Sex abuse victims often suffer devastating mental and psychological harm, whether the victim suffered child molestation or was assaulted or raped as an adult. Sexual abuse or assault is one of the most difficult types of traumas to overcome, especially in cases of prolonged abuse or violent abuse.
One of the first steps in these cases is a criminal prosecution. Victims often seek justice and file police reports against perpetrators. This often leads to a lengthy investigation followed by criminal charges. Eventually, a perpetrator may admit guilt in a plea or may be found guilty after a trial. Criminal cases revolve around the defendant who receives various constitutional protections.
The primary purpose of a criminal prosecution is the conviction and sentencing of the perpetrator. In sex assault, abuse or child molestation cases, the perpetrator is often sentenced to a combination of a prison sentence and probation. In some instances, perpetrators are ordered to pay restitution to the victim, but usually, the restitution is for medical bills or other treatment bills, not for the victim’s pain and suffering or emotional harm. Get more information about victims’ criminal legal rights in sex abuse cases.
Civil Legal Rights After a Sex Assault
The vast majority of victims of such sexual assault in Pennsylvania or New Jersey are often misinformed about their legal rights in the civil justice system. In fact, sex assault victims often believe that their only legal recourse is in the criminal justice system. This is completely untrue. Under the laws of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, any person who is injured by the conduct of another person, business or corporation can file a civil lawsuit and recover damages (i.e., financial compensation).
In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff (injured party) can seek monetary compensation for financial losses such as medical bills, lost wages and psychological treatment costs. In addition, the plaintiff has the right to seek compensation for pain and suffering. This is one of the most important differences between the criminal and civil legal systems. The criminal system is not designed to make the victim whole; rather, it is designed to make society whole. On the other hand, the civil system is designed to make the victim whole. That’s why victims can seek pain and suffering damages in civil lawsuits. Below is a school sex abuse case example which explains this concept.
A child is sexually abused by a school employee who is caught and criminally prosecuted. The perpetrator pleads guilty to the molestation and is sentenced to prison and probation. He is also ordered to pay court fines and costs. No restitution is ordered.
The child’s parents file a civil lawsuit on their child’s behalf against the school for negligence in allowing the molestation to occur. There is evidence that this particular school employee had a prior record of inappropriate contact with students. However, school administrators failed to take action which directly led to the recent case of abuse.
The civil lawsuit gets settled through agreement of the parties. The school agrees to revamp its internal reporting procedures and also agrees to institute mandatory training of all school employees annually. In addition, the school agrees to pay a financial sum to the child to cover the child’s pain and suffering as well as future mental health treatment costs.
Criminal Prosecution & Civil Legal Action – Are Both Possible in Cases of Sex Assault or Abuse in PA or NJ?
One of the most important things to understand about the American legal justice system is that criminal and civil legal cases never depend on each other. They are entirely separate and distinct from each other. So, what happens if a criminal case is never brought or is declined by prosecutors? What happens if a criminal case is investigated by law enforcement but charges are never filed? What happens if a criminal perpetrator is found “not guilty” after a trial for a sex assault?
In each of these situations, the victim can still file a civil lawsuit. The civil lawsuit does not depend on any criminal case. Also, it’s important to note that a civil lawsuit must be filed within the applicable statute of limitations, which vary from state to state. In Pennsylvania, the current civil statute of limitations for child molestation lawsuits is the victim’s 30th birthday, if the abuse occurred after August 2002 and the victim was under the age of 18. Adults who were sexually assaulted have 2 years after the date of the incident to file a lawsuit.
In New Jersey, the current civil statute of limitations for child molestation lawsuits is 2 years after the victim reasonable uncovers a causal relationship between the abuse and any emotional harm. Like in Pennsylvania, adults who were sexually assaulted have 2 years to file a civil lawsuit. Get more info about Pennsylvania and New Jersey statute of limitations laws in sex abuse cases.
About Brian Kent, a Lawyer for Victims of Sex Abuse in PA & NJ
Mr. Kent was an assistant district attorney prosecuting sex crimes in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He now helps victims of sex abuse in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Mr. Kent is licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and he also represents victims of sex abuse in other states, such as New York and Delaware, on a case by case basis. Call the firm for more information. 215.399.9255
DISCLAIMER: This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. It is crucial to speak to a qualified lawyer prior to making any decision about your case. Read full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.