Although the criminal court system is meant to punish those convicted of sexual abuse or sexual assault, it often times isn’t enough for the victims. In many cases, victims suffer from physical scars and lasting emotional damage because of the perpetrator and the event.
Suing a Perpetrator
Fortunately, the victim (or their parents/guardians if a child suffered sexual abuse) may be eligible to file a civil lawsuit to help them recover from the physical and emotional harm they suffer—and will continue to suffer—due to the abuse. The amount and type of compensation that is available in a civil suit over sexual abuse depends on the specific facts of the case, and the legal theory (cause of action) on which the personal injury claim is based.
While a victim cannot file a lawsuit against the defendant for sexual abuse per se, he or she can file a lawsuit for one of the following claims:
- Assault and battery
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- False imprisonment
In some cases, a civil lawsuit can be brought against additional parties besides the perpetrator. For example, if the incident occurred in a school, that entity could also be liable based on a negligent supervision claim or a failure to provide adequate security.
Proving Your Case in Court
If the incident resulted in criminal prosecution and the defendant was convicted, the victim may have a better chance of winning his or her civil lawsuit. According to a complex legal rule called “collateral estoppel,” the victim may be entitled to bring in evidence that a jury in a criminal case has already found the defendant guilty of committing sexual abuse.
Despite not having a corresponding criminal case or the defendant was not convicted, the victim in the civil lawsuit may still be able to show that the defendant is liable for committing the alleged abuse. The reason is that the standard of proof is lower in a civil case as opposed to a criminal case.
To find the defendant liable for abuse in a civil case, the plaintiff only needs to demonstrate that it is “more likely than not” that the defendant committed the alleged wrongful act. In the criminal case, on the other hand, the burden of proof requires that the prosecutor must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”