There is an epidemic of sexual abuse in our country. Statistics reported by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reveal that each year in the U.S., more than 320,000 people – men and women – are sexually assaulted or raped, and 63,000 children fall victim to sexual abuse. The stark reality is that a sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds. In addition to suffering from the emotional trauma sexual assault and rape causes, victims of sexual assault also suffer economically due to medical expenses and lost income. The CDC estimates the total economic burden of rape in the United States to be 3.1 trillion dollars.
Louisiana and federal criminal laws are there to protect us, but because only a small percentage of perpetrators are sent to jail, justice in the criminal courts is rarely achieved. Fortunately, victims of sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse can seek compensation from their assailants through lawsuits in civil court.
How Does the Law Define Sexual Assault?
Various forms of sexual assault and battery are considered felonies and misdemeanors under the Louisiana Criminal Code, all of which involve some form of non-consensual sexual touching such as:
- Rape (first degree, second degree, third degree, and statutory)
- Child molestation
- Sex trafficking
- Sexual battery
- Oral sexual battery
But criminal sexual abuse and exploitation can also occur in the absence of physical contact when the perpetrator:
- Shows sexually explicit images to a child
- Reveals oneself sexually
- Asks the victim to reveal himself or herself sexually
- Records sexually inappropriate video or images of the victim for personal use or distribution
- Requests the victim to take inappropriate pictures of himself or herself to send to the perpetrator
Regardless of whether or not the perpetrator has been criminally charged, the victim is entitled to file a civil lawsuit to recover damages for the physical, emotional and psychological harms they have suffered. Sometimes, a plaintiff can also bring a civil sexual abuse lawsuit against an organization such as an employer, a religious organization, or a prison or correctional facility, The organization may be held responsible for the abuse when the organization’s negligence allowed the abuse to occur or when the organization turned a blind eye to the abuse.
Sexual Assault and Sexual Abuse Damages
A civil suit can never reverse the harm caused by a sexual predator, but damages recovered in a civil lawsuit can hold the assailant financially accountable and help with the financial burden and devastating consequences resulting from a sexual assault.
The law refers to damages for which an objective dollar amount can be determined, such as medical bills and expenses, lost wages, and quantifiable monetary losses as “special damages.” Damages that are not as easily calculated, like the victim’s pain and suffering from physical injuries, and mental anguish, are referred to as “general damages.” Victims of sexual abuse or exploitation are entitled to recover both special damages and general damages. Frequently, these damages will include:
- Compensation for physical pain and suffering
- Compensation for emotional pain and suffering, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- The costs of past and future medical care and treatment
- Loss of income and earning opportunities
- Loss of enjoyment of life
The victim’s immediate family members may also be entitled to general damages when the relationship has been negatively affected as a result of the abuse. In the tragic situations where the victim died or committed suicide as a result of the sexual assault, the estate can seek damages for wrongful death.
In certain circumstances, such as when an adult sexually abuses a minor, Louisiana law also allows for punitive damages to be imposed.
Limited Time Period for Filing the Lawsuit
Regardless of whether criminal charges were brought against the attacker – the law gives you a limited amount of time to bring a civil lawsuit.
Typically, a victim of an injury in Louisiana has one year from the date of injury to file a civil lawsuit. However, Louisiana law provides that victims of sexual assault may file their lawsuit up to 3 years after the date the abuse occurred, or up to 3 years after the date the victim is notified of the identity of the perpetrator by law enforcement or a judicial agency. In certain types of cases involving sexual abuse of a child, the victim may file their lawsuit up to 10 years after the date they reached 18 years of age.
The time limitation in which the law allows a victim to bring a lawsuit will be different depending on the specifics of each case. In some cases, certain claims may be lost if the lawsuit is not filed within the first year. In other cases, there may be extenuating circumstances that allow a victim to file a lawsuit even after the time period that normally applies has passed. If you or a loved one was raped, sexually assaulted, sexually abused, or sexually exploited, it is best to speak with an attorney as soon as possible so that they can review the facts of your case and determine which time limitations will apply.