The statistics are staggering: Someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every 98 seconds. This past year there was an outpouring of sexual assault victims come forward to share their stories, probably because of the #Me Too movement, a social media outlet that has given women and men a voice to speak up about their sexual assault experiences.
A sexual assault can happen anywhere. It often occurs in a seemingly safe environment when the victim is in a vulnerable position. Recent headlines have documented sexually violent crimes against actors in Hollywood, patrons at massage spas/resorts, students on college campuses and Olympic athletes. Sexual assaults can include the following types of incidents:
- During medical procedures while under anesthesia
- On school property by a student to a student – college, grammar, middle or high school
- By a teacher to a student
- By a doctor to their patient
- During physical therapy
- By a massage therapist during a massage
- In a work-related environment - boss to employee or employee to subordinate
- At a correctional facility
- At a child services facility
- By a therapist during a counseling session
- By a friend or romantic partner
Being sexually assaulted can result in devastating, lifelong pain for victims. One way for victims to get justice and hold their attacker accountable is to file a civil action against their assailant. This is different from a criminal action, which is filed by the State to prosecute the assaulter. A civil action is a lawsuit between two or more parties, a plaintiff and a defendant(s), where the injured party, the plaintiff, seeks damages from the wrongdoer, the defendant.
A criminal and civil lawsuit can be filed simultaneously. One of the big advantages of filing a civil lawsuit is that it has a lower burden of proof for finding a person guilty of their wrongdoing. A jury in a criminal trial must rule beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. A jury in a civil trial does not determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. Instead, they decide if the accused is liable for the injury caused to the victim, and they normally (with some limited exceptions) only need to rule that there is a preponderance of evidence to find the accused liable.
There are many reasons for filing a civil lawsuit in a sexual assault case:
- If the accused is found not guilty in a criminal trial, they may still be held accountable in a civil proceeding
- If the District Attorney for the state decides not to file criminal charges against the attacker, there is still an avenue with which to hold the accused accountable
- To seek monetary damages for your injuries. Sexual assault injuries that a person can be compensated for include:
- Emotional distress – caused by psychological trauma or damage to family relationships
- Medical bills – for physical injuries and psychological counseling
- Lost wages due to missed work
- Punitive damages – to deter the attacker from doing something like this again
What to Expect in a Sexual Assault Civil Case
Filing a civil lawsuit in a sexual assault case can be difficult. It takes a tremendous amount of courage for sexual assault victims to come forward and speak out against their attacker.
- The victim will have to talk about details of the assault in depositions
- Your past sexual history will likely be brought up by the defendant’s lawyers
- There is a possibility that the defendant will countersue for defamation or libel
While the thought of reliving such a horrible incident can seem unbearable, it is important to remember that you are no longer the victim in a civil lawsuit. Instead, you can bring about justice and make your attacker pay for their heinous act.
If you are the victim of a sexual assault, you should seek help immediately by calling 911. If you are too scared to call the police, there are several Georgia hotlines you can call for help, some of which are listed below.
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Atlanta, GA (404) 815-5261
www.gnesa.org/page/rape-crisis-centers-georgia (a list of hotlines by city)
Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia (478) 745-9292