Every 98 seconds someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.  About one in 10 children will be sexually abused before his or her 18th birthday. One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. These statistics demonstrate the pervasiveness of sexual crimes in our country.

Sexual abuse or sexual assault?

The term “sexual abuse” is typically used to describe conduct toward children rather than adults. It involves any sexual act with a child performed by an adult or, in some cases, an older child. Sexual abuse can include many different actions, including not just physical contact, but also such acts as making a child watch pornography. Every state has laws that recognize that children are not capable of giving informed consent to any sex act.

“Sexual assault” refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Consent may not be possible due to alcohol, drugs or some form of incapacitation. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services notes that "sexual assault can be verbal, visual or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention." Like sexual abuse, sexual assault can take many forms, including rape/attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching, and forcing a victim to perform sexual acts.

Sexual crimes can have traumatic and permanent effects on a victim’s life. Survivors often experience PTSD, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. They may also develop substance abuse issues. All these conditions can have a damaging effect on the victim’s education, relationships, job retention, health and financial stability.

Criminal Proceedings Versus Civil Lawsuits

Sexual abuse and sexual assault are criminal offenses which can result in convicted defendants being incarcerated, fined and required to register as sex offenders. While criminal convictions are designed to punish and deter, they fail to compensate victims.

HKQ Law Attorney Joseph A. Quinn, Jr. explains that, “A victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault may also file a civil lawsuit against the alleged perpetrator and under appropriate circumstances may file a claim against other persons or entities.   Such a lawsuit is usually the only way that a sexual assault victim can get monetary compensation for the harm suffered and start to get back on the road to healing.”

Third-party defendants

A civil lawsuit enables a plaintiff to make legal claims against entities or persons other than the alleged perpetrator. For instance, a company may be civilly liable if it knew or should have known about sexual wrongdoing by an employee and failed to take corrective action.  Such claims can include, but are not limited to, religious institutions, churches, colleges, hotels, bars, hospitals, landlords, and even governmental agencies.   (With regard to claims against governmental agencies, the Plaintiff would have to overcome governmental immunity.)  An example of a third party, other than an employer, who could be liable to the victim is a building owner who fails to maintain a building, as a result of which the perpetrator gains access to the building and to the victim.


For survivors of sexual abuse or sexual assault, a successful civil lawsuit can provide a certain measure of closure. However, the primary benefit is to provide victims with the financial resources they need for the services that are crucial to rebuild their lives. Damages, the monetary awards given to a successful plaintiff, fall into three categories:

Economic: Covers monetary expenditures necessitated as a result of the defendant’s wrongdoing which can include such things are medical bills, therapy and counseling, prescriptions and lost wages.

Non-economic: Compensates for physical pain, emotional anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of consortium.

Punitive: Includes damages designed to punish defendants for their willful or recklessly indifferent actions and to deter others from similar future misconduct.

Statutes of Limitations

Victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault must realize that they must file suit prior to the expiration of the Statute of Limitations or might otherwise be forever barred from pursuing their claim.  For years, the Statute of Limitations for adult victims was two (2) years from the date of the alleged incident and for victims under the age of eighteen (18), the Statute of Limitations required that claims be filed prior to the victim attaining his or her thirtieth (30th) birthday.

It is important to understand that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, on September 26, 2018, passed overwhelmingly a Child Sex Abuse Bill designed to expand the time for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file suit.  If this Bill is passed by the Senate, it would eliminate all criminal Statute of Limitations and extend the deadline for civil cases to age fifty (50).  Most importantly, the bill would permit past victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault to have an additional two (2) years to file their civil suits. 


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