There are two types of sexual assault lawsuits: criminal and civil.
For a criminal lawsuit, the police typically investigate the sexual-assault allegations, and the prosecutor typically decides whether to file criminal charges. If convicted by a unanimous jury of committing the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the perpetrator(s) will be sentenced with a criminal punishment (such as prison time or probation).
For a civil lawsuit, the victim typically retains an attorney to sue the perpetrator(s) for civil damages. The victim’s attorney does the investigating and filing of a lawsuit. The suit may also name other defendants in addition to the perpetrator(s), such as an employer, college, or pub that didn’t do enough to prevent the sexual assault. The jury verdict often does not need to be unanimous, and the burden of proof is much lower. The victim need only prove that the sexual assault occurred with a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that it is more likely than not that the sexual assault occurred. In essence, the jury only needs to decide that the probability the sexual assault happened is 50.01% or more, and the chance it didn’t occur is 49.99% or less.
A top concern among victims of sexual assault is that they won’t be believed. While police and prosecutors aren’t necessarily advocates for the victim (their mission is to protect public safety), the victim’s attorney is an advocate for the victim. The attorney has a duty of loyalty to his or her client, and is often a much more sympathetic ear than prosecutors or police.
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Definition of Sexual Assault in a Civil Suit
For purposes of a civil suit, sexual assault may include: fondling or unwanted sexual touching, forcing or coercing a someone to perform sexual acts (such as oral or penetrative sex), attempted rape, or nonconsensual oral or penetrative sex (i.e. rape).
The definition under your state’s criminal law may not be the same conduct that you can sue for in a civil lawsuit, such as for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
How much can you get in compensation after being sexually assaulted?
Sexual assault civil verdicts can vary based on the facts of the case and the emotional toll that the assault has taken. Some civil jury awards for sexual assault include:
|Aug. 1991||$17 million||Woman who was raped wins jury award against her property management company, Berry Property Management, in Texas state court (Corpus Christi) for refusing to let her install a lock on her door that could only be opened from the inside.|
|Sept. 1991||$150,000||California Supreme Court reinstates a $150,000 judgment against the City of Los Angeles for a woman raped by a police officer.|
|March 2003||$18.5 million||Texas appellate court upholds $18.5 million against stepfather who sexually assaulted stepdaughter from ages 9 to 14, at which time she ran away from home and lived on the streets, in order to avoid the sexual assaults.|
|May 2018||$1 billion||
A Georgia jury awards $1 billion to woman who was raped when she was 14 by the armed security guard from her apartment complex. The lawsuit said the security company that employed the guard was negligent in their supervision and failed to do their job to keep a 14-year-old safe.
The victim, who is now 20, said that she initially thought that the sexual assault would be “swept under the rug.” But a jury of her peers thought that the compensation for the sexual assault she’d suffered was worth $1 billion, reports Fortune.
How to win a sexual assault case as a victim
There are no guarantees in the court system, but there are some ways that a sexual assault victim can increase the chance of winning at trial by gathering additional evidence.
Campus Safety Magazine recommends the following:
The victim and his or her attorney may want to practice direct testimony and cross-examination so that the victim is prepared to testify, while offering as much detail as possible to lend credibility the testimony. Credibility may be increased by offering not only the who; what; where; and when, but also with a physical description of the assaulter (such as any anomalous tattoos, body hair, or birth marks) and the sounds and smells the victim remembers.
The victim’s attorney may want to gather circumstantial evidence that the sexual assault occurred during a specific timeframe, such as sudden and otherwise unexplained behavioral changes, such as dropped classes, poor academic performance, withdrawing socially or from previously enjoyed activities, and disturbed sleep patterns (which might be shown by the victim’s computer activity in the months after the assault).
The victim’s sexual assault attorney may also look for a serial pattern of behavior by the perpetrator(s), such as by contacting other potential victims or acquaintances of the perpetrator(s) who are the same gender as the victim.
Sexual assault attorneys may also use a pretext text message from the victim’s phone to try to gather evidence directly based on the perpetrator(s) responses. Perpetrator(s) will sometimes directly admit to the sexual assault, as long as it is not characterized as an “assault.” Consider the following example:
Victim: I can’t believe last night. I said “no” so many times.
Perpetrator: Yeah, it was hot.
Victim: Didn’t you realize I wanted you to stop?
Perpetrator: :-/ sorry, I was really drunk. You were too.
There are several admissions in the above that could be helpful in a civil lawsuit. The perpetrator admits that the sex occurred; that the victim said “no” numerous times; that he ignored the requests to stop because he was drunk; and that the victim may have been so drunk that any sex was inherently nonconsensual.
Sexual assault attorneys may also contact potential witnesses who may have seen or heard anything related to the sexual assault. Sometimes, merely offering evidence that corroborates the victim’s timeline may add credibility to the sexual assault allegations. After all, the standard of proof in civil court is much lower than criminal court. It can be helpful if the victim’s timeline appears more likely than the perpetrator’s.
Who is the best sexual assault attorney near me?
The best attorney for you may not be the best attorney for someone else.
Generally, a sexual assault attorney should be someone who is sensitive to the victim’s needs. Sometimes, victims may not want to present certain evidence in court because it is simply too personal. The right attorney for a victim will often be sensitive to these concerns, and explain to the client that not offering evidence may harm the case, but that in a civil case, the burden of proof might be met without that evidence, depending on the circumstances.
A sexual assault attorney should also generally be an effective advocate who has achieved successful recoveries for clients in the past.
Our attorneys have recovered over a billion dollars on behalf of their clients.
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