For over 30 years, hundreds of gymnasts were treated and sexually abused by Dr. Larry Nassar. But it was not until 2016, that Nassar was finally charged and indicted for criminal sexual conduct with minors. In addition, an FBI investigation found more than 37,000 images of child pornography and a video of Nassar sexually molesting underage girls. Nassar was convicted and sentenced to up to 175 years.
Following the criminal charges, more than 150 federal and state civil lawsuits were filed against Nassar and his employer – Michigan State University – alleging the University knew about the abuse but tried to look away or take steps to hide it. In March 2018, Michigan State University agreed to pay $500 million to settle lawsuits brought by 332 victims of Larry Nassar. This was the largest amount of money in history settled by a university for a sexual abuse case.
While a principal purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish and deter offenders, the primary purpose of our civil justice system is to make those who have been damaged, whole. However, the pain and suffering caused by sexual abuse is immense, personal, and permanent. Just as humanity finds the selling and buying of people to be repulsive, so is the notion that money can serve as an actual remedy for sexual assault. The fact is, that it is not an actual remedy. Rather, it is a legal remedy.
Reasons People Only Pursue Criminal Justice After Sexual Assault
Sexual assault and abuse are highly unreported crimes. Understandably many victims are reluctant to come forward. Those who do, may only pursue criminal justice. But there is an importance in sexual abuse victims coming forward to pursue civil justice as well. In our experience the decision to forego civil justice after sexual assault or abuse is often based on three factors:
- Lack of knowledge that civil justice was something they could pursue;
- A fear that if they pursued a civil lawsuit they would be seen as some who is “just looking for money”; and
- They are concerned that if they file a civil judgment it will become public and everyone will know.
These misconceptions play a huge role in victims not coming forward civilly or delaying coming forward for so long that the case can no longer be civilly pursued.
Reasons to Pursue a Civil Claim for Sexual Abuse
The reality is that pursuing both criminal and civil justice has many beneficial aspects.
- It gives the victim the opportunity to hold the defendant accountable.
- While the burden of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt” (the highest-burden), the burden in a civil case is a mere “preponderance of the evidence” (the lowest burden). A finding of not guilty in a criminal case does not mean the defendant can’t be held civilly liable.
- A civil judgment may provide the only source of compensation necessary for the victim’s treatment.
- A civil action may be the only opportunity to hold responsible third parties accountable.
- A civil judgment can provide incentive for responsible organizations to design and implement sexual prevention measures.
- A civil judgment can deter responsible organizations from engaging in negligent conduct that facilitates sexual abuse.
- It can be therapeutic for the victim to have their status legally affirmed. Many victims feel helpless and diminished and they internalize guilt. Civil proceedings can help them regain a sense of power and control.
- If the criminal case results in a successful guilty verdict, it may bar the defendant from challenging the civil claim (if the state proved he was guilty of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, he certainly was guilty by the civil standard).
- Very often a civil sex assault suit can proceed without identifying the victim by her real name. Instead the pseudonym “Jane Doe” is commonly used. Most newspapers also have policies of not releasing the names of victims.
- Punitive damages are often available to victims. These damages are considered punishment and are awarded when the defendant’s behavior is especially harmful. These damages cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
- Coming forward can help bring public awareness to the defendant – which can lead to more victims speaking out. It can also increase awareness about sexual exploitation in our communities and help drive action to combat it.
A civil judgment can help restore economic losses that a victim suffered, like medical bills and lost wages. It can also help provide compensation for ongoing or future treatment. And while money does not remedy the pain and suffering of a victim, it can serve as legal affirmation. Holding an offender economically accountable, can bring a sense of justice, which can be therapeutic and healing.
Rely on Boyk Law Offices for Caring Guidance With Coming Forward After a Sexual Assault
If you or a loved one suffers sexual assault or abuse, our team is here to lend a compassionate hand toward seeking the justice you deserve. Reach out to our team today to learn more about your options for pursuing criminal and civil justice.