Every 68 seconds, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. Annually, that adds up to about 464,000 victims, not including children under 12 years old. Navigating the aftermath of the crime can be difficult for survivors, especially seeking justice against the perpetrator who violated their trust and safety. Only about 31 percent of sexual assault victims report the crime to law enforcement. Some fear retaliation or worry people won’t take them seriously. Others are aware of the disappointing criminal justice system statistics: For every 1,000 sexual assaults, 25 perpetrators go to jail or prison — and 975 walk free. Many survivors don’t realize that pursuing a sexual assault criminal case isn’t the only option. Civil cases operate differently but can still help New Jersey sexual assault victims get the justice they deserve.
Under New Jersey law, sexual assault is defined as an “act of sexual penetration.” Other sexually violent crimes include unwanted touching, attempted rape, and forcing someone to perform a sexual act. These crimes often affect people in ways that other offenses do not. Survivors say they feel ashamed and convinced they’ve done something wrong or guilty that they somehow invited the abuse upon themselves.
Some survivors downplay or minimize the trauma they’ve experienced in the aftermath, insisting that it wasn’t severe and could have been worse. Whether civil or criminal, taking any action might be the last thing on someone’s mind after a sexual assault. It can be excruciatingly difficult to recount the details of a violent crime and face an offender again, which is why so many don’t pursue legal justice. Survivors may also need time to process what they’ve experienced before they feel ready to share it with anyone else.
How Do New Jersey Criminal & Civil Sexual Assault Cases Differ?
Civil and criminal sexual assault cases shouldn’t be pitted against each other or treated like an either/or scenario because they often go hand in hand. Survivors can still pursue criminal charges after a civil case, and the reverse also applies.
In New Jersey criminal sexual assault cases, a perpetrator is held accountable to the state for breaking the law and can be sent to jail. You must prove a perpetrator’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or show that there’s no other reasonable explanation for the crime that occurred.
The difference with civil sexual assault cases in New Jersey is that the perpetrator or another legally responsible entity is held accountable to the victim and must pay money. Civil cases must meet a preponderance of evidence standard or show that it’s more likely than not that the offense took place. Civil cases also have a lower burden of proof than criminal cases.
How Long Do You Have to File a Sexual Assault Case in New Jersey?
In May 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed S477/A3648 into law in a massive victory for sexual assault survivors. The law extended the statute of limitations for civil action in sexual assault cases to seven years. Previously, adult survivors only had a two-year timeframe to seek civil action. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse can now file a lawsuit against an individual or an institution that somehow was involved in causing the harm have until age 55 or seven years from the discovery of the trauma.
Murphy also created a two-year window for all sex abuse survivors, no matter their age or when the harm occurred, who would previously be unable to bring lawsuits due to statute of limitations. It ends November 30, 2021.
The criminal statute of limitations in New Jersey was eliminated for most sexual offenses or assaults in 1996. For survivors whose abuse occurred five years or less prior to 1996, they too may be able to bring criminal charges.
Victims of sexual assault should contact an experienced New Jersey sexual abuse lawyer to learn how civil sexual assault lawsuits can get the compensation they deserve. Sexual assault can bring consequences like post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. Along with the physical and emotional side effects, there’s a tremendous financial impact. The lifetime cost of rape is $122,461 per victim, including medical expenses and lost productivity. Recovering monetary compensation in a sexual assault case can be difficult if the perpetrator doesn’t have many resources or assets, but it’s not impossible.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault in New Jersey and would like to discuss possible legal options, contact D’Arcy Johnson Day toll-free at 866-327-2952 or online for a free, confidential consultation.
From sexual abuse matters to personal injury and workers compensation, Jessica brings a wealth of experience to her practice at D’Arcy Johnson Day. Her fluency in both English and Spanish enables her to help so many members of the community, as she focuses on accident and personal injury cases, work injuries, medical malpractice, immigration, criminal law, and municipal court proceedings among other areas of practice.