Pursuing Damages in Statutory Rape Cases

Written by Christi Hayes and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

For a growing number of victims of statutory rape, the pursuit of justice has taken the form of civil lawsuits. Because the standard of evidence in civil lawsuits is lower than in criminal cases, many rape victims find a civil suit to sometimes be a more effective way of ensuring that an alleged perpetrator of statutory rape is held accountable for his or her actions. This article will briefly look at why victims of statutory rape may want to pursue a civil lawsuit and what they can expect in terms of damages typically awarded in successful suits.

 

Pursuing a civil lawsuit

It is important to note that in cases of statutory rape, the victim may have given consent to sexual intercourse, but because he or she was under the age of consent at the time the sexual act itself is considered rape. Both criminal and civil cases involving allegations of rape may be pursued through either state or federal courts depending on the circumstances of the allegations. The vast majority of cases, both on the criminal and civil level, however, are pursued in state courts. Be aware, as well, of the difference between a criminal and civil case. While in a criminal case it is the state that attempts to prosecute the defendant, in a civil lawsuit the survivor of the alleged rape launches a private suit against the defendant.

While rape survivors can pursue monetary damages against the defendant, prison cannot be imposed as a penalty in a civil lawsuit. Statutory rape survivors can pursue a civil lawsuit against perpetrators regardless of whether or not the perpetrator has been found guilty of rape (or a similar charge) in a criminal court. At the same time, however, successfully suing the defendant is generally easier if that defendant has already been found guilty of rape or sexual assault in a criminal court.

 

Damages awarded in a civil lawsuit

For survivors who are successful in their civil suits, the court will award them damages for the injuries they suffered. Damages take the form of monetary awards that are to be paid by the defendant. Because each state differs in the amount of damages that can be awarded, it is impossible to give a specific picture of what a statutory rape victim can expect in terms of monetary damages following a successful civil lawsuit. Furthermore, the amount of damages that a rape survivor actually receives and the decision to even launch a lawsuit in the first place may depend on the amount of assets the defendant has.

In most states, victims are limited to pursuing compensatory damages, which, as their name suggests, are meant to compensate victims for the injuries they have suffered. Punitive damages, wherein the defendant is ordered to pay damages as a punishment for the injury he or she subjected the victim to, are fairly rare in statutory rape cases. Some of the claims that may be pursued in a civil case alleging statutory rape include claims for personal injury, medical expenses, lost wages, assault and/or battery, Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) claims, emotional harm, loss of consortium, sexual abuse, and others.

The choice of whether or not to pursue a civil suit involving damages in statutory rape is a difficult one. In addition to the damages awarded, such suits may help victims regain a sense of control and purpose over a situation that may leave them feeling helpless and confused. A qualified attorney should be consulted beforehand, however, to discuss the feasibility of pursuing legal action involving any accusations of rape and/or sexual assault.

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