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:
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:
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:
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:
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.