Sexual Abuse or Assault

Victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault may pursue justice through both the civil and criminal court. Each of these avenues differs significantly in terms of the necessary proof burden, the role of victims in the process, and the overarching goal.

  • In a criminal case, prosecutors must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Meanwhile, a civil case establishes liability by a “preponderance of the evidence.”
  • In a criminal proceeding, prosecutors are in control and victims serve as state witnesses. In a civil case, it is the victim who controls key decisions, including whether to file a lawsuit, accept a settlement offer or go to trial.
  • In a criminal case, the ultimate goal is punishment of the offender. This is true even when restitution is ordered, which is not always the case. In a civil proceeding, the focus is on victim restoration.

At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, we are committed to protecting the rights and furthering the interests of victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault. In fact, our family has been fighting for the rights of victims and families in Southwest Florida for five decades. We recognize the process can be arduous and painful, but it is absolutely necessary to hold violators accountable and provide survivors the vital resources they need to heal.

We help victims of both childhood and adult sexual assault. Each type of case is handled differently, especially depending on the time that has lapsed since the incident(s).

Often, these cases involve a trusted person (coach, pastor, caregiver, etc.) or institution, such as a daycare, school, nursing home or church. This can make it that much more difficult for victims to comprehend what’s happening and find the courage to take action. Our compassionate team works tirelessly to ensure victims are heard and the case has the best possible outcome for our clients and their families.

It’s worth pointing out that because the proof burdens between civil and criminal cases vary, it is possible to pursue civil action against the alleged perpetrator of a sexual assault even if he or she was never arrested or convicted. It may be easier for a plaintiff in a civil action to win if the defendant was convicted in criminal court, but it’s not required for a favorable outcome.

According to a report from the White House Council on Women and Girls:

  • 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 1 in 71 men – or nearly 1.6 million – will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.
  • Most victims know their assailants.
  • Ninety-eight percent of perpetrators are male.

Regarding sexual crimes in Florida alone, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports:

  • A total of 11,200 total sex offenses are reported annually.
  • Approximately 2,150 cases of child sexual abuse are reported annually.
  • Forcible rape cases number 6,150 annually.
  • Approximately 3,100 arrests are made each year for forcible sex offense in Florida.

In sexual assault litigation, it is not solely the victim who may have a cause of action. If the case involves a child, that child may have cause, but so too would the child’s legal caregiver(s). Similarly in a case of sexual assault of an adult victim, that individual’s spouse may be entitled to damages if he or she can show the abuse affected their relationship.

Suing for Sexual Assault

In pursuing civil litigation for sexual assault or abuse, one must first define a “cause of action.” Unlike in the criminal realm, there is no cause of action in civil liability called “sexual abuse.” Rather, plaintiffs might allege:

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress
  • False imprisonment
  • Negligent hiring or retention
  • Negligent supervision
  • Premises liability
  • Inadequate security

A knowledgeable injury lawyer in Fort Myers can help develop an effective strategy, which is going to depend in part on the identity/position of the named defendant(s).

In addition to financial compensation, victims can obtain other benefits from civil litigation. For example, in a case directly against an assailant, a victim may seek an acknowledgement and apology, a promise to transfer jobs/schools or a contribution to a charitable organization of the victim’s choosing. In cases against third parties (i.e. schools, nursing homes or other businesses), the victim may seek negotiation of a settlement that not only provides monetary redress but also prevents future harm. For example, an employer might agree to train workers on sexual assault or revise hiring policies and procedures.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations on these cases is somewhat complex.

Certain types of rape cases (aggravated – involving a weapon, multiple perpetrators, minor victim or serious physical injuries to victim) have no statute of limitations in criminal law. However, most prosecutions must take place within four years. There are exceptions where DNA evidence results in identification of an alleged rapist years after a crime.

In civil cases, meanwhile, claims of sexual abuse or incest generally have to be brought within:

  • 4 years for claims of general negligence or intentional tort (assault and battery, premises liability, negligent hiring and retention, etc.)

However, there are some special rules for underage victims. Those claims must be brought within:

  • 7 years after victim turns 18
  • 4 years after leaving dependency of abuser (even if victim is older than 25)
  • 4 years from time injury and causal relationship between abuse and injury was discovered

An update to F.S. 95.11 in 2010 grants victims who were abused prior to turning 16 no time limit within which to commence a civil action.

The question of whether the statute of limitations has run out can be a complex one in sexual assault cases, particularly those involving child victims who are now adults. Contact an experienced legal team to learn more about your rights.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault in Southwest Florida, contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.

Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation

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