual assault. Perhaps the facility failed to run a background check before hiring the doctor, or a nurse witnessed a previous incident with the same doctor but failed to report it. In general, employers can be found liable for the actions or omissions (failures to act) of their employees.
This is just one example of a third-party defendant lawsuit. In reality, millions of institutions, businesses, organizations and individuals across the country owe others a similar duty of care. In many of these cases, the duty of care implies a duty to provide adequate security and protection against criminal activity, including sexual assault and sexual abuse.
Legal Options For Survivors Of Sexual Misconduct In California
Many victims of sexual violence in California may be afraid to speak out for a number of reasons. However, seeing your attacker brought to justice can help begin the healing process and protect future victims from suffering sexual misconduct at the hands of the same offender.
Reporting the crime to the authorities can be intimidating, but the police are there to help. If you’re curious about California's criminal laws on this topic, we’ve provided some brief summaries below.
If you or a loved one has recently become the victim of sexual violence, you may be wondering how to respond. Any type of forced or unwanted sexual contact meets the definition of sexual violence.
While you may be feeling lost and traumatized following your difficult experience, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. According to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), there are approximately 8.6 million survivors of sexual violence living in the Golden State alone.
Nationwide, nearly 1 in 2 women (over 53 million total) have experienced sexual violence other than rape, and 1 in 5 have been raped. 1 in 5 men (about 25 million) has experienced sexual violence other than rape.
If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse or sexual assault, there are services available in California to help. Need immediate assistance? For 24-hour counseling, legal advocacy and to connect with services in your area, please reach out to one of the rape crisis centers below:
- Santa Barbara - Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center - 1-805-564-3696
- Riverside - Riverside Area Rape Crisis Center - 1-951-686-7273
- Ventura County - Coalition for Family Harmony - 1-805-983-6014
- Stockton / Lodi - Women's Center - 1-209-465-4997
- Los Angeles - YWCA - 1-877-Y-HELPS-U (877-943-5778)
The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault is an excellent resource for educational resources on sexual assault. To find a full list of rape crisis centers in California, visit the Coalition's website today.
Our California victims’ rights lawyers help survivors get the support they need. Any victim can tell you that these traumatic experiences change your life forever. It may feel like you’ll never be the same again, but with the right support, you can move past what happened to you. To learn more about how the civil court system can help you hold offenders accountable and receive compensation for therapy, medical bills, and other damages related to your trauma, contact us today for a free consultation.
Child Sexual Abuse & Assault Laws
California has four laws that deal specifically with sexual crimes committed against children. These laws are active from Sacramento and San Francisco to Los Angeles and San Diego. Some of the sexual assault and rape laws in the section below this one apply to cases involving victims of all ages.
You may be wondering about the statute of limitations for crimes of child sexual abuse. In California, victims have up to 8 years from their 18th birthday to file lawsuits for these crimes.
Aggravated Assault Of A Child
This charge is applied in cases where an adult subjects a child under 14 to sexual abuse in the form of rape, sexual penetration, sodomy, or oral copulation. This can also be a statutory charge, which means an adult can be charged even if the victim consented to the act if the victim was younger than the age of consent (18 years old in California). Aggravated sexual assault of a child is a felony in California and punishable by 15 years to life in prison.
California has a specific law for punishing adults who engage in oral sex with a person under 18 years old. Oral copulation is a felony punishable by anywhere from 1 to 10 years in prison, depending on the circumstances of the crime. Punishments are more severe if the victim is under 14 years old or if force, violence, or threats were used during the commission of the crime. Oral copulation can also be charged as a statutory offense in cases where the victim consented to the act.
Sexual Acts With A Child 10 Or Younger
If an adult engages in any type of sexual activity with a child age 10 or younger in California, that adult will be charged with a felony punishable by a sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment in a state prison.
Unlawful Sexual Intercourse With A Minor
In California, adults who have committed statutory rape may be charged with unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. These charges can be brought as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the ages of both parties. If the victim is under age 18 and less than 3 years younger than the offender, then the offender will be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in county jail. If the victim is more than 3 years younger or if the offender is 21 or older and the minor is under 16, then the offender may be charged with a felony punishable by 2-4 years in state prison.
Sexual Assault & Rape Laws
In California, there are six laws used to prosecute sexual offenders who commit crimes of sexual violence against adults. Some of these laws may also apply to cases involving child victims.
Assault With Intent To Commit Specified Sex Offenses
Anyone who assaults another person with the intent to commit an act of sexual violence may be found guilty of assault with intent to commit specified sex offenses. This crime is a form of attempted rape. If an offender uses force in an attempt to force sexual contact against the will of another person, he or she may be convicted of this crime.
Forcible Acts Of Sexual Penetration
A person can be found guilty of forcible acts of sexual penetration if they commit an act of sexual penetration against the victims’ will through the use of force, violence, threats, or other methods of fear and intimidation. The punishment for this crime varies depending on the circumstances of the incident. If the victim is an adult, the offender can be punished by 3, 6, or 8 years in prison. If the victim is a minor over age 14, the sentence will be 6, 8, or 10 years in prison. If the victim is under age 14, the punishment will be 8, 10, or 12 years in prison.
Penetration By Foreign Object
If a person uses a foreign object to penetrate someone else who has not given consent or is unable to give consent, that person may be charged with a felony. The punishment varies depending on the ages of both parties and other circumstances of the incident. This crime can be applied as a statutory charge if the victim gave consent but is under 18 years old. If the victim is under 16 and the offender is 21 years old or older, the punishment will either be 3, 6, or 8 years in prison. If both parties are under 18, the maximum sentence is one year.
In California, rape is defined as sexual intercourse which occurs either against a victim’s will or without consent. This could include the use of physical force, violence, and threats, or circumstances which prevent one party from consenting, such as intoxication or a victim with mental disabilities that prevent them from understanding the act. All rape charges are brought as felonies, but the punishments vary depending on the specifics of the crime. In cases where the victim is an adult, the offender will face a state prison sentence of either 3, 6, or 8 years. If the victim is a minor over 14 years old, the sentence is either 7, 9, or 11 years in state prison. If the victim is a child under age 14, the offender will face either 9, 11, or 13 years in state prison.
In California, incidents of spousal rape are handled under a different law than other rape cases. However, the punishment for this crime is similar to other rape cases. Spousal rape is a felony punishable by either 3, 6, or 8 years in state prison. In some cases, the judge may give a lenient sentence of probation. In these cases, the offender is often ordered to make payments to a battered women’s shelter and reimburse the victim for costs of counseling and other expenses related to the incident.
Acts of sodomy (anal copulation) which are committed against someone’s will or against a minor are classified as felonies in California and punishable by either 3, 6, or 8 years in prison.
Civil Statute Of Limitations
As we've seen, sexual assault and abuse survivors have the power in California to file private civil lawsuits against responsible parties. You could be entitled to significant financial compensation. But the time to act may be limited. A law known as the statute of limitations acts as a legal time limit, restricting the amount of time you have to file suit. If you attempt to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has run out, your claim will be thrown out of court without a second thought. It is critical to comply with the statute of limitations whenever possible.
Adult Survivors Of Sexual Assault
California's statute of limitations for adult sexual assault victims was just lengthened, thanks to a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Marc Berman and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2018. The statute of limitations is now 10 years, beginning on the date of the crime, or 3 years from the date the survivor comes to discover an illness or injury that resulted from the sexual assault, whichever date comes later.
Child Sexual Abuse Survivors
For survivors of child sexual abuse, the statute of limitations only begins to count down when you reach the age of 18. After that date, you have a total of 8 years to file your lawsuit. As a result, many survivors will have until their 26th birthday to pursue a case against the responsible parties.
However, California observes a "discovery rule" that may be able to extend the statute of limitations further. Under this rule, you can be granted a 3 year statute of limitations, beginning from the date you discover the causal connection between the abuse and your injuries. To make use of the discovery rule, you will need to provide evidence from a mental health professional that you were unable to discover the harm sooner.