One option available to survivors is to seek legal advice. In general, a lawyer will need details like dates, locations, names, who else knew, who you have told, and any contact information of those involved. It is important to give as much detail as possible, but it is alright to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” It may also be pertinent to gather evidence. For example medical records, insurance billing copies, written correspondence, electronic evidence, and other information. A lawyer should work directly with you and serve to educate you about your legal options while representing you. Anticipate that the lawyer will ask you about how the abuse has impacted your life and other details that will assist the lawyer in representing you.

There are many paths that you may decide to take when pursuing legal options. One option is to pursue criminal charges against the perpetrator of your abuse. Another option is to pursue a civil lawsuit. We recommend that you consult with a lawyer(s) regarding your various options.

Criminal Charges

In general, criminal charges are a formal accusation made by a government authority (through a prosecutor) asserting that somebody has committed a crime by violating a federal, state, or local statute or ordinance. Generally, a criminal prosecution starts when a law enforcement agency investigates a matter and provides information collected to a prosecutor. The prosecutor then issues charges against the accused. In a criminal prosecution, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant committed the crime by a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. If someone is convicted of the alleged crime, then they may be sentenced to fines, costs, probation, or to serve time in jail or prison. Penalties may also include probation, fines, and other terms and conditions such as drug or alcohol counseling, anger management, restitution, etc.

Every state has different criminal laws and procedures and these criminal laws and procedures can even vary within a single state. We recommend consulting a lawyer in your state or jurisdiction to learn more. It is important in this case that you have reported to the police as well.

There are only three defenses to a sexual assault case:

(1) Outright denial (“it didn’t happen);

(2) Identity (“it wasn’t me”); or

(3) Consent.

Usually a defendant asserts the consent defense, though on occasion the defendant raises more than one (e.g., Kobe Bryant first claimed, “nothing happened” and then claimed, “nothing happened and if it did It was consensual.”)

Click here for more information about reporting to the police. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network has compiled two guides regarding what you can expect in the criminal justice system:

Civil Lawsuits

The civil justice system does not determine the innocence or guilt of an offender. Instead, it seeks to determine whether the harms you suffered were because you were assaulted. Civil law suits are increasingly pursued by victims of sexual violence to procure justice that the criminal courts may not provide. In civil lawsuits, a lesser “preponderance of the evidence” (meaning more likely than not) burden of proof allows victims to recover in civil court even when their assailants have been acquitted, or have never prosecuted criminally. Some lawsuits to recover damages for sexual assault may be “barred” if not brought soon enough after the injury. This is known as a “statute of limitations.” Each state has a different statute of limitations for civil lawsuits brought against perpetrators and enablers of sexual assault. Some states have multiple statutes of limitations for sexual assault lawsuits that vary based on factors such as what kind of sexual assault was committed and how old the survivor of sexual assault was at the time of the assault. We recommend consulting a lawyer in your state or jurisdiction to learn more.

We are not lawyers, the information on this website does not constitute legal advice, and the information on this website in no way creates an attorney-client relationship between The Army of Survivors, its employees, Board Members, or other affiliates. We encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss your complaint or potential lawsuit.