Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Survivors of Sexual Assault Handbook

You have the option of filing a civil lawsuit. By doing this, you could possibly be awarded monetary damages. Here are some key points to keep in mind about this option:

  • You will need to hire an attorney.
  • You do not have to pursue criminal charges in order to file a civil lawsuit.
  • You will be the Plaintiff and the perpetrator will be the Defendant.
  • The process can take 2-5 years to complete.
  • If the defendant is found guilty in the criminal trial, the only issue in the civil trial is over the type and amount of damages you should receive.
  • If the defendant was found not guilty in a criminal proceeding, or if there was no criminal proceeding, then the plaintiff only needs to prove that the defendant committed wrong by a “preponderance of the evidence”, rather than beyond a “reasonable doubt”.  “Preponderance of evidence” assumes that something has more likely than not happened, or that something is over 50% likely to have happened, whereas “reasonable doubt” assumes that there is no plausible reason to believe otherwise.”  Therefore, it is generally easier to prove a “preponderance of evidence” compared to “reasonable doubt.”
  • Your sexual history may be brought into the trial.


The goal of a civil suit is to compensate the survivor for injury caused by the action of the defendant. If the defendant is found responsible in the civil action, an award of damages may be compensatory, punitive, or both. The goal of compensatory damages is to pay for the losses suffered by the victim. The primary purpose of punitive damages is to punish and deter criminals or third parties.