California Rape Laws: Your Rights as a Survivor
Survivors of rape have endured a terrible injustice. They face a long journey of physical and emotional healing that takes great courage. Steps to healing may involve survivors working with a physician, a therapist, and even a lawyer as they work through layers of harm.
While taking legal action may not seem easy, survivors can take this courageous step to bring their rapist to justice. Survivors have rights under California rape laws against the person who assaulted them, even if the rapist wasn’t criminally convicted. Claiming your legal rights as a survivor and holding the person who harmed you accountable can feel powerful.
At Boucher LLP, our attorneys help survivors seek justice. As survivors share their stories, they take back their power and begin to heal. We know that confronting your rapist can feel painful, but when you’re ready to speak out, it can break down barriers and empower your emotional recovery. You won’t have to take action alone.
Our attorneys for California sexual abuse survivors will stand beside you, serving as friends to lean on and advocates to protect you as we seek justice together. Contact us online or call (818) 340-5400 today to learn how we can assist you.
Here, we’ll explain your rights as a survivor and how we can help you take legal action.
What Is the Definition of Rape in California?
California law defines rape as an act of sexual intercourse that takes place against your will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of injury. This California definition of rape includes the forceful sexual act most people think of when they hear the word rape. However, sexual acts without the use of force can also be rape.
If a person threatens to harm you or someone you love if you don’t agree to sex, this coercion means the sexual act is rape. Other threats, such as the threat to have someone arrested or deported unless you have sex, can also lead to rape.
When you lack the ability to consent to sex, it is considered rape. For instance, a person with a mental disorder or disability may not legally consent to sex. Similarly, a child can’t consent. If someone drugged you or intentionally intoxicated you or you were unconscious during sex, this is also rape. Fraud during a sexual act can also be rape, such as when a medical professional penetrates a patient unnecessarily or when someone lies to you about their identity to induce you to have sex.
How Common Is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is alarmingly common, but most survivors don’t speak out about their experiences.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), these statistics reflect sexual assault occurrence:
- Someone is assaulted every 68 seconds;
- 80% of survivors know their rapist;
- 60,000 children are assaulted each year;
- Nearly half a million Americans age 12 and older are sexually assaulted each year;
- One in six American women is a survivor of rape or attempted rape;
- Ninety percent of rape survivors are female; and
- More than half of sexual assaults occur at or near the survivor’s home.
A stranger may have assaulted you, or you may have known your rapist. Spouses, domestic partners, family members, and friends also commit rape. Just because you know the person who forced you to have sex doesn’t mean it was consensual. Most survivors know the person who raped them.
How Can a Lawsuit Help?
Do you feel that you’ve lost your voice after your sexual assault? A lawsuit can help you gain it back. When you confront your rapist and speak out to protect others, you retrieve some of the power that was taken from you. It feels painful to share your story, but through the pain, you can find a path to healing.
A lawsuit can help in these ways:
- Give you a platform to share your story;
- Allow you to expose your rapist’s heinous action;
- Warn others about your rapist;
- Increase awareness of sexual assault; and
- Make your rapist pay for what they did.
A civil lawsuit does not put your rapist behind bars, but it can still give you a sense of justice and help you heal. While the State punishes a rapist through criminal prosecution, a civil lawsuit allows you to confront your rapist and pursue the resources you need to become whole again.
What Do You Need to Prove?
Whether or not your rapist received a criminal conviction, you can file a California civil sexual assault lawsuit. A civil lawsuit has a lower burden of proof than a criminal prosecution, which means it’s easier to hold your rapist accountable in civil court.
In a civil sexual assault claim, you need to prove that the defendant “more likely than not” had sex with you against your will. As we discussed, California rape law specifies that this action could have taken place by force, by coercion, or when you lacked the ability to legally consent.
When Should You File a Claim?
You should file a claim when you are ready to hold your rapist accountable for your harm. Each survivor experiences a different healing process. Some people may feel ready to speak out soon after their trauma, while others may need years to process before sharing the story of their assault. Rape recovery comes with no right or wrong timeline, and only you know when you’re ready to take action.
Our attorneys will never rush you to file a claim before you’re ready. However, the State of California places time limits on when you can file a sexual assault claim. The statute of limitations provided by rape laws in California differs depending on whether you were assaulted as a child or adult.
Statute of Limitations for Adults
If you were 18 or older when the assault occurred, you have 10 years from the date of the rape to file a claim. If you didn’t know you were raped, you have three years from the date of discovering your assault to file a claim. For example, let’s say that Mike raped Jane while she was sleeping. Jane didn’t learn of this assault for 15 years, putting her outside the 10-year time limit. However, since Jane didn’t know that Mike raped her, she has three more years to file a claim, meaning she must file by 18 years from the date when she was assaulted.
These time limits apply to rapes occurring in 2019 and after. If you were raped before this California rape statute took effect, you have a shorter time to file.
Statute of Limitations for Children
If you were raped as a minor, you have longer to file a claim. You can file a claim until you turn 40 years old. If you discovered that you were raped as a child after you turn 40, you have five years from the date you became aware of the incident to file a claim.
Contact a Knowledgeable Sexual Assault Attorney in California
Rape survivors deserve justice. When you’re ready to confront your accuser or just learn more about your legal rights after rape in California, contact our attorneys for a consultation. Boucher LLP advocates for sexual assault survivors, representing individual survivors as well as groups of survivors speaking out about their abuse by people in power.
We relentlessly pursue justice and empower you to take the steps you need to heal. We listen with compassion, connect you with resources to help your journey, and passionately advocate for you. To take a step toward a whole and strong tomorrow, call (818) 340-5400 or contact us today.