Sexual Assault Lawsuits: How The Civil Justice System Helps Survivors

Sexual Assault Lawsuits: How The Civil Justice System Helps Survivors 2018-05-07T11:20:58+00:00
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Victims of sex abuse need their voices heard after a crime has been committed again themselves or a loved one. You've reached this page because:

  • Your or a loved one is a victim of sexual abuse
  • You are in search of what your legal options may be
  • You want to know which parties can be brought to justice

Our lawyers know this area of the law, and are here to help. We can't turn back the clock, but the civil justice system is an opportunity to start the recovery process.

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We cannot erase what has happened to a victim of sexual abuse, but we can assist them in seeking justice. 

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Sex assault shatters lives, and no one would deny that dangerous offenders should be punished. But our current legal system seems more interested in doling out punishments than supporting victims as they attempt to rebuild after an unforgivable violation.

Civil Lawsuits For Sexual Assault

Every day, the American criminal justice system fails the very people it should be protecting. When crimes are prosecuted, even those involving sexual misconduct, survivors are left by the wayside, or worse, treated as pieces of evidence in the investigation.

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Survivors need an advocate who truly works in their best interests. When the government fails, families who have been devastated by sexual abuse turn to a different form of justice: the civil court system and experienced sex abuse lawyers.

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Sexual abuse is an act of power and violence, in which a person of authority uses the trust they inspire in others to coerce them into involuntary, unwanted sexual acts.

Types Of Sexual Abuse

Abusers rely on intimate relationships, ones often built on a veneer of respect and love, to commit their crimes. They may use force or make threats. Some abusers exploit the innocence of minors, their inability to consent to sexual conduct, to force themselves on children.

How Is Sex Abuse Defined?

Sexual abuse doesn't need to be an on-going series of acts. It doesn't need to involve intercourse, either. The definition of sexual abuse includes:

  • acts of voyeurism, exposing oneself to someone else
  • forcing someone to watch a sex act or pornographic content
  • undesired touching on someone's genitals
  • coercing someone into masturbating, or forcing them to watch someone else masturbate
  • Making sexually explicit phone calls or sending obscene text messages

An imbalance of power is fundamental to an abuser's control. Offenders are often drawn to positions of authority from which they inspire respect and trust that they then pervert to commit their crimes.

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Common Places Where People Are Assulted

Abusers are often assisted in committing their crimes by professional situations that create vulnerability or incapacitation. Sexual assaults are common in massage parlors, where clients are encouraged to relax and "drop their defenses," and doctor's offices.

State Sexual Assault Laws

Most cases of sexual assault will be governed by state, not federal, law. Federal authorities only get involved when the crime involves some sort of inter-state transportation, as in sex trafficking. In fact, there isn't a comprehensive sexual assault law in the US, except for cases that involve children or ones that occur in government facilities.

That means you'll have to research the specific sex abuse laws in your own state to know for sure how your situation will be considered.

A Basic Definition

Most states have divided the broad category of "sexual assault" into a number of separate offenses, each of which carries its own suggested penalties. In your state, the terms "rape," "molestation," "sexual abuse" and even "sodomy" may have different legal meanings. But for the most part, any circumstance in which one person forces or coerces another person into engaging in or watching an act of a sexual nature will be considered assault.

Most states also outline particular circumstances that count as sexual assault, like date rape, when a victimizer uses a drug to incapacitate their victim.

Most states also protect a victim's right to speak confidentially with counselors and have established sex offender registries to inform communities of convicted offenders.

What Is A Victim?

Legally, a victim is usually defined as anyone directly harmed by a crime committed by someone else. But every state puts its own twist on the meaning of "victim."

In some places, survivors are only legally "victims" in relation to felonies, the most serious form of crime. While this legal definition can have considerable effect on a victim's ability to exert their legal rights, sexual abuse is widely considered one of the most heinous crimes, and victims are afforded their due rights in all 50 states.

Are Crime Victims' Rights Enough?

Until very recently, our nation didn’t even have a law to protect the victims of abuse. But after a number of families were denied any role in the prosecution of their loved one’s murderers, Congress passed the Crime Victims’ Rights Act in 2004.

The Act outlined 8 rights that all victims of crime must be afforded during legal proceedings:

  1. the right to be reasonably protected from the accused
  2. the right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused
  3. the right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding
  4. the right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding
  5. the reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case
  6. the right to full and timely restitution as provided in law
  7. the right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay
  8. the right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy

While certainly better than nothing, these rights fail to answer the most salient question. How will survivors be supported after trial, when a decision on guilt or innocence has been handed down, and the long road to recovery stretches out into the future?

As we'll see below, the criminal justice system relies on two avenues to compensate sexual abuse victims for their losses. Both are severely inadequate, leaving many

Criminal Restitution In Sex Abuse Cases

Restitution is a way of reimbursing victims for those expenses directly related to the crime, but it does nothing to compensate victims for the trauma, both emotional and physical, that they've sustained.

In order to secure any restitution, most survivors must demand it; it's something courts rarely even consider of their own accord. Beyond that, every expense must be proven, with receipts and bills. Immediate medical costs and therapy sessions might be covered, as well as:

  • lost wages
  • expenses incurred during the criminal justice process (like travel and child care)
  • damaged property
  • health insurance deductibles
  • bills related to crime-scene cleaning

But forms of damage that can't just be put into numbers are forgotten in this system. The harm of experiencing physical pain, and suffering ongoing emotional trauma, are left out of the equation.

Can I Sue & Secure Restitution At The Same Time?

Yes.

Victims have every right to file a civil lawsuit for damages in addition to receiving restitution from a criminal court.

Criminal Injuries Compensation Funds

In addition to restitution offered through the court, many states have established separate funds to compensate the victims of crimes, including sexual abuse. These work similar to insurance companies: victims file claims and wait for their claim to be approved or denied.

Most require that the crime was promptly reported to the police and that the survivor cooperated with the police investigation and criminal case. But many sex abuse victims are either unable or unwilling to report abuse. Thankfully, a conviction usually isn't required.

Except in cases of murder, crime compensation funds won't pay anything to the family of a victim, who may have suffered extreme trauma themselves, and there are caps to the amount of losses that can be claimed.

Coming Back From Abuse: There Is Another Option

Restitution and compensation funds are a stop-gap measure, providing temporary, and often hassle-filled, support to the victims of sex abuse. It's often insubstantial support, and sometimes, it's never even offered.

Why Consider Filing A Lawsuit?

Filing a civil lawsuit may be the best way to secure ongoing compensation. For some survivors, it may be the only way. Recovering from any trauma is a long, difficult process.

It can take years before victims feel comfortable, both in their own skins and out in the world. Therapy can help, counseling and support groups, joining with people who have experienced similar traumas, coming to a point where you can share your story without feeling sick, or guilty, or dirty.

Our culture tends to blame victims, like when people say that women who wear short skirts are "asking for it." That's a hideous way to think and it's also false. Survivors of sexual abuse had something happen to them. They didn't want it to happen, it shouldn't have happened and it's not acceptable. Every victim should know that this wasn't their fault.

Domestic Violence & Spousal Sexual Assault

Many people fail to understand how prevalent violence within families is. Beyond children abused by their parents or close relatives, many women are sexually violated by their husbands and partners. Sexual assault survivors rarely feel comfortable coming forward against an intimate partner, but are unsafe if they stay at home.

It seems unimaginable, to think that a husband or close partner would violate someone they refer to in public as a "loved one." But family violence isn't just imaginable, it's the norm. 4 out of every 5 sexual assaults are committed by someone who knows the victim, and RAINN reports that 25% of all abusers are the intimate partners of their victims.

Marital Rape Shatters Lives & Makes Reporting Difficult

"Marital rape may result in more damage than stranger rape because victims are pressured to stay with their abusive partner," according to Stop Violence Against Women. Many survivors also have difficulty recognizing the abuse as a crime, since the boundary between voluntary and involuntary sexual acts can become unclear during marriage.

Spousal sexual abuse may occur along with physical abuse, but it doesn't have to. With that being said, intimate partner sexual violence rarely happens without other associated violent behaviors.

Sex Abuse In Nursing Homes

Extreme vulnerability puts seniors at an increased risk of sexual abuse. Often physically incapacitated and cloistered in residential facilities, elders are a target for the employees on whom they depend for their basic needs. Sexual abuse in nursing homes, however, is severely understudied and poorly understood.

While we don't know how frequently seniors are sexually abused, we do know one thing: they're not supported through the aftermath.

While sex abuse can have a devastating impact on victims' emotional lives, health professionals fail to follow-up on the psychological effects in elders. That was the conclusion of a National Institute of Justice study completed in 2005, which also found that seniors living in residential care facilities were less likely to have their abusers brought to justice in a court of law than elders living on their own.



Sexual Assault News & Updates

Brian Kent, Esq. - Sexual Assault Attorney
Visit our breaking update section here every month to find the latest news on sexual assault, lawsuits and public policy.

May 1, 2018 - Bill Cosby Convicted On Three Counts Of Sexual Assault

Bill Cosby has been convicted on three counts of sexual assault, bringing an end to over 1 year of court proceedings in which the disgraced comedian and actor admitted to having drugged women for sex. To find more on the verdict, click here.

April 12, 2018 - Mormon Church Ends Child Sex Abuse Case With Undisclosed Settlement

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, has settled a child sexual abuse lawsuit in the midst of trial. The undisclosed settlement agreement ends five years of legal proceedings, in which a group of parents from West Virginia accused the Church of failing to protect their children from the abuse committed by Christopher Michael Jensen, a Church member excommunicated in 2013. To find more on the settlement, follow this link.

March 22, 2018 - Watchtower Bible & Tract Society Enters Settlement In Two Sex Abuse Cases

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the parent organization for the Jevohah's Witness Church, has settled two childhood sexual abuse cases after years of ongoing litigation. In their claims, two men say they were assaulted multiple times as children by a Church elder in San Francisco. Their lawsuits accuse the Watchtower of failing to protect them from harm, despite having knowledge that Gonzalo Campos had abused several young boys. To learn more about the cases, click here.

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