Can a Victim of Sexual Assault File a Civil Lawsuit?

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The pursuit of justice after sexual abuse can look different for every victim. Criminal prosecution is designed to identify and stop sexual offenders in the name of public safety. Unfortunately, the jury is not in place just to empathize with the victim—they are there to ensure that the verdict is made beyond a reasonable doubt. For many victims of sexual assault, this process can be traumatic and does not always work out in their favor.

A civil lawsuit offers the victims of sexual assault another option. The victim can file a lawsuit based on personal injury against the perpetrator in civil court. A civil lawsuit is a private legal action initiated by the victim and generally requires less evidence than criminal proceedings. This option also offers an opportunity for monetary compensation for the damages caused.

Who Can File a Civil Complaint?

Any victim of sexual assault or party responsible for the well-being of a victim may file for damages. Common crimes that civil lawsuits include:

  • Groping
  • Indecent Exposure
  • Sexual Abuse of a Minor
  • Sexual Assault by Doctor or Caregiver
  • Rape
  • Any other non-consensual acts of a sexual nature

A criminal lawsuit does not have to be in place for a victim to seek a civil suit. If damages were suffered due to the sexual assault, a civil case could be filed whether or not a criminal lawsuit has.

Additional Liable Parties for Sexual Assault

Many times, the fault for sexual assault lies outside the perpetrator of the assault. In some cases, civil suits can be brought against these parties as well. Institutions responsible for the supervision and safety of others have also been named in civil lawsuits. For example, if an incident happens in a school or place of business, the enterprise could also be liable. It is important to consider if there was neglect, inadequate protection, or inadequate security on the part of the entity when considering settlements.

Proof in a Civil Case

The civil lawsuit requires that the plaintiff establish liability by a “preponderance of evidence.” This means that the plaintiff must provide evidence that proves that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the assault. The jury is more likely to find in favor of the plaintiff if they find them even a tiny amount more likely than the defendant’s case. In addition, a civil trial only requires nine out of twelve jurors to agree to hold the defendant liable.

However, a criminal conviction can successfully be used as proof in a civil case. Collateral Estoppel is a complex law that may allow the plaintiff to bring evidence from the criminal prosecution to the civil court. This means that the same evidence used to prove the defendant guilty can also be used in a civil case.

It is important to remember that there is still a “burden of proof” in all such suits, meaning that the evidence must be proven viable once again. Thus, the plaintiff in a civil case is not always guaranteed to win, even if the criminal case was successful.

Statute of Limitations

Each state has different requirements for when and how to file a civil case against sexual assault. In addition, many states have or are considering specific time limits for filing a civil lawsuit for sexual assault cases, especially for cases involving minors at the time of the incident. Therefore, it is important to know the requirements and timeframes for filing a civil case in your state.

These cases rely heavily on timing to collect and preserve evidence. The sooner an experienced lawyer is on board, the sooner they can begin building your case. A civil lawsuit offers an opportunity to seek damages from a perpetrator of abuse that could not be available in criminal prosecution.


Victims of sexual assault may file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator or institutions that should have provided a better measure of safety. Proof and statute of limitations are complexities that vary from case to case and state to state, so it’s important to speak to a qualified sexual assault attorney to see what your options are.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, our team at Serling & Abramson, P.C. can help. We are a firm of experienced attorneys, ready to fight for your rights while keeping your case confidential. Reach out today for a free case evaluation.