The Crimes of Sexual Abuse and Molestation
When sexual battery is taken a step further, and the act leaves the victim either physically injured or in reasonable fear of experiencing an imminent injury, the crime is elevated to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse includes the crime of rape, but while not all sexual abuse is rape, every rape is a form of sexual abuse. Rape entails a form of sexual intercourse that the victim is subjected to against their will, which can include any of the following means:
- By force
- Through violence
- As a result of menace
- Under duress
- By fear of imminent bodily injury
- By means of fraud
In California, it is against the law to engage in or attempt to engage in a sexual act with a child who is under the age of 18. While child molestation charges vary according to a range of factors, the following molestation statutes are on the book:
- Performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child who is not yet 16
- Engaging in oral copulation with a child who is not yet 18
- Sending obscene or explicit matter to a child who is not yet 18
Sexual molestation is a broad criminal category that extends far beyond these primary examples.
You Can File a Civil Lawsuit for Sexual Abuse or Molestation
If you or someone you love is the victim of sexual abuse or assault in California, you can file a civil lawsuit against your abuser in pursuit of legal damages, which refers to the physical, financial, and emotional losses you experience, including:
- Medical expenses related to any physical injuries or mental health care you require
- Lost income related to time lost on the job
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering, which can be difficult to overestimate in the face of sexual abuse or molestation
You’re Not Required to File a Criminal Charge First
In California, there doesn’t have to be a criminal conviction against your abuser – or even a police report – in order for you to sue the person who harmed you for damages in civil court.
Seeking Peace of Mind
Filing charges against your abuser takes courage, and if it is not the right path forward for you, that is your decision – and only your decision – to make. One thing that moving forward with a police report, however, can afford you is the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are doing what you can to stop the person who harmed you from going on to harm anyone else.
Lending Credibility to Your Civil Case
Considerations to Keep in Mind
Burden of Proof
In a Criminal Case
In Civil Cases
If your sexual abuse case goes to trial, the prosecution must convince each of the 12 jurors that the defendant did what they are accused of doing and that there is no other reasonable explanation that will mitigate their guilt. If even one juror seriously doubts the accused’s guilt, the state is unlikely to obtain a conviction.
If you take your civil case to court, however, you’ll need to convince only 9 people on the 12-member jury that your abuser probably did what they are accused of doing. The civil process is considerably less onerous and somewhat less stressful for the survivors who file them.
Understanding the Statute of Limitations
If you were an adult at the time that you were sexually abused, you have only two years from the date that the abuse occurred to file a civil lawsuit against your abuser. This time limit is called the statute of limitations. For criminal sexual assault cases, the statute of limitations is generally 10 years from the date of the crime.
While many people believe that 10 years – or even 2 years – should be ample time to file a lawsuit, if you’re a survivor, the truth is far more complicated. Victims of abuse have a natural tendency to lay low as a means of self-protection, and many find that exposing the matter to the light of day only gives it more power over them. In fact, the emotional losses survivors endure are often the most damaging and profound. As such, the statute of limitations for both criminal and civil cases can be surprisingly brief.
It’s important to note that if your abuser is convicted on the sexual abuse charges – even if your two-year window for filing a civil case has expired – you’ll have one year from the date of judgment to file a civil case.
Childhood Molestation Charges
If your child was sexually molested or abused, or you were sexually molested or abused as a child, the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit is extended. In such cases, you have until the latter of the following two parameters to file:
- Your 40th birthday
- 5 years from the date you discover or reasonably should have discovered that the abuse or molestation you suffered caused you psychological harm that occurred after you turned 18
Once you are over the age of 40, the only way to proceed with a civil sexual molestation or abuse case is with certificates of merit that include both the following:
- The finding by a mental health professional who has never treated you that there is a valid reason why you didn’t discover the harm you suffered as a result of the sexual abuse earlier
- Your attorney’s finding – after reviewing your case and the mental health professional’s determinations – that your case is meritorious
In other words, the closer you are to 40, the more important it is to weigh your options carefully and to make some difficult decisions if you are considering moving forward with a civil sexual abuse or molestation case.
Third Parties Sometimes Share Responsibility
While the person who sexually abused you is obviously responsible for doing so, there are instances when a third party can also bear liability.
Inadequate Security at Home
Inadequate Security at an Event
If you go to a concert and are sexually groped by a marauding group of strangers while you’re en route to your seat, you may have a case against the promoter for failure to put adequate security in place.
Inadequate Security at School
If a teacher’s aide exposes themself to your child at school and you later learn that the school failed to conduct the necessary background checks on the educator, you can file a case against both the school and the school district. In such an instance, you can not only go after compensation for your damages but can also pursue an injunction that will force the district to take stock of its hiring protocols.