Victims of sex abuse or sex assault in Pennsylvania often want to know what their legal rights are and whether they should bring lawsuits against those responsible. The decision to file a lawsuit, especially one involving something as deeply personal and emotional as sexual abuse/assault is a very important decision, one that should only be made after consulting with a lawyer.
What are your legal rights?
Victims of sex abuse and sex assault are often misinformed about their legal rights. Many confuse the roles of the criminal justice system and the civil justice system. Many believe that their only legal recourse is calling the police and that’s it. This is entirely untrue. Sex abuse and assault victims have legal rights in both the criminal and civil justice system.
The criminal justice system is designed primarily to punish the wrongdoer for breaking the law. The focus of the case is not on the victim, and the victim will be generally unable to make any major decisions in the case. Instead, the state is the aggrieved party. This is why the case name or caption will be “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. [perpetrator]” or “State of New Jersey v. [perpetrator].”
In a civil case, the primary goal is justice for the victim, and therefore, the focus is on the victim. In a civil case, the case caption will be “[victim] v. [perpetrator] and [other parties].” The victim will be able to decide all major issues in the case, such as whether to file a case, whether to go to trial and whether/when to settle the case.
Victims of sex abuse or assault may be able to file criminal charges and also proceed with a civil case. The two kinds of cases are in no way dependent on each other. A victim may proceed with both types of cases, no cases at all, or just one case (criminal or civil).
Should you bring a lawsuit?
One of the most critical questions in deciding whether to pursue justice in a civil sex abuse/assault case is whether the victim should bring a lawsuit, or take the at-fault parties to court. This is often a very difficult decision to make, and more importantly, it is one that can only be made by the victim.
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to go forward, such as:
- privacy concerns,
- legal issues involved in the case,
- projected length of the case,
- goals for the case, and
- the chance of success.
These factors vary from case to case, and the decision should only be made after speaking to a lawyer. In addition, victims of sex abuse/assault should consult with family members and close friends before deciding whether to go forward with a lawsuit.
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.