Sexual assault is a violation of basic human rights, and survivors deserve justice and support. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you have the right to seek justice and hold accountable those responsible for the harm you’ve endured. This article is a guide to help you understand what to expect when filing a sexual assault lawsuit. We will walk you through the process, explain the difference between civil and criminal cases, discuss liability, and encourage you to take the necessary steps toward reclaiming your voice and seeking legal support.

Understanding Civil Claims for Sexual Assault

A civil lawsuit for sexual assault involves seeking compensation and justice through the civil court system. Unlike criminal cases—which are brought by the state and can result in criminal penalties for the perpetrator—civil tort cases focus on compensating survivors for harm suffered from the assault and, in certain cases, obtaining injunctive relief to prevent further harm.

The Process of Filing a Sexual Assault Lawsuit

The process of filing a sexual assault civil lawsuit involves several key steps, each of which is essential for building a strong case and seeking justice for the survivor. It’s important to note that the process of filing a sexual assault lawsuit can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, the laws of the jurisdiction, and other factors. If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you should seek the guidance of experienced attorneys who specialize in sexual assault cases. Such professional assistance will help you navigate this process effectively and advocate for your rights. Let’s look at an overview of the typical process.

Initial Consultation

The journey begins with an initial consultation with a sexual assault attorney. During this meeting, you will discuss the details of the assault, your injuries and damages, any evidence you may have, and your goals for pursuing legal action. The attorney will assess the strength of your case and may explain your legal rights and options.


The attorney will conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the assault. This may involve gathering evidence such as medical records, police reports, witness statements, surveillance footage, and any other relevant information that supports your potential case. The attorney will advise you as to whether they may be able to assist you.

Drafting the Complaint

If retained to provide legal services relating to your claims, your attorney will draft a legal document known as a complaint or petition. This document outlines the details of the assault, the damages you’ve suffered, and the relief you are seeking. Damages can include physical injuries, emotional trauma, medical expenses, and lost wages. As relief, you might seek compensation for such damages, punitive damages, or injunctive relief.

Filing the Civil Lawsuit for Sexual Assault

Once your attorney finalizes your complaint, they will file it with the appropriate court and serve it on the person or parties you are suing for the assault, called the defendant or defendants. The defendant will then have a certain period of time to respond to the complaint. The defendant may challenge the complaint or may answer the complaint with alleged defenses.


During the discovery phase, both sides exchange information and evidence related to the case. This may include written interrogatories (questions), requests for documents, depositions (sworn testimony obtained during a proceeding in person or by remote means), and expert reports. Discovery helps each side gather the necessary information to support their arguments and prepare for trial.

Pre-Trial Motions

Before trial, both parties may file motions with the court to address specific legal issues or evidentiary disputes. These motions can include motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgment, and motions to exclude or admit certain evidence.

Settlement Negotiations

Throughout the litigation process, there may be opportunities for settlement negotiations between the parties. Your attorney will advocate for a fair settlement that compensates you for your damages and avoids the need for a trial. However, if the parties cannot reach a mutually acceptable resolution, your case will proceed to trial.


During the trial, both parties present their evidence, put their witnesses on the stand to testify, and make their legal arguments. A judge or jury will then make a decision based on the evidence presented and applicable law.

Post-Trial Proceedings

Depending on the outcome of the trial, either party may file post-trial motions or appeals. Your attorney will continue to represent your interests throughout these proceedings until they resolve your case.

Civil vs. Criminal Cases

It’s important to distinguish between civil and criminal cases in sexual assault matters. While criminal cases focus on punishment and accountability for the perpetrator, civil cases center on providing compensation and other relief, including hopefully some feeling of validation for the survivor. These two legal processes are separate but can occur concurrently and may influence each other.

Liability in Sexual Assault Cases

When filing a sexual assault lawsuit, it is crucial to bring your case against the correct parties—i.e., the liable party or parties. The perpetrator of the assault should undoubtedly be held responsible, but there may be other individuals, groups, or institutions that enabled the behavior. 

Institutions can be held liable for sexual assault through various legal theories and principles. It’s important to note that proving institutional liability for sexual assault can be complex, requiring thorough investigation, legal analysis, and evidence gathering. Survivors of sexual assault considering legal action should seek the assistance of experienced attorneys who specialize in civil sexual assault cases. This gives you an advantage in navigating the legal complexities and helps you advocate for your rights.

Here are some common ways in which institutions may be held accountable.


Institutions have a duty to provide a safe environment for individuals under their care or within their premises. If they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual assault or respond appropriately to reports of misconduct, you could potentially hold them liable for negligence. Such failures could include inadequate security measures, lack of proper staff training for handling complaints, or ignoring red flags that could have prevented the assault.

Failure to Supervise

Institutions such as schools, daycares, or residential facilities have a responsibility to supervise their employees and ensure they do not engage in inappropriate behavior or abuse. If an institution fails to properly supervise its staff and a sexual assault occurs as a result, you can hold them liable for negligent supervision.

Vicarious Liability

Under the legal principle of vicarious liability, survivors can hold institutions responsible for their employees’ or agents’ actions if the assault occurred within the scope of their employment or duties. Put simply, this means that institutions could be liable for the actions of their employees or representatives.

Inadequate Policies and Procedures

Institutions must have clear policies and procedures in place for preventing and addressing sexual assault. If institutional policies are inadequate or if they fail to follow their own procedures when handling reports of assault, you could hold them liable for their negligence.

Institutional Knowledge

If an institution had prior knowledge of a pattern of sexual misconduct or complaints against an individual within their organization and failed to take appropriate action, you could seek to hold them liable.

Suing for Sexual Assault 

We understand that filing a sexual assault lawsuit can be a complex and emotional process, but you don’t have to face it alone. If you’re considering filing a sexual assault lawsuit, we encourage you to reach out to Boucher, LLP. Our experienced team understands the sensitivity of these cases and is dedicated to providing compassionate and effective legal representation for our clients. With the right legal support, you can navigate the legal system with confidence and assert your rights as a survivor. Take the first step towards healing and accountability by seeking the guidance of a trusted attorney.