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In California, victims of sexual assault are able to pursue justice through a civil case as well as a criminal case. Civil claims involving sexual violence are about much more than monetary compensation. They are often the only way for victims to hold the perpetrator accountable, achieve some measure of closure and help prevent similar things from happening to someone else. If you or a loved one were a victim on sexual violence or assault in Los Angeles, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP can help.
Our sexual assault attorneys are trauma informed advocates and have significant experience in representing victims of sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence. We want victims of sexual assault and their loved ones to know their legal options after sexual assault incidents.
Sexual Assault Penalties and Time Limits in California
Sexual assault is a broad term that can apply to various offenses, and it’s vital for Californians to understand the laws surrounding sexual assault in the state.
Those who commit sexual assaults should expect criminal prosecution from the state as well as civil actions from their victims.
Sex crimes are punishable under both California and federal law. Sexual assault crimes may fall under misdemeanor or felony classifications depending on several factors, the age of the victim being the most pertinent. In California, there is no longer a statute of limitations in criminal cases.
In addition to criminal cases, sexual assault victims are able to pursue justice and compensation through a civil claim. In California, anyone who has been a victim of sexual violence or assault may file a civil claim for damages, even in the absence of a criminal conviction or a police report. In certain cases, the families of victims may be eligible to file. Victims may be eligible for compensation for :
- Medical expenses. The victim can sue for the cost of necessary medical treatment resulting from the sexual assault. This may also apply to the cost of necessary ongoing psychological counseling or other forms of treatment.
- Lost income. If a sexual assault incident prevents a victim from working for an extended time or caused the victim to leave a job, the victim can sue for the wages lost as a result.
- Pain and suffering. California law recognizes the experience of sexual assault is traumatic and often leads to long-term psychological difficulties. The law allows victims to sue for their mental anguish, physical pain, and emotional distress.
- Punitive damages. The court will often dictate punitive damages for offenders who engage in intentionally harmful or egregiously negligent behaviors to dissuade similar behaviors in the future. The amount of punitive damages recoverable typically depends on the offender’s financial state.
Civil cases generally require victims of sexual abuse to file a claim within two years of the alleged incident ( much longer if the sexual abuse involves a minor). It is incredibly important for victims to preserve their rights and file a claim before the statute of limitations expires – failure to do so may bar you from pursuing a claim. Our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys can help you file a claim and make sure you don’t miss any deadlines.
Types of Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is a type of sexual violence that affects unfortunately affects thousands of men (yes men), women and children each year. In fact, in Los Angeles alone, there were nearly 2,400 reported rapes in 2017. This startling figure does not include many other types of sexual assault into account, including the vast number of unreported instances.
Under California Law, sexual assault typically refers to any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the victims consent. This includes instances when a victim is physically unable to consent, in cases of intoxication, unconsciousness, or physical disability for example. Sexual assault includes:
- Rape and attempted rape
- Forced sexual acts of any nature
- Grouping and unwanted touching,
- Any unwanted penetration of the victim
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual exploitation
In the case of forced assault, force is not limited physical pressure. Emotional coercion, manipulation, intimidation or other psychological force may also be used.
Institutional Sexual Abuse and Third Party Liability
According to statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), most sexual battery incidents occur between individuals who know one another. This may include intimate partners, relatives, business associates, or casual acquaintances. “Institutionalized” sexual abuse refers to a pattern of behaviors contained within an institution that effectively enables predatory and abusive practices. This term also refers to power dynamics, as many sexual battery perpetrators use positions of authority to commit abusive acts. Some examples may include:
- An employer who offers an employee preferential treatment in exchange for sexual favors or who routinely pressures a subordinate employee into sexual situations.
- An educator who “grooms” or otherwise coerces students into sexual situations.
- Parents or guardians who take advantage of their own children. It’s common for victims in such circumstances to rationalize their situations, further enabling the abuse to continue long-term.
- A coach who sexually abuses the athletes in his or her care under the guise of a medical examination.
- A doctor who sexually abuses patients under the guise of medical treatment. A recent example of this type of institutional sexual abuse is the case of Larry Nassar, a Michigan State University athletic doctor currently facing countless charges for several decades’ worth of sexual abuse of hundreds of women and girls in his care.
Situations such as these are particularly dangerous and heinous, because they regularly involve intimidation, threats, and other exploitative behaviors that can lead to long-lasting physical, psychological, and emotional damage. When a person in a position of authority such as a doctor, coach, teacher, or employer abuses that authority to commit sexual assault, he or she faces professional penalties such as loss of license to practice or restriction from future employment in a specific field along with the criminal penalties from the state and civil actions from victims. In addition, the institution may be liable if negligence led to the action.
Warning Signs of Sexual Assault
It’s crucial to know how to spot the signs of sexual assault or abuse, particularly among your loved ones. A sudden change in behavior or inexplicable injuries and medical symptoms could indicate the individual has experienced some type of sexual assault but does not feel comfortable speaking up about it. It’s very common for sexual abusers to use intimidation or threats to prevent their victims from speaking out, and this can create a prison of fear for victims. There are also warning signs you should keep in mind to protect yourself and others from potential sexual assault:
- Individuals who intend to commit sexual assault typically try to lull their victim into a false sense of security before making a move, or they may use flattery and attention to get the victim to lower his or her guard.
- Some offenders use alcohol or other substances to reduce resistance from their victims. An individual who appears focused on getting another person intoxicated may intend to do harm.
- Offenders will often attempt to isolate their victims, both for spontaneous attacks and as part of long-term abusive relationships. For example, a sexual assaulter may try to lure a victim away from a party or social gathering to commit a sexually abusive act, or an abuser may systematically remove his or her victim’s support system over time.
- Offenders often rely on manipulation and confusion to shift responsibility onto the victim after a sexual assault. This typically involves compelling the victim to believe it was a consensual act.
What to Do After a Sexual Assault
Victims may wonder what to do after experiencing a sexual assault, and one of the most important things one can do in this situation is to report it immediately. Some victims may feel scared to speak up about their experiences out of fear of retaliation, while others may simply believe they can forget about the incident and move on. These are dangerous lines of thinking, and although it may be extremely difficult for a victim to speak up about a sexual crime, doing so will increase the chances of the offender facing prosecution and conviction. Additionally, speaking up about sexual assault to the authorities as soon as it happens reduces the chances of the offender victimizing others in the future.
Time is also a critical factor when it comes to preserving evidence. Biological evidence gathering from the victim’s body, clothing, and personal belongings as well as from the scene of the incident can hasten an investigation and help bring the offender to justice. Victims of sexual assault should seek assistance from the police as soon as possible to start an investigation with the best chances of success. After reporting a sexual assault to the police and receiving medical treatment, the next step should be contacting a reliable Los Angeles sexual assault lawyer.
Do I Need an Attorney?
While the state will handle the criminal prosecution of the offender, an attorney will help a sexual assault victim build a civil claim. The criminal case will take care of sentencing while the civil action from the victim can secure compensation for the victim’s damages.
The right attorney can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of a Los Angeles sexual assault case. Attorneys often arrange for support services and other resources for victims in addition to handling their legal cases, and the team at Panish, Shea & Boyle, LLP is here to help. Contact us in Los Angeles today to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. We have a success rate of 99% thanks to our dedication to client recovery, and we want to put our skills and resources to work in your case.