For individuals who have experienced sexual assault, it is undoubtedly a horrific experience that is both devastating and life-altering. Every 92 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. At some point, the legal ramifications of sexual assault need to be considered. Law enforcement agencies and sexual assault lawyers act as “gatekeepers,” determining whether sexual assault charges are to be brought, and have sole discretion on whether or not to pursue charges.
Although sexual assault is a violation of criminal law, it may also provide a civil course of action for victims seeking to recover from damages. Sexual assault lawsuits can entitle victims to financial compensation if they can prove their case in court. Pennsylvania sexual assault lawyers from KBA Attorneys offer professional and confidential legal assistance to victims of sexual assault. Our sexual abuse attorneys will fight for the justice and compensation you deserve.
What is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault can include anything from unwanted kissing to forcible sexual contact, including rape.
There is no legal cause of action has been labeled as “sexual assault.” The common law crime of rape is subsumed for the purposes of federal law under the crime of aggravated sexual abuse. States use a variety of terms to encompass the crime of rape, including sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual misconduct.
An individual is guilty of this offense if he or she “knowingly causes another person to engage in a sexual act (1) by using force against that other person; or (2) by threatening or placing that other person in fear that any person will be subjected to death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or attempts to do so.
An individual is also guilty of this offense if he or she “knowingly (1) renders another person unconscious and thereby engages in a sexual act with that other person; or (2) administers to another person by force or threat of force, or without the knowledge or permission of that person, a drug, intoxicant, or other similar substance and thereby (A) substantially impairs the ability of that other person to appraise or control conduct; and (B) engages in a sexual act with that other person or attempts to do so.
In the civil course of action, victims of sexual assault will have to file a lawsuit under a recognized tort theory that differs from state to state. This theory will have to fall under the rubric of an intentional tort, meaning that the victim will have to prove that the defendant acted with some kind of general or specific intent. This makes proving sexual assault lawsuits somewhat more difficult than a regular negligence claim because it holds a higher standard of Mens Rea. Mens Rea is the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, as opposed to the actions or conduct of the accused. However, if a plaintiff succeeds in proving their case, the nature of the facts may compel a sympathetic jury to grant a larger jury award to the victim than the average negligence case. Due to the extreme complexities of sexual assault cases, it is important for victims to hire an experienced sexual assault lawyer.
There are several possible legal theories that a sexual assault lawyer can use to obtain compensation for victims in the event of a sexual assault. Moreover, sexual assault lawyers can use one or more of these legal theories in a case. The potential avenues for a sexual assault lawsuit, each of which will be discussed below, are the following intentional torts:
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
- False Imprisonment
Assault occurs when there is a threat of physical harm and the victim believes that they are going to be harmed. This is known as “apprehension.” In the context of assault, the victim’s apprehension happens if the victim believes that the defendant’s conduct will result in imminent harmful or offensive contact unless it is prevented. An attempted sexual assault can be grounds for suit even if the sexual assault did not occur.
It is not necessary that the victim believes the conduct will be effective in making such contact, only that the victim believes the conduct is capable of making such contact. There needs to be some intentional act on the part of the defendant that causes the victim to fear of injury, serious bodily harm, or death. All that is needed to prove assault is an attempt to touch with a threat to the plaintiff.
The prima facie case for “assault” has 2 components:
- The defendant intends to cause the victim to apprehend imminent harmful contact from the defendant
- The defendant’s action causes the victim to reasonably apprehend such a contact
Battery is the most common legal cause of action that is associated with sexual assaults. The perpetrator must have some sort of intent to commit the act of unwanted contact that is either harmful or offensive to the plaintiff. Any kind of unwanted touching or sexual contact can be considered battery so long as the intent can be proven. In order to receive damages for a sexual assault under the tort theory of battery, there must be some sort of harm to the victim. This does not necessarily mean that there is physical harm. Emotional harm or distress is enough to constitute the necessary harm for which the victim is compensated.
The prima facie case for battery contains 3 components:
- The defendant intends to cause contact with the victim
- The defendant’s contact with the victim is harmful or offensive
- The defendant’s contact causes the victim to suffer a contact that is harmful or offensive
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Although this is very rare and difficult to prove, sexual assault is one example of an act that can comprise this tort. The perpetrator must act in an extraordinarily and outrageous manner in an attempt to cause emotional distress to the victim. This is typically done by a defendant vocally issuing a threat of future harm to a plaintiff. Moreover, unwanted touching can meet this definition. The conduct generally must be something that is extraordinary and outrageous and the necessary intent must be to bring about emotional distress to the victim. Most civil suits will focus on assault and battery, but this is often an additional cause of action.
The prima facie case for intentional infliction of Emotional Distress includes 3 components:
- The defendant’s conduct is extraordinary and outrageous
- The defendant acted for the purpose of causing the victim emotional distress so severe that it could be expected to adversely affect mental health
- The defendant’s conduct causes such distress
False imprisonment may often result from sexual assault. This requires that the perpetrator commit some sort of act that places a restraint on the victim that confines the victim to a bounded area.
The prima facie case for false imprisonment includes 3 components:
- The defendant intends to confine the plaintiff without the plaintiff’s consent and without the authority of the law
- The defendant’s act causes the plaintiff’s confinement
- The plaintiff is aware of his/her own confinement
When a victim is assaulted and unable to move, it is often enough to be considered false imprisonment. Battery and false imprisonment will usually go together in a lawsuit for sexual assault in Pennsylvania.
Where Does Sexual Assault Occur?
Sexual assault can happen anywhere at any time. The most reported incidents came from public spaces and the workplace – which includes temporary jobs and internships, and at home. The New York Times stated that one in 10 women and one in 20 men have tried to change their jobs to avoid harassment. According to a report from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, a majority (63%) of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. In fact, most people fear retaliation from the perpetrator if they do report it. As you can imagine, this fear would only be magnified if you were on a college campus or workplace. No matter where the sexual assault case happens, it is crucial that it is reported. The perpetrator may continue to harm more victims if sexual assault is not reported.
How Often Does Sexual Assault Occur?
Thousands of sexual assault incidents go unreported and never reach a courtroom or public news. These low reporting rates and different research designs make it difficult to determine one set of statistics that shows how prevalent sexual assault is in the United States. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, every one out of five women and one out of 71 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Every 2 minutes, a woman is raped or sexually assaulted somewhere in the U.S.
Below are statistics showing the number of people sexually assaulted each year in the United States:
- 321,500 Americans 12 and older were sexually assaulted
- 60,000 children were victims of sexual abuse
- 18,900 military personnel have experienced unwanted sexual contact
- 80,600 prison inmates were sexually assaulted
Who Is Sexually Assaulted?
Sexual assault can happen to anyone, both male and female. Hundreds of thousands of people each year in the United States from all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds are affected by sexual assault. Women and children have been found to be more frequently victimized than others. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 9 out of every 10 sexual assault victims are female. As of 1998, sexual assault victims have been 90% female and 10% male. Young females are especially vulnerable to sexual assault. The Joyful Heart Foundation has found that almost 80% of female rape victims were under 25 years old when they were first raped and about 42% of female rape victims were under 18 years old.
Who Should Be Sued After a Sexual Assault?
It goes without saying that the perpetrator will likely be a defendant in the lawsuit. However, the perpetrator may not necessarily have a large amount of assets in their name, and insurance will not cover a jury award in a sexual assault lawsuit because there was an intentional tort that was committed. Our sexual assault lawyers will do everything in our power to reach the largest reward possible with a jury. Unfortunately, some victims cannot recover the full amount of the award because the perpetrator simply does not have enough assets to cover the judgment. Victims often have to make a decision on whether to re-live the stress and nightmare of the assault in a civil trial because there are times where a large recovery is not possible.
This becomes a different decision if there is a third party that can be sued as well. For example, a perpetrator may be employed by someone else at the time of the assault. If that is the case, then the assailant’s actions can be imputed to their employer, and the employer can also be found liable for the assault. Employers will most likely have deeper pockets than employees and victims may be able to recover a large amount. An example of this is a clergy member who commits sexual assault while employed by a church. In this case, the church can be sued by the victim.
Another example of a third party being held liable is when a sexual assault occurs on a premises and the owner of the premises did not take the necessary steps to provide security. For example, if the victim is renting an apartment and someone breaks into their home and commits a sexual assault, the landlord of the building may be held liable.
Working with a knowledgeable sexual assault lawyer in Pennsylvania is the best way to ensure all options for maximum compensation are attempted. KBA Attorneys understand how sexual assault lawsuits work and we will use our years of combined experience to fight for the recovery of our clients
Filing a Civil Lawsuit Against Perpetrators
If there has already been a criminal prosecution of the perpetrator, the victim may still file a civil lawsuit. Some of the facts that were proven at the criminal trial may be introduced as elements in a civil case. While the case must still be proven in court, a civil case has a lower burden of proof than a criminal one. In some instances, it may be worthwhile for the victim to file a civil lawsuit if the alleged perpetrator has been acquitted in a criminal trial.
Speak With a Pennsylvania Sexual Assault Lawyer Today
While it is difficult to focus after a sexual assault, one should consider their legal options. Sexual assault lawyers at KBA Attorneys can help victims focus on the legal aspects of their ordeal to the greatest extent possible. Our firm is experienced in helping victims of sexual assault achieve justice through the civil court system. We fight for our clients and pursue the best possible outcomes on their behalf. Contact KBA Attorneys as a first step to achieving justice for the victims that suffer.
Call or fill out an online form to receive a free and 100% confidential case evaluation.
- Office On Women’s Health. “Sexual Assault”, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/sexual-assault-and-rape/sexual-assault. Accessed May 9, 2019.
- FindLaw. “Sexual Assault Overview”, Thomson Reuters, https://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/sexual-assault-overview.html. Accessed May 9, 2019.
- RAINN. “Sexual Assault Laws and Court Decisions”, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, https://www.rainn.org/sexual-assault-laws-and-court-decisions. Accessed May 9, 2019.
- RAINN. “Scope of the Problem: Statistics”, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem. Accessed May 10, 2019.
- WCSAP. “HOW OFTEN DOES IT HAPPEN?”, Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, https://www.wcsap.org/help/about-sexual-assault/how-often-does-it-happen. Accessed May 10, 2019.
- Joyful Heart Foundation. “Sexual Assault and Rape Statistics”, Joyful Heart Foundation, http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/learn/sexual-assault-and-rape/about-issue/who-does-sexual-assault-affect. Accessed May 10, 2019.
- NSVRC. “Statistics about sexual violence”, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf. Accessed May 10, 2019.