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There are many different routes that survivors of sexual abuse can take to feel that they have obtained justice for what happened to them. While the criminal justice route is often emphasized as an effective, albeit difficult, way to achieve justice, it is far from the only legal option. Pursuing a civil case to gain financial, and even emotional, compensation for the sexual abuse that occurred can be worthwhile and empowering. A sexual abuse attorney is a crucial part of this process and can be extremely beneficial to survivors seeking justice for the trauma they experienced. A sexual abuse attorney helps guide the survivor through the civil justice process, doing their best to ensure that the survivor gets the justice they are seeking.

Civil lawsuits differ from criminal prosecution in a variety of important ways. First, a civil lawsuit is between two private parties: the survivor and another party who was involved in the abuse in some capacity (for example, a school district that knew of the perpetrator’s past inappropriate actions and failed to act). Because the action is initiated by the survivor and their attorney, the survivor is given much more control over the case. Additionally, this makes a sexual abuse attorney, who knows the law and the routes that can be taken to achieve what the survivor is looking for, a critical part of the civil legal process.

Second, the burden of proof in a civil case is significantly lesser than in a criminal case. While many people know that the burden of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt” (the highest burden in the U.S. legal system), the burden of proof in criminal cases is simply “by a preponderance of the evidence” which means that it is “more likely than not” (or just over a 50% chance) that what the plaintiff (survivor) is alleging happened. This means that it is far easier to prove one’s case in civil court than in criminal. This can be particularly helpful in cases of sexual abuse, especially in cases where the abuse happened years ago, as there may not be as much direct evidence as is necessary to get a conviction in the criminal legal system. Thus, it is often easier for survivors to find justice through civil action.

Third, in criminal cases, the only party who can appeal is the defendant. This means that if the jury returns a verdict of “not guilty”, the survivor does not have the opportunity to appeal this verdict in search of one that convicts the perpetrator. Additionally, even if the jury returns a verdict of “guilty”, it is possible that the defendant will appeal this verdict and it will be overturned on appeal. In contrast, in civil cases, either party can file an appeal. This means that there are more protective mechanisms in place for survivors if they happen to lose the civil lawsuit. This is another area where having a sexual abuse attorney is crucial. If the survivor loses the civil suit, a sexual abuse attorney can examine the legal process that occurred and determine if they can file an appeal, potentially resulting in a successful outcome.

Finally, while a criminal trial can result in imprisonment, a civil trial seeks damages—monetary compensation for the harm that occurred. Some survivors do not feel that imprisonment is a just outcome for them and instead feel that financial compensation will provide them with the support and repayment they deserve. While many survivors do not have a sense of the kind of compensation they can seek, a sexual abuse attorney will help the survivor determine what compensation makes sense for them and their case. This is determined by a variety of factors including the harm that was suffered, the claim that is being pursued, and who the defendant is. The financial compensation being pursued may also change throughout the course of the lawsuit as new evidence is introduced and negotiations occur.

In general, monetary compensation is a primary goal in pursuing civil action for survivors of sexual abuse. Financial compensation for sexual abuse can be extremely helpful for survivors. Many survivors suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other significant, negative effects of the abuse they experienced. This may impact their ability to finish school, get a job, or advance in their career. Additionally, survivors often need mental or physical health care as a result of their abuse. Some survivors experience significant physical effects, either directly from the abuse itself or secondary effects (for example, high blood pressure) because of the trauma they experienced. Further, many survivors find themselves needing mental health care (whether that be counseling, psychiatric treatment, etc.). The monetary compensation gained from civil legal action can be monumentally helpful in giving survivors the financial means they need to heal.

Despite the significant positive impact financial compensation can have for survivors, in studies of survivors who filed civil lawsuits, many stated that money was not their sole, or even biggest, motivation. Some stated that, in pursuing civil legal action, they sought “justice” or “closure” (Rosiers et al., 1998, p. 442). Many stated that they were hoping to get justice through a “public affirmation of the wrong” (Rosiers et al., 1998, p. 442). Others mentioned that they sought revenge or retribution, preventing future harm, or an apology. Justice looks different for every survivor, and each individual seeking civil justice for sexual abuse may be looking for something different. However, many of these aims are possible to achieve through civil legal action and can be beneficial in the healing process for survivors.

A sexual abuse attorney is an essential part of the civil legal process for survivors. The civil legal system is complex and can be confusing, but having an effective, helpful attorney who is familiar with the civil legal system and how to handle claims from survivors of sexual abuse makes the process possible. First, a sexual abuse attorney in particular, as opposed to an attorney who is less familiar with working with survivors and within the civil legal system to gain justice for sexual abuse, is an important asset. Sexual abuse attorneys are trained and comfortable with working with survivors of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is a very personal, vulnerable experience, and it can be extremely difficult to discuss. Sexual abuse attorneys are aware of the sensitivity with which these cases must be handled and are skilled at helping survivors of sexual abuse navigate the civil legal process without unnecessary pain or harm. Additionally, sexual abuse attorneys often have social workers in their firms who can provide trauma-informed assistance to survivors as they go through the civil legal process. This eases the burden on survivors, making the process as smooth and painless as it can be. 

Second, there are many points of the civil legal process where a sexual abuse attorney is necessary. When filing a civil lawsuit to address sexual abuse, the survivor must decide whom to sue and what for. This is complex, as there are a multitude of potential defendants and claims, depending on the situation at hand. Sexual abuse attorneys can discuss what the survivor hopes to get out of the process and tailor the lawsuit to their personal goals and what justice looks like to them. Further, their familiarity with the civil process for justice for survivors of sexual abuse allows them to determine which potential defendants and claims have the highest likelihood of success for the survivor. Additionally, sexual abuse attorneys are crucial in negotiations between both parties. Many civil lawsuits never end up going to trial and instead are settled outside of the courtroom. Having a sexual abuse attorney to advocate for the survivor and help them achieve justice is invaluable. 

Seeking justice for sexual abuse can be a daunting and difficult process. However, there are steps that can be taken to make this process easier. Filing a civil lawsuit to receive monetary compensation for the harm that occurred is an effective, beneficial route for many survivors. This financial compensation can help survivors rebuild their lives. Even outside of the monetary repayment, a successful civil lawsuit can help many survivors feel that they have achieved the justice they seek. Moreover, having a sexual abuse attorney to help with the process of pursuing civil legal action is extremely helpful. They can help the survivor navigate the complex civil legal system in a way that decreases the burden on the survivor while finding the path to achieve the justice they are looking for. Justice looks different for every survivor, but a sexual abuse attorney can be a vital aid for many survivors in achieving the justice they deserve.

At Crew Janci LLP, we are committed to helping survivors of sexual abuse find healing, help, and justice. We understand the courage it takes for victims to come forward, and we strive to provide the support and legal expertise they need during their journey toward healing. If you or someone you love has been sexually abused, please contact us today. We are here to help.

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Risa Saulino

Risa is a rising senior at the University of California, San Diego, majoring in Political Science – Public Law and minoring in Law and Society. Risa has always been passionate about advocating for others. She spent her sophomore and junior years working at UC San Diego’s Cross-Cultural Center, educating the UCSD community about social justice issues, and this past spring, she interned at Rising for Justice in Washington, D.C., providing legal assistance to low-income D.C. residents. Risa is grateful for the opportunity to work with Crew Janci and help advocate for justice for their clients. In her free time, Risa enjoys baking, playing piano, and spending time outdoors.