Victims of sexual assault and child sexual abuse often struggle with how to respond to the crime. You may be wondering about your rights as a victim in criminal or civil court:
- What if the police fail to arrest my abuser?
- How can others who failed to stop the abuse be held liable?
- How can civil courts help in ways criminal courts can't?
Our experienced West Virginia victims' rights lawyers can help answer your concerns in a free consultation.
Victims of sexual assault and child sexual abuse deserve to see the parties responsible brought to justice.
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- Meet Our Experienced West Virginia Attorneys
- How To File A Sexual Assault & Abuse Lawsuit
- Civil Lawsuits Against Direct Perpetrators
- Third-Party Negligence Lawsuits
- Criminal Laws On Sexual Assault & Abuse
- Civil Statute Of Limitations
- Resources For Survivors
Were you or a loved one sexually assaulted or sexually abused in West Virginia? Our dedicated civil lawyers are here to help. You are not alone, though it may feel that way at times. In reality, you have powerful legal options, including rights outside of the criminal justice system. If you were assaulted or abused, you may be eligible to pursue justice by filing a private civil lawsuit against the responsible parties.
Justice For Sexual Assault & Abuse Survivors
You were wronged. You were violated, in the most horrendous way imaginable. What happened to you is unfathomable. But these facts don't need to define your life. Recovery is possible. We've seen it numerous times. All too often, sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors feel silenced, struggling to find their voices again in a world that has become strange and terrifying. Sexual misconduct can lead to a storm of painful emotions, from anger and shame to fear and embarrassment. These are natural reactions to a terrible trauma. Know that you are not alone. It may feel as though you have nowhere to turn, but you do. Our experienced attorneys are here to support you through this difficult time. You can find your voice again.
Meet Our West Virginia Attorneys
AbuseGuardian.com is sponsored by a nationwide network of compassionate sexual assault and sexual abuse attorneys, legal professionals who have devoted their careers to providing survivors with strong support. We believe you, and we believe that your story matters. You can trust in our skill and experience. Over the course of decades, our experienced attorneys have gained the knowledge and resources necessary to pursue these legal cases with confidence.
Our dedicated attorneys have already helped numerous sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors. When survivors come to us, we help them by offering compassionate support and aggressive legal advocacy. We leave no stone unturned, because justice is possible. Closure is possible. These cases matter. We have no other goal but to provide you with the complete support that you deserve. You are worth more. You deserve to hold the responsible parties accountable.
As an assault or abuse survivor, your legal options don't end in the criminal justice system. Far from it. Alongside the criminal justice system, there is a completely distinct, alternative justice system - the civil justice system. In the civil justice system, survivors of sexual assault and sexual abuse have the power to pursue justice on their own terms.
West Virginia's powerful tradition of civil law provides survivors with the opportunity to pursue accountability and financial compensation from the parties responsible for sexual misconduct. If you or a loved one were sexually assaulted or abused, you have the right to pursue a private civil lawsuit, pursuing financial damages and justice. In many cases, bringing a civil action against responsible parties can be the first step on the path to true recovery for assault and abuse survivors. Pursuing justice in a court of law can bring closure after a terrible trauma. It's a powerful way to confront what happened to you, while holding the responsible parties liable for their misconduct.
Sexual assault and sexual abuse can happen anywhere, at any time, but in most cases, it comes from the place we would least expect. The perpetrators of sexual misconduct tend to be people we know - friends, family, acquaintances, caregivers, even trusted professionals. It could be a respected physician, a trusted coach or a school teacher. It could be a therapist, or a church volunteer, or even a priest. In any case, no matter the perpetrator, sexual assault and sexual abuse are terrible crimes. These crimes deserve a swift, decisive response.
The Importance Of Reporting Misconduct
Yet most cases of sexual assault and sexual abuse never come to light. The vast majority of sex crimes go unreported. Some survivors are intimidated into silence. Others feel unable to speak out through fear or embarrassment. Many believe that reporting a sex crime comes with consequences - either professional reprisal or ridicule.
At AbuseGuardian.com, we believe that reporting what happened to you is one of the most important things you can do in your entire life. Justice must be done. Sexual abusers cannot be allowed to go free without sanction. Beyond the cause of justice, reporting the crime is one of the only ways that most survivors will ever find any sense of closure. To know that justice has been done, that your abuser has been held to account for their misconduct, is extremely powerful.
How The Criminal Justice System Falls Short
But as we've already mentioned, there are actually two justice systems in our country. The criminal justice system isn't enough, because supporting survivors through their recovery isn't the central role or purpose of criminal prosecutors. Needless to say, the criminal justice system plays an essential role in responding to sex crimes. Criminal prosecutors pursue and prosecute the direct perpetrators of crime, securing convictions against offenders as the court system imposes stiff penalties. This system was designed to punish criminal offenders. But it wasn't created to support survivors. So resources for victims are few and far between, especially when it comes to financial compensation.
Sexual Abuse Survivors Turn Elsewhere For Support
The criminal justice system was created to hold sexual offenders accountable for their actions, but not to individual survivors. In the criminal justice system, perpetrators of crime are held accountable to society as a whole; they are punished for violating societal codes of conduct. This is a necessary function, but it fails to put survivors at the heart of the matter. No wonder that so many sexual abuse and sexual assault survivors who work their way through the criminal justice system feel as though they were used by prosecutors, no more than glorified pieces of evidence.
The civil justice system provides an additional avenue for justice. Criminal and civil lawsuits are not mutually-exclusive. You can pursue charges within the criminal justice system, while also seeking to hold the responsible parties accountable in a private civil lawsuit. In fact, these two cases can often interact, as convictions in a criminal case can strengthen the chances of a concurrent civil lawsuit. But the more important aspect of pursuing a civil lawsuit is that you, as an assault or abuse survivor, take the lead. You can take control over your legal future. If you file a private civil lawsuit, the case is your's and your's alone. Unlike the criminal justice system, in which offenders are held accountable to society, a civil lawsuit allows you to hold the responsible parties accountable to you. This is your fight, and your right as a resident of West Virginia.
Civil Legal Theories
West Virginia's powerful criminal code holds sex offenders accountable for their horrendous crimes. But the state is also home to a wealth of civil legal theories under which survivors can prosecute their own cases against these responsible parties. In West Virginia, survivors are empowered to file civil lawsuits against the direct perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse, but can also pursue compensation from negligent third-party defendants who facilitated the misconduct through their carelessness, errors and failures.
Again, there are two forms of civil lawsuit available to sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors - those filed against direct perpetrators and those filed against negligent third-party defendants, such as a daycare center at which a child is abused or a church in which a priest is allowed to sexually abuse young members.
These two types of lawsuit rely on different legal theories in West Virginia. While most third-party lawsuits are premised on the concept of negligence, a doctrine we'll explain in more detail later, lawsuits filed against direct perpetrators generally rely on three inter-related legal theories, all of which have been recognized in West Virginia for decades:
- Assault - Though many people think of an "assault" as a violent attack, the term has a different meaning in West Virginia's civil law. In civil cases, "assault" refers to a threat of violence, an action or statement that makes the victim fear imminent bodily harm. As a result, assault claims can be filed in relation to incidents in which no actual physical harm was suffered; it's the threat of violence that counts, not the violence itself.
- Battery - In civil law, "battery" refers to the intentional touching of someone else's body in a harmful or offensive manner without the other person's consent. For obvious reasons, the claims of assault and battery often come together as a package deal; there is first the threat of imminent harm, then the threat is realized in an attack.
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress - Sometimes referred to as the tort of outrage, the meaning of intentional infliction of emotional distress should be fairly clear from the name. This civil wrong occurs when a defendant behaves intentionally or recklessly in order to inflict emotional distress, behaving in an extreme and / or outrageous manner to cause psychological trauma.
Most sexual assault and sexual abuse lawsuits, when filed against the crime's direct perpetrator, rely on a combination of these three intentional torts. In the majority of these cases, you will see assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress as three distinct claims against the same criminal offender.
The Theory Of Negligence
Alongside the direct perpetrators of sex crimes, West Virginia's civil law also allows survivors to file suit against negligent third-party defendants - organizations, individuals and institutions that enable or facilitate sexual abuse or sexual assault through a careless disregard for the safety and wellbeing of others. Third-party negligence lawsuits are not filed under the legal theories of assault, battery or intentional infliction of emotional distress. Instead, these cases rest on the legal doctrine of negligence.
In simple terms, negligence is the failure to uphold a duty or obligation, either through a mistake, error or failure to act. As a concept, negligence recognizes that some people owe other people a duty of care - an obligation to use adequate and reasonable care in fulfilling their function. For the theory of negligence to hold, a prior duty of care must exist.
If you think about it, most businesses and organizations have a basic duty to reduce the risk of sexual assault and sexual abuse as much as possible. The vast majority of organizations and institutions have at least a minimal duty to protect their participants from harm. Adequate precautions against violent crime should be taken.
This duty to protect against sex crimes exists for schools, colleges and universities, medical offices and hospitals, hotels and motels. It exists for train lines and resorts, psychiatric facilities, sports clubs and massage spas. Churches and synagogues, workplaces of all sorts, nursing homes and apartment buildings - all of these organizations and businesses have a basic duty to protect their participants, members, visitors, guests, customers and residents from sexual assault and sexual abuse.
Negligence is the flip-side of this duty to protect against sexual assault and sexual abuse. It's what happens when an institution or organization fails to uphold the duty to care through some failure, error or omission.
An Example Of Negligence In A Nursing Home
As just one example, take a nursing home. For obvious reasons, nursing homes have a basic duty to protect residents from harm, including the harm of sexual abuse and sexual assault.
Nursing homes can fulfill this duty in numerous ways, but there are certain precautions that every reasonable nursing home takes. In most cases, and certainly in West Virginia, nursing homes are obligated to perform adequate background checks on prospective employees, in the hopes that applicants with a history of sexual violence will be filtered out. Some nursing homes install security cameras in common areas to catch evidence of misconduct. Many nursing homes also institute policies under which employees are not allowed to be alone with residents in private areas.
Negligence comes into the equation when the nursing care facility fails to uphold its duty to protect residents, allowing a sexual assault or abuse to occur through inaction or misconduct. Importantly, the nursing home itself did not commit the misconduct, but it did allow the abuse to take place, even though there were reasonable ways to stop it from happening. Perhaps the nursing home failed to perform an adequate background check, allowing a dangerous sexual predator to gain access to unsuspecting elderly victims. Or the facility's security personnel failed to review security camera footage with sufficient care. Maybe an employee with a history of unacceptable behavior was allowed to remain in a patient's room without supervision, or the facility knew of past inappropriate behavior but failed to remove the employee from his or her post. The possible examples are endless, but the fundamental principle in all of these cases is the same - negligence is a failure to uphold the basic ethical and legal duty to protect against sexual abuse or sexual assault.
The legal theory of negligence is at the root of most sexual assault and sexual abuse lawsuits, especially when these cases are being filed against a third-party defendant, someone or some entity other than the crime's direct perpetrator.
If you or a loved one has recently become the victim of sexual assault or child sexual abuse, you may be troubled with concerns about the legal system. Many victims are curious how long their abuser will be behind bars. We've summarized the West Virginia criminal sexual assault statutes below as a reference point for survivors struggling with these questions. However, sexual assault laws are sometimes outdated and may be updated. In order to understand how current criminal laws could apply to your case, you may need to discuss your situation with an experienced victims' rights lawyer.
Criminal Laws In West Virginia
In order to get the full support and accountability you deserve, it's often necessary to take a sexual assault or abuse case to civil court. From Charleston and Huntington to Parkersburg and Morgantown, a lawsuit can help hold all liable parties accountable - including the offender himself, along with any third parties who failed to do all that they could to prevent, report, or appropriately respond to the assault.
Our West Virginia sexual abuse victim's lawyers have a background in the criminal side of this process, but have since transitioned into the civil court systems. We did this because we care about helping victims, and we understand that criminal courts primarily focus on punishing offenders.
If your family is overwhelmed and looking for answers, we can guide you through the process of seeking justice. Just get in touch with us today for a free consultation.
In West Virginia, sex-related crimes are classified into five categories, with varying degrees depending on the circumstances of the crime. The age of consent is 16 in WV, so people under 16 are legally unable to give consent.
Sexual abuse involves any form of sexual contact without consent. These crimes are broken down into three degrees:
- Third degree – Occurs when the offender is younger than 16 years old or less than four years older than the victim. Even if the victim gave consent, legally this means nothing if they are younger than the age of consent. This is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500.
- Second degree – These charges are applied when the victim could not consent to sexual contact because he or she was mentally defective (e.g. suffering from an intellectual disability) or mentally incapacitated (e.g. too drunk to give consent). A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison and/or a maximum fine of $500.
- First degree – The most serious charges are applied in cases involving either: (a) an offender over 14 years old and a victim younger than 12 years old, (b) a physically helpless victim, (c) sexual contact initiated by forcible compulsion.
Abuse By Parent, Guardian, Custodian Or Person In A Position Of Trust To Child
West Virginia has a separate law for cases involving sexual abuse of children by parents, guardians, or other adults who they trust (such as religious leaders, doctors, etc). This crime is a felony which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000.
Sexual assault charges involve sexual intercourse or intrusion and are also divided into three classifications of severity:
- Third degree – These charges apply to cases involving either: (a) an offender over 16 years old engaging in sexual intercourse or intrusion with someone under 16 years old and more than four years younger than the offender OR (b) cases involving a mentally defective or mentally incapacitated victim. Felony punishable by 1-5 years in a state prison and/or a maximum fine of $5,000.
- Second degree – Reserved for cases involving physically helpless victims or forcible compulsion. Punishable by 10-25 years in a state prison and/or a maximum fine of $10,000.
- First degree – First-degree charges are applied in cases involving: (a) an offender over 14 years old and a victim under 12 years old, (b) the use of a deadly weapon in the crime, (c) offenders who inflict serious bodily injury during the crime.
Imposition Of Sexual Acts On Persons Incarcerated Or Under Supervision
In West Virginia, it is illegal for any parole officer, probation officer, corrections officer, or any other person employed by the Division of Corrections to engage in sexual contact with an inmate or someone they are supervising. This is a felony punishable by 1-5 years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
West Virginia state law prohibits sexual contact between close relatives. Anyone who engages in sexual activity with a parent, sibling, offspring, grandparent, grandchild, niece, nephew, aunt, or uncle is guilty of incest. This is a felony punishable by 5-15 years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $5,000.
Civil Statute Of Limitations
As a sexual assault or sexual abuse survivor, you have powerful legal options in West Virginia. Like many other survivors, you may be eligible to pursue a civil lawsuit against the responsible parties, seeking justice and financial compensation. However, there are important laws to comply with on your path. One such law is the statute of limitations, a state-level law that limits the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit.
The statute of limitations acts as a legal time limit, counting down the amount of time you have to file suit. This law must be respected. After the statute of limitations has run out, your lawsuit will be thrown out of court without a second thought. The statute of limitations is essential.
In West Virginia, there are two relevant statutes of limitations to consider, one for childhood sexual abuse and a second for sexual assault when the victim is an adult.
Child Sexual Abuse
Unfortunately, West Virginia has one of the most restrictive statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse. While many states have amended their laws in recent years to provide sexual abuse survivors further time to file their lawsuits, West Virginia has not. Thus, West Virginia state law only provides childhood sexual abuse survivors with two years to file their lawsuit. However, when the sexual abuse was suffered as a minor, this legal time limit begins counting down when the victim turns 18. In effect, most sexual abuse survivors in West Virginia will have until their 20th birthday to pursue a civil lawsuit for compensation.
The statute of limitations for sexual assault when the victim was injured as a result is currently two years, beginning on the date of the injury. In effect, sexual assault survivors have up to two years from the date of the assault to file suit.
Help For Survivors In West Virginia
If you or a loved one has recently been the victim of sexual abuse or assault, we understand the pain you’re going through. It’s important to know that there are resources available for people in your situation. While it may be difficult to ask for help, the right support network can make your recovery much easier. Our West Virginia sexual assault lawyers can help you explore your legal options, while these victims’ resources are available for additional support: