What Is the Difference Between a Sexual Abuse Civil Lawsuit and Criminal Lawsuit?

The civil and criminal justice systems are different, with different goals and outcomes for survivors of child sexual abuse. In the United States, there are two separate bodies of law whose purpose is to deter or punish wrongdoing or to compensate the victims of wrongdoing. Criminal lawsuits are initiated by the government to deter or punish criminal acts, or behavior deemed by the government to be an offense against the public, society, or the state.

A criminal lawsuit can only be initiated by the federal or state government, even when the victim of a crime is an individual. A civil case, on the other hand, is initiated by an individual or private party who has been harmed by another individual or private party. A civil case is a mechanism for someone who has been harmed to seek justice and accountability from those who have caused them harm or even those responsible for allowing the harm to occur. While civil and criminal lawsuits are largely independent of each other, there may be some overlap between them. If you have been harmed, it is important to seek experienced counsel right away to discuss your legal options.

Can I Pursue a Civil Lawsuit if My Perpetrator is Dead? 

Yes, you can typically file a civil lawsuit, even if the perpetrator is deceased. However, to have confidence in what your legal options are, it’s best to speak with an attorney. Civil laws regarding child sexual abuse do more than hold the perpetrator accountable. Civil laws also hold guilty institutions who covered-up abuse and put additional children at risk accountable.

When you come forward and use the civil justice system, you can help stop the cycle of abuse in the churches, schools, or other institutions that may still be putting innocent children at risk today.

Plus, when you speak out, even if you do so anonymously, you can help other survivors of the same perpetrator who believe they are the only survivor know that they are not alone. Your coming forward in a civil case may also empower a child currently being abused to speak up.

So, yes, you can file a lawsuit against the organization that covered-up the crimes of sexual predators even if the predator is dead.

If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse, contact us to explore your legal options.

Can I Pursue a Criminal Lawsuit if My Perpetrator is Dead?

Unfortunately, since we cannot put a dead person in jail, our criminal justice system has no remedy when the perpetrator is dead. Although most civil lawsuits don’t support legal assistance if your perpetrator is dead, there are many resources available to help.

We recommend to still speak to an attorney to discuss civil court options that may be available. If the perpetrator is dead you can still make a big impact on institutions that potentially cover up sexual abuse.

Which Kind of Sexual Abuse Lawsuit is Better? Criminal or Civil?

Both civil cases and criminal cases are important for different reasons.

Civil suits and a civil court can provide justice, but only a criminal cases can put a perpetrator behind bars

However, a criminal case cannot expose wide-scale cover-up within an institution — that is the role of the civil justice system. Both kinds of cases are important and we encourage survivors to pursue all legal avenues that are open to them for justice and accountability.

Our attorneys and survivor advocates have decades of experience supporting survivors navigate their legal options.

Do Both Criminal Cases and Civil Cases go to Trial?

It depends on the specific circumstances of the case. Trial is always a possibility until a case reaches settlement, however the vast majority of civil cases are settled before a trial occurs.

In a criminal lawsuit, a state’s attorney office prosecutes the accused with the aim of imposing penalties such as jail time, probation, or fines. The criminal court process begins by the government and seeks to address violations of criminal law. A trial in a criminal case determines the guilt or innocence of the perpetrator, and if found guilty, the court will sentence accordingly.

A civil lawsuit is often initiated by victims seeking justice, even in situations where the perpetrator may be deceased or otherwise not present. These cases are handled in civil court, focusing not on criminal responsibility but on resolving grievances and securing remedies like compensation or injunctions. When parties cannot reach an agreement, a trial date is set, leading to a court date where evidence and arguments are presented before a jury. This process highlights the role of civil cases in providing a platform for individuals to file claims and pursue accountability, emphasizing the pursuit of justice through civil legal avenues.

Get Help Before Going to Civil or Criminal Court

Navigating a potential legal case can seem daunting. We want to help you with your criminal or civil case. Our team of professionals has worked on many types of cases and are prepared to assist you in your needs. If you’re uncertain about a legal dispute or pursuing a criminal or civil lawsuit, have questions about small claims court, or need information on a potential filing fee, don’t hesitate to contact our dedicated attorneys today.

Contact us for a free confidential conversation about how we can hold perpetrators and institutions accountable, and create a safer world for children now and in the future.

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