North Carolina Sexual Assault Lawyer

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Sexual Assault Attorney

sexual assualt lawyer
Unfortunately, sexual assault is very common, occurring every 92 seconds. In North Carolina, 19 percent of women report a history of sexual assault. In 2019, North Carolina passed the Standing Up for Rape Victims Act, or Survivor Act, in an attempt to address the large backlog of sexual assault kits the state had yet to test. (About 15,000 kits were identified as untested in 2017.) The new law created a system for testing all current kits, and protocols for ensuring new kits are also submitted for testing in a timely manner.

It’s possible that testing these kits may lead to criminal charges against some perpetrators. Unfortunately, due to a variety of factors, conviction rates for sexual assaults are very low, and the majority of rapists are never incarcerated. Naturally, it can be very frustrating for a survivor to know their attacker doesn’t have to face any consequences for their actions. Additionally, survivors may find themselves facing expenses related to their assault, such as costs for therapy, medical treatment after the assault, lost wages from time missed at work, and other financial ramifications.

If you’ve survived a sexual assault, it’s important to understand that while the burden of proof in a criminal trial is quite high, it’s much lower in a civil suit. In a criminal case, it’s necessary to prove to a jury that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case, it’s only necessary to prove there was a “preponderance of evidence” that the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff harm. This means only that the evidence against the defendant has to be more convincing than the evidence the defendant presents in their defense. It can be only slightly more convincing.

What does this mean for a sexual assault survivor? It means that even if your case couldn’t be addressed satisfactorily in the criminal court system, you may be able to recover damages in a civil court case. This will allow you to pay any bills you have for medical care or other support needed after the assault. Here are some frequently asked questions people have when consulting a sexual assault attorney:

Does What Happened To Me Count As Sexual Assault?

This is a very common question. In fact, one reason that some survivors do not report assaults to the police is that they’re unsure if what happened to them was even a crime. But sexual assault can mean any kind of nonconsensual sexual activity. Examples include:

  • Nonconsensual groping, fondling, or sexual battery
  • Unwanted sexual intercourse
  • Any situation where the perpetrator achieves sexual gratification without the survivor’s consent
  • Circumstances where the survivor is coerced into performing sexual acts on the attacker (coercion does not necessarily mean the victim was physically forced to perform the acts, only that they were coerced to do something they didn’t want to)
  • Sexual activities with a person who can’t consent to the act, either due to impairment/unconsciousness from drugs or alcohol or due to being underage (statutory rape)

Will I Have To Sue My Attacker?

Many survivors have concerns about facing the perpetrator in court. You can sue them in civil court, but in many situations, this isn’t a good option for recovering damages. If the attacker doesn’t have sufficient assets, successfully suing them may not be worth the time, expense, or stress of a court case. Insurance policies typically don’t cover sexual assault claims, so if the assailant doesn’t have the money to pay a claim, there may be no way to recover your compensation from them.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t recover compensation elsewhere. In many situations, we’re able to find a third party whose negligence enabled the assailant to carry out the attack. For example, in some cases, we find negligent security in businesses or other public places contributed to the situation. Here are some other examples:

  • An apartment complex, motel, or other business failed to provide adequate security, and a person was attacked in the parking lot or elsewhere on the property. This may happen in multiple ways. Sometimes poor lighting or broken security cameras in the parking lot may be the issue. Faulty locks, employees failing to properly secure the premises, or failed security systems may also be causes of negligent security.
  • Staff in hotels and motels should also be trained to recognize and watch for the signs of human trafficking or kidnapping. Poorly trained employees may not notice a problem until it’s too late.
  • An employer may fail to perform adequate background checks on a worker, or ignore reports of problematic behavior, leading to the employee assaulting a customer. For example, there have been cases where a delivery worker assaulted a customer they visited. If the employer was negligent in hiring or retaining the worker, the survivor may have a case against them.
  • In some cases, people are sexually assaulted by a member of law enforcement or private security. Again, the assailant’s employer may have been negligent in hiring or retaining them.
  • Another type of sexual assault occurs when a teacher at a school has sex with an underage student. The school may have been negligent in hiring the teacher or ignoring complaints about their behavior.
  • Sometimes a doctor or therapist may assault a patient. This can happen in multiple ways – a psychiatrist violating the boundaries of the doctor-patient relationship, an anesthesiologist inappropriately touching a patient while they’re under anesthesia, a doctor who touches a patient more than is necessary for a medical exam, etc. Additionally, a doctor may be negligent if they didn’t assault anyone, but failed to report a credible threat of sexual assault (such as if a patient tells a mental health specialist that they have plans to assault someone). In these situations, the medical worker or their employer may also have been negligent.

These are just a few possible situations of negligence that can lead to a sexual assault. There may be other third parties whose negligence contributed to your assault. If you’re unsure, please speak with a sexual assault victims attorney. They can help you determine who might have been negligent in your situation. Additionally, your consultation will be confidential – you can learn your options and decide what you want to do in private.

What Kind Of Damages Can You Recover?

After identifying the negligent parties, your sexual assault attorney will talk with you about what kind of damages to seek. In this type of lawsuit, you can ask for the following:

  • Repayment for any medical care necessary, including exams, emergency contraception, treatment for injuries suffered during the attack, and counseling or mental health care. Often survivors need to continue mental health services for many months or indefinitely, especially if they’re diagnosed with PTSD from the attack. For this reason, your attorney may also seek enough compensation to cover your future health care costs.
  • Lost income due to missing work. Some survivors who develop severe PTSD may be unable to work for weeks or even months due to their symptoms.
  • Compensation for emotional pain and suffering.
  • Punitive damages. These are intended to punish the plaintiff and are not awarded in all cases, but may be in some situations.

How Can A Sexual Assault Lawyer Near Me Help With My Claim?

As we discussed earlier, the burden of proof in a civil suit is much lower than in a criminal case, but it is still important to present as much evidence as you can, as clearly as you can, when you get to court. Your attorney is experienced at this job and will help you put together the strongest case possible. In some situations, it may seem as though the case boils down to what you said versus what the perpetrator said. However, even in these circumstances, there may be other evidence you can present to strengthen your case. Your lawyer will talk over the details with you and ask you questions to help determine if there are other avenues to pursue. They also have investigators who can continue to look into your case and may be able to do so more thoroughly than law enforcement (who are often constrained by a lack of time and resources).

Some factors your lawyer is likely to consider and ask you about:

  • Physical evidence. They will go over everything from your police report (if there was one). This may include clothing and other items present at the scene of the attack.
  • Medical evidence. This involves a detailed review of the results of your sexual assault exam kit, including any DNA evidence found.
  • The assailant’s history. Have there been other claims of sexual misconduct in the past? Were they mysteriously let go from a job for reasons no one seems clear about? Have other people who know the perpetrator expressed fear or concerns about them?
  • Testimony from medical workers who have treated you. Your attorney may, with your permission, go over your medical records and speak with your mental health care provider about the emotional trauma you’ve suffered and its effects on you.
  • Testimony from people who know you, such as friends, relatives, or coworkers. They may be asked to talk about the changes in your mental state and mood after the assault.
  • Other witnesses to the assault, if there were any. Even if no one else was present at the time of the assault, your attorney may speak with anyone who might have seen the perpetrator before or after the attack.

Do I Have To Testify?

No, you don’t have to. Your attorney may recommend it, because you can probably explain the long-term effects of the attack on your life better than anyone else. However, you do not have to testify. Some survivors believe that testifying would be bad for their mental health, and you should not do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. On the other hand, some survivors do want to testify and tell their stories. It’s up to you.

It’s also important to note that many cases settle out of court, so the question of testifying may not even come up. If you are suing a third party, such as a business, for some sort of negligence related to your assault, it is likely they have an insurance policy that covers these claims. We are often able to work out a settlement with the insurance carrier, so you can get the compensation you need without the time and expense of a court case.

What If The Sexual Assault Or Abuse Happened When I Was A Child?

Sometimes people who suffered sexual assault or abuse as a child wonder if they have any recourse now. There are many reasons why this abuse may not be reported when it happens. In some cases, young children don’t understand what is happening to them. In other situations, the abuser may threaten them or otherwise coerce them into remaining silent. There are other circumstances where a parent or guardian chooses not to report the abuse because they want to protect the abuser. Sometimes the child may repress the memory of the abuse and only become aware of it years later. All of these situations can lead to a person wondering if they can file a lawsuit against the perpetrator now.

As with other civil matters, there is a statute of limitations (SOL) for any sexual assault claim. Generally, the statute of limitations that was in place at the time of the assault is used, even if laws have since changed.

However, in 2019, the North Carolina General Assembly passed Senate Bill 199: The Sexual Assault Fast Reporting and Enforcement Act, or the SAFE Act. This changed several state laws, including those that afforded “loopholes” for consent, reporting child sex abuse, and the reporting of sexual abuse online. In the past, survivors of sexual assault or abuse that occurred when they were a minor only had three years after turning 18 to file a lawsuit. Under the SAFE Act, they now have ten years, or until the age of 28, to file a civil suit involving childhood sexual abuse. Criminal prosecutors also have the option to bring misdemeanor charges against the perpetrator. Felony crimes have no statute of limitations, so in some cases, the survivor may be able to seek criminal and civil remedies. In the event that the survivor has recovered repressed memories of childhood abuse, the statute of limitations doesn’t start until they have recovered these memories.

Our goal at Tatum & Atkinson, PLLC is to help our clients throughout NC quickly and efficiently with their personal injury cases. We know that recovering from a sexual assault is a difficult and painful experience, and we want to help in any way that we can. If you aren’t sure how you want to proceed, we’re happy to provide a free, confidential consultation so you can understand your options. If you decide to move forward with a civil suit, we’ll work hard to get you the settlement you deserve quickly, and hopefully keep you out of court. Contact us now by email or call 800-LAW-0804.