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Frequently Asked Questions About Civil Lawsuits for Victims of Sexual Abuse

Page last updated: January 4, 2017

Below you will find some frequently asked questions about criminal and civil justice for victims of priest abuse, clergy abuse, child molestation or sexual abuse and assaul in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Can child molestation and sex abuse victims succeed in civil lawsuits?

Yes. Victims of child molestation, priest and clergy abuse, sexual assault, and sex abuse can bring tort claims against not only the perpetrator, but any person or business who either intentionally or negligently allowed the abuse to occur. However, sex abuse victims are commonly mistaken about their rights and end their search for justice at the conclusion of the criminal case.  Many do not know that a criminal conviction is not necessary to bring a successful civil suit. Even if a sexual predator is never arrested, never prosecuted, or even if a sexual predator is acquitted, a sex abuse victim can still prevail in a civil lawsuit.

What can child molestation and sex abuse victims accomplish with a civil lawsuit?

The Pennsylvania and New Jersey civil justice systems can accomplish what the criminal justice systems cannot – financial recovery for pain and suffering and future damages such as future lost earnings and future medical expenses.  In some cases, simply bringing the lawsuit can provide some measure of justice, by shedding light on the abuse itself.  Bringing a perpetrator to justice also decreases the chances that he or she will abuse others in the future.

Who can be sued?

Civil justice for victims of child molestation, priest and clergy abuse, sexual assault, and sex abuse oftentimes includes liability of other persons and institutions which contributed to the abuse by failing to report or actively concealing the abuse. So, not only is the perpetrator a named defendant, hospitals, schools, day care centers and many more can be successfully sued. Also, family members can be sued for the abuse or for failing to protect, or even worse, hiding the abuse.

Is the victim’s privacy protected?

A sex abuse victim’s privacy can be protected in many ways throughout the civil justice process. Names and addresses can be redacted from pleadings, and all or part of the record may be sealed, including depositions and written discovery.  Settlements can and often do include confidentiality agreements.

Filing a civil lawsuit can be difficult, especially for sex abuse victims. On the one hand, filing a civil lawsuit may provide vindication and justice. Doing so sheds light on a predator and gives a sex abuse victim an opportunity to be heard. On the other hand, factors such as the length of time it takes to conclude the civil case or having to discuss the abuse and its effects multiple times can be discouraging.  At the end of the day, the choice to file a lawsuit belongs solely to the sex abuse victim.