Sexual abuse refers to any type of illegal or coerced sexual conduct against another individual. A variety of different offenses fall into this category, which is not limited to physical contact alone. Instead, sexual abuse includes acts of sexual harassment, rape, indecent exposure, forcing another individual to view or participate in pornography, and contributing in any way to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Most states define sexual penetration as penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth with a part of the body or an object.
Sexual conduct is criminal if it is not consented to, either because the perpetrator uses force or because the victim is not capable of providing consent. Minors under 14 or 15 years of age, depending on the state, are deemed to be incapable of consenting to sexual conduct regardless of their level of maturity.
Civil Actions for Sexual Abuse
Victims of sexual abuse and assault have the right to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator in civil court. The civil justice system does not aim to determine the innocence or guilt of an offender. Instead, it seeks to determine whether someone is liable for the injuries sustained as a result of the crime. Thus, a civil court finding that an offender is liable will mean that offender needs to pay the victim or his or her family a certain amount of money. The specific amount of compensation awarded in civil court will depend on the circumstances of the case.
It is important to note that any type of sexual abuse incident can also give rise to a criminal prosecution. Typically, a civil case based on sexual assault will be attached to a different legal theory, such as civil assault, battery or intentional infliction of emotional distress. The damages awarded in a civil case are intended to compensate the victim for the pain and suffering and emotional distress due to the sexual abuse or assault. They also can account for costs related to medical care as well as any psychological treatment or emotional counseling needed as a result.
Since civil suits use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which is far less stringent than the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, victims of sexual abuse are often able to recover civil damages even if the perpetrator is acquitted of criminal charges. The preponderance of the evidence standard simply requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that his or her version of events is more likely than not how things happened. This can be met in a wider variety of circumstances than when absolute certainty must be shown.
Each state has its own laws guarding against sex crimes like rape, sexual assault, and molestation. Additionally, each state imposes its own statute of limitations for these crimes. The statute of limitations is the time frame within which a claim against any party responsible for the harm must be filed. An individual’s failure to bring a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations could mean being barred from pursuing that claim in the future. The statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit against and alleged perpetrator of sexual abuse varies from state to state.
A personal injury lawyer would be the most appropriate type of advocate for a victim pursuing the civil aspect of a sexual abuse case. Since these cases are extremely fact-intensive, it is important to consult a lawyer who is familiar with this area of the law.