If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, it is important to consider whether you would like to file a civil lawsuit, in additional to whatever potential criminal prosecution has/will transpire(d). Each of these types of sexual assault cases have very different conditions that will affect the potential penalties as outcomes of the case, as well as how much control the accuser has over the manner in which the case proceeds.
A sexual assault incident can give rise to a criminal prosecution as well as a civil lawsuit. Criminal prosecutions can result in jail time, fines, probation, and other sanctions against the offender if a conviction is obtained. A civil lawsuit, on the other hand, is usually the only way a sexual assault victim can get monetary compensation (“damages”) for harm suffered.
A civil sexual assault case is handled by the accuser (typically as represented by their attorney), and this person has the right to decide the direction of the case, including evidence presented and damages requested. The purpose of a civil case is to determine whether it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable for damages, and the accuser only needs to prove it is more likely than not that the defendant is the cause of the damage. In a civil case involving sexual assault, instead of suing for “sexual assault,” the accuser sues formally for charges such as: Assault, Battery, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, or False Imprisonment.
If a civil sexual assault trial results in confirmation of liability of the accused, the defendant may have to pay the accuser and/or their family damages, including legal fees, compensation for medical expenses, psychological damage, damage to relationships, lost wages, etc. The amount and type of compensation that is available in a civil lawsuit over sexual abuse will depend on the specific facts of the case and the legal theory on which the lawsuit is based.
A sexual assault defendant can be tried in civil court by an accuser even if a criminal court declared the defendant innocent of a crime, and an accused person can be charged criminally regardless of the outcome of a civil case. Civil cases will not result in a criminal record.