Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuits
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Robert Rafii, Esq. | Last reviewed November 24, 2021
This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy, clarity, and style by FindLaw’s team of legal writers and attorneys and in accordance with our editorial standards.
The last updated date refers to the last time this article was reviewed by FindLaw or one of our contributing authors. We make every effort to keep our articles updated. For information regarding a specific legal issue affecting you, please contact an attorney in your area.
Sexual assault impacts millions of American every year. In fact, it is estimated that an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds, with those between the ages of 12 to 34 at the highest risk for this type of violence. While the criminal court system is meant to punish the individual perpetrator, it often isn't enough for a victim of sexual violence. The victim may suffer from lasting emotional or physical trauma because of a sexual predator.
Luckily, the victim (or their guardians, if a child is involved) may be able to file a sexual assault civil suit to help them recover from the physical and emotional harm they suffer, and will continue to suffer, as a result of the abuse. Below, you will find key information about civil sexual assault lawsuits, including the differences between a criminal and civil sexual assault case, what cause of action you may have, what parties may be sued, and where to go for more information. Remember, if you or someone you love has been the victim of sexual violence and are in imminent danger, contact law enforcement immediately.
Differences Between Criminal and Civil Cases
You may be wondering why a victim would want to initiate a civil lawsuit after dealing with the anguish of a criminal case. In some cases, a criminal sexual assault trial puts the victim's life on display. They are called to the witness stand and asked to relive their incredibly devastating experience in front of room of strangers. If, after all of that, the defendant is found either “not guilty" or the jury can't reach a decision (known as a “hung jury"), the person may be feeling victimized all over again.
Where is the justice, he or she may wonder? Simply put, criminal trials carry the highest burden of proof under the law: “beyond a reasonable doubt." If the jury has any reasonable doubt as to the defendant's innocence, they may not convict them.
Where does that leave the victim? Feeling angry, maybe even betrayed or ashamed. But victims of sexual assault need not despair. Their next remedy may be a civil sexual assault lawsuit. A civil lawsuit may be a viable option for victims for three reasons:
- Civil burden of proof is lower than criminal burden of proof.
- The civil standard of proof is a "preponderance of the evidence"
- A preponderance of the evidence requires that the sexual assault victim convince the jury that there is a greater than 50% chance that his or her claim is true
As with any lawsuit, there is never a guarantee as to an outcome, so it is important to speak with an attorney about your options.
Can I Sue the Alleged Perpetrator for Sexual Assault?
In the civil lawsuit world, there generally isn't a cause of action for “sexual assault." Basically, the victim won't be filing a lawsuit against the defendant for sexual assault or rape per se. Instead, the victim will file a lawsuit for one of a number of intentional torts – a wrongful act that caused harm to the victim. Some possible theories under which to sue are:
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
- False Imprisonment
- Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (For witnesses or bystanders to the sexual assault)
It's worth noting that some states (like California, for instance) have codified sex-related causes of action. Also, the reasons for suing aren't always monetary in nature. Some victims simply want the sense of validation that can accompany the legal recognition of their experience, and a sense of justice and closure, knowing that the culprit will be held accountable for what they did.
Suing Third Parties
In addition to suing the assailant, a victim may also choose to name a third party who may also be responsible. One strategic reason to do this is to ensure some monetary compensation from their case.
For example, a victim can be successful in a civil lawsuit against a person who raped them; but if the rapist doesn't have any money, the victim may have a difficult time collecting monetary damages.
Some examples of third party liability in a sexual assault case can include suing a landlord or innkeeper, businesses, government entities, schools, and hospitals, or an employer who failed to properly screen or monitor an employee who sexually assaulted a person, to name a few.
Civil Sexual Assault Lawsuits: Related Resources
Discuss Your Civil Sexual Assault Case with an Attorney
The emotional and physical trauma of being sexually assaulted can never be quantified. No amount of money in the world can truly heal your wounds. But if you have been the victim of sexual assault and wish to seek compensation for your injuries, you do have that option. Explore more options with an experienced attorney who specializes in sexual assault lawsuits.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.