Sexual Abuse - Plaintiff Law

Legal Rights of Sexual Abuse Survivors

This content contains sensitive subject matter related to sexual abuse.

After suffering sexual violence, survivors of sexual assault may feel like they are all alone. Law enforcement may not take your case seriously, or it can be difficult finding victim services. Any reports of sexual abuse should be taken seriously and victims should be protected.

It’s also important to remember that victims of sexual assault have legal rights. This includes civil rights to pursue a claim for damages in civil court. A civil sexual abuse claim can help survivors even if the criminal case falls through. For more information about sexual abuse victim rights, talk to an experienced sexual abuse attorney for help.

A civil lawsuit is separate from the criminal justice system. The civil legal system allows someone to sue for financial compensation after abuse. In a civil claim, you can recover money to pay for any medical bills, mental health counseling, and pain and suffering.

A civil case is part of the public record. Many survivors of sexual abuse are hesitant to file a civil lawsuit because they are concerned about their privacy. If you have a lawyer to represent you in a lawsuit, they have a duty of confidentiality to keep anything you tell them private. You can talk to an attorney about your concerns without any risk of violating your privacy.

What Information Is Confidential?

Your attorney-client privacy protections are absolute. Your communications with an attorney, even those during your initial consultation, are private unless you waive the privilege. Anything you say to your attorney will be kept private.

Victims of abuse generally have a right to confidentiality for records and information from rape crisis centers, medical providers, and therapists. However, if you file a lawsuit for personal injuries, it will generally mean you waive your physician-client privilege. This is because your injuries are an issue in the lawsuit, and the defendant can get information about your injuries.

Your attorney can also ask for a protective order from your alleged abuser, so the information will only be available to the parties in the lawsuit, and not to the public. However, a protective order or restraining order is at the discretion of the judge. Talk to your attorney about what information you have to provide and what is protected.

What Information Do I Have to Provide in a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit?

If you do go forward with a lawsuit, there are many private things you will have to talk about. As part of a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff and defendant have to provide relevant evidence to each other. Evidence that could become part of the court record in a sexual abuse case might include:

  • Medical provider records
  • Mental health records
  • Police reports
  • Past sexual history
  • Criminal record

There may be ways to keep some of your information private. There are some exceptions to public court records, including when a plaintiff can use a fictitious name like Jane Doe and keep the records under court seal.

Can I Keep My Name Off the Court Record?

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the title of the lawsuit has to have the names of all parties. However, there are limited exceptions where someone can use a pseudonym. The court may consider factors including:

  • Age of the plaintiff
  • Sensitive and personal information
  • Risk of retaliation

Can I Keep Sexual Assault Evidence Private?

Evidence is any information or item that makes the existence of a fact more or less likely. In general, evidence that is relevant to a case is part of the public record. You have to show compelling reasons for keeping the information private. However, some evidence can be reviewed away from the public courtroom setting.

An in-camera review means the judge will review information, evidence, or images privately in the judge’s chambers. This is generally done with the judge and attorneys only and not in front of the public or any media. This will allow you to keep some information partly private.

Can I Have the Civil Lawsuit Sealed?

A sealed court record means that the information in the case is not available to the public. Your attorney may be able to have your case or documents sealed, so the public cannot access the records. Talk to your attorney about what documents or records can be sealed in a sexual abuse case.

What Is Redacted in a Court Record?

Redaction means information is hidden in a document. Other information can be included, but the redacted information is blacked-out and not visible. Some information in a court record can be redacted in civil sexual abuse cases.

For example, a minor’s name is generally protected from view for privacy reasons. The court filings may include the minor’s initials or the year of the individual’s birth so they cannot be easily identified. For good cause, the court may redact additional information and limit electronic access to a document filed in court.

Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights

The Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act of 2016 established federal rights for survivors of sexual assault and rape. Previously, many victims of crimes were left in the dark about forensic evidence by law enforcement agencies. The law gives survivors the right to have a rape kit preserved for a longer amount of time, be informed of any forensic exam results, and be notified when the evidence is destroyed.

Some states have additional protections for survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, including:

  • Right to advocacy
  • Access to rape crisis counseling
  • Notice of their rights by law enforcement
  • No charge for forensic medical examinations

Survivors of sexual assault have rights in the criminal justice process. Survivors also have civil rights and can file a civil lawsuit against their abuser. To find out about your rights, talk to a sexual abuse lawyer in your area. If you feel like you are all alone, your lawyer can assert your rights to ensure that you receive fair treatment.

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