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What to Expect


After a victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse decides to take action, it is important to discuss the case with a lawyer. Survivors of sexual abuse and assault often have many questions, such as “can I file a civil case?” or “what can I expect?”

Criminal Cases vs. Civil Cases

At the outset, it’s important to note that there are two types of legal rights: criminal legal rights and civil legal rights. Victims of sex abuse and assault can obtain justice by filing either one or both. There is no requirement that you file one type of case before you file the other. In some situations, an individual may file a criminal case and then file a civil case. In other situations, an individual may only file a criminal case or only files a civil case.

justice for crime victims There are many differences between the two types of cases. One of the main differences is in the outcome. In a criminal case, the outcome of a sex abuse or assault case may be a conviction with a jail or prison sentence. In a civil case, the outcome is often financial compensation. Read more about how sex abuse or assault cases are handled in the criminal and civil justice systems.

One of the most important aspects in a sex abuse or assault case is empowering the victim. The victim is the one who makes the important decisions, like whether to initiate a criminal case and/or a civil case. However, it’s important to note that many victims of sex abuse or assault report that they often feel unsatisfied with the criminal process because they lack the power to make important decisions about the case, such as the ultimate outcome. For instance, in a criminal case, the victim generally has no say in the ultimate sentence. The ultimate sentence is usually determined through a plea agreement or a judge in the event of a trial.

On the other hand, in a civil case, the victim certainly has much more control and decision-making authority. The victim will have the last say in whether the case goes to trial or whether the case will settle and the terms of the settlement.

Initial Evaluation with a Sex Abuse Lawyer – Is There a Civil Lawsuit?

Sex abuse lawyers who help victims will almost always conduct an initial evaluation for free. During the initial evaluation process, the lawyer will meet with the victim and obtain a full history and timeline. Then the lawyer will review the applicable statute of limitations law and other legal issues to determine whether there is a viable civil lawsuit.

Others are Often Liable

What many victims or survivors of abuse don’t realize is that other parties are often legally responsible for conduct which contributed to the abuse. This is especially true in the context of child molestation or where a child is subjected to extended periods of sex abuse. More often than not, someone at a school, church, etc., knew about the abuse, but failed to take action to stop it. This explains why child molestation can occur over decades in the same institution. Basically, an employee who is a known pedophile gets access to innocent children because someone higher up fails to do anything. The instinct for self-preservation is incredibly strong. It is this instinct that explains why institutional abuse occurs. Consequently, schools, churches, and other types of organizations can be held liable and court-ordered to pay civil damages to a victim.

Basic Info About Getting Civil Justice in a Sex Abuse Case

Below are common questions and answers about getting justice in a civil sex abuse case in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

The abuser was never charged with a crime. Can I still move forward with a civil case?

Yes, there is no requirement that the abuser be charged with a crime in order to move forward with a civil lawsuit. Therefore, it is absolutely possible to proceed with a civil case even though the abuser was never charged with a crime. This is also true if a criminal case was initiated but never completed, i.e., the abuser was arrested, but never brought to trial. In fact, it is very common for survivors of child sex abuse to take legal action years, if not decades, after the abuse took place.

One of our clients was able to confront his abuser decades after the abuse occurred, when he was in the sixth grade. Even though the criminal statute of limitations prevented the abuser from facing criminal charges, our client was able to succeed in a civil lawsuit. The abuser, a sitting state court judge, admitted to the abuse and was removed from the bench and disbarred. Without that civil lawsuit, which opened the door to justice, the judge (abuser) might still be on the bench. Watch a YouTube video about this monumental case.

How long will the process take?

Because the facts vary with each case, the length of time it takes to resolve a case will vary. As a general rule, the legal process for a civil sex abuse lawsuit can take anywhere from 2-3 years and longer if there are complex issues or appeals. The process begins when the victim/survivor files a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. Other parties can also be held liable. Basically, any party or business entity which negligently or intentionally contributed to the abuse can be held liable. The typical example involves a school or church which is liable for sweeping reports of sexual abuse under the rug. This type of case can take about 2 years, depending on the jurisdiction where the case is filed. Some jurisdictions push cases along faster than others. For instance, cases filed in Philadelphia County usually resolve faster than cases filed in the surrounding counties like Montgomery County or Delaware County.

How much will it cost?

Civil victim injury lawyers generally handle sex abuse and assault cases on a contingency fee basis. Our firm fronts all costs of litigation and preparing the case for trial. If the case results in any monetary compensation, our law firm is paid and also recoups the costs it has paid. If there is no recovery, there is no fee.

How are these cases resolved?

The civil justice system works by providing financial damages to the injured party. This is the bedrock of the civil system. Whether it’s a breach of contract case or an injury case like a sex abuse/assault case, the ultimate resolution is monetary compensation. There may be other aspects in the resolution of a case, such as a written apology or acknowledgment. In addition, there may be long-term benefits. For instance, in a school or church sex abuse case, there may be changes in policies or procedures designed to prevent sex abuse in the future.

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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.