If you are a survivor of sexual abuse or sexual assault, you can pursue both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit. In order for the criminal charges to be laid, you will need the support of the police. Once the defendant is charged, a Crown Attorney will be assigned to your case, and the Crown Attorney will take over the management of your case in the criminal court.
With a civil lawsuit, you are the one who makes decisions about your case. You can decide when to contact a lawyer, and with that lawyer’s advice, you can decide who to sue, and when to sue.
Many survivors choose to contact the police first and pursue criminal charges before pursuing a civil lawsuit against the perpetrators. Sometimes the criminal charges result in convictions, but sometimes they do not. But here is the really important thing for you to know: Even if the defendant is ACQUITTED criminally, you may still be able to sue him or her with a lawsuit successfully!
In the course of my career, I have represented many, many plaintiffs who were unable to lay criminal charges, or whose criminal cases ended up with an acquittal for the defendant. The reason why criminal charges sometimes fail yet the same case may succeed with a lawsuit is the difference in the STANDARD OF PROOF required to prove your case.
In a criminal court, the Crown Attorney must establish that the defendant is guilty by proving “BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT” that the accused committed the criminal acts for which he/she is charged. In criminal cases, the judge or jury must be sure that the defendant did indeed commit the crime for which he/she is accused in order to convict the defendant of committing the crime.
In a lawsuit, you only need to prove that the defendant committed the acts you say happened based on a “BALANCE OF PROBABILITIES”. The “balance of probabilities” test is a far less demanding test than the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” test. You only need to prove that it is more likely than not that you are telling the truth regarding the abuse that you have suffered. So, if the judge or jury listening to your case is not 100% sure that the abuse happened, but they think that it probably happened, that is good enough. You win.
Don’t let an unsuccessful criminal verdict stop you from consulting with a lawyer to determine if you may still have a viable civil lawsuit against the defendant (or defendants) responsible for your abuse. There is no guarantee that your lawsuit will be successful if you were not successful criminally, but the odds are far better for you to succeed with a lawsuit than in criminal court.
And do not feel that you MUST file criminal charges. It is a perfectly legitimate and appropriate option for a survivor of abuse to move directly to a lawsuit, and not have the defendants charged criminally. The decision as to which route to pursue or if you wish to pursue both a lawsuit AND criminal charges are decisions that must be made by each survivor individually.
The survivor should consider his or her goals and objectives before making a final decision. If you are considering a lawsuit, it is recommended that you, at minimum, consult with a lawyer to learn as much as you can about your options before making a final decision.