Sexual assault laws are confusing to many victims, and they vary from state to state. Even in situations in which the victim has physical evidence to support the claim, many of these cases never are filed in criminal court. It is important to understand the sexual assault laws as well as the potential for obtaining legal remedies if you have been a victim. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler might be able to advise you about your rights. Here are four things that you should know about sexual assault laws.
1. Each state has its own statute of limitation.
Every state has a statute of limitations, which is the time period within which a lawsuit can be filed or a crime report can be made. In the case of a sexual assault, some states only allow victims a period of a few years to file criminal cases while others allow decades. If the victims were minors at the time of the offenses, the statutes of limitations differ. Newly discovered DNA evidence may also change the statute of limitations if the perpetrator was previously unknown.
2. Many sexual assault cases are never prosecuted.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, fewer than half of all rapes are reported to law enforcement. Out of those that are reported, only 12 incidents will result in arrests. Among those who are arrested, just nine of the cases will be prosecuted, and only three of the perpetrators will serve more than one day in jail or prison.
In the criminal justice system, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime before the defendant can be found guilty. This burden of proof is much higher than the burden of proof that is required in civil cases. As a result, many prosecutors will not take cases that they have questions about whether they can win. Consequently, a greater number of sexual assault cases proceed through civil court instead of criminal court.
3. National hotlines are available to victims.
It can be very difficult to understand what to do after you have been the victim of a sexual assault. Whether you are wanting help to bring a criminal or civil case, there are many resources that are available to help you. Some of the available hotlines include the following:
- National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1-800-656-4673 – Connects victims with powerful resources
- Rape Survivors’ Law Project – Connects victims with pro bono lawyers
- Victims’ Rights law Center – Offers free legal counseling and access to medical help
4. The burden of proof is on the victim.
If your case is prosecuted in criminal court, you will go through an arduous process during which you will have to tell your story numerous times. The prosecutor has the burden of proof to prove that the defendant committed the crime. In some cases, physical evidence is not available to prove a definite link between the defendant and the crime. For example, some perpetrators force their victims to take showers and use condoms, washing away evidence that might otherwise have existed.
When physical evidence doesn’t exist, these cases often turn on the victims’ words versus those of her attackers. This can make the cases very difficult if the victims had any prior relationships with their attackers. When the victims are intoxicated, jurors will sometimes place blame on the victims even though the attacks were not their fault.
Get legal help
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, you might need legal help. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler might be able to offer you guidance about reporting what happened to you. They may also be able to assist you with filing a civil lawsuit against the attacker for the harms that you have suffered whether or not your case is criminally prosecuted. Call us today or complete our contact form to learn more about the rights that you might have.