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Child Sexual Abuse and Civil Torts

There are two ways to go about litigation in a child sexual abuse case, through the civil justice system or the criminal justice system. [1] With Civil litigation the defendant is held responsible for personal damages against the victim and/or victim’s legal guardians (the plaintiffs), whereas criminal litigation “aims to hold the defendant accountable to the state” with the end result being jail time. [1]

Additionally, in a child molestation tort the plaintiff has the burden of proof that the defendant had “more likely than not” committed the act or acts, while in a criminal case the plaintiff would need to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty. [2] This article will focus mainly on civil litigation for child sexual abuse.

For civil child sexual abuse cases in the state of California the statute of limitations varies depending on the nature of the act committed. Generally speaking, a person who committed lewd or lascivious acts involving children can be brought to civil court for personal damages any time before the victim’s 40th birthday. [3]

Personal damages sought by plaintiffs in civil child molestation cases range from physical to emotional. Injuries that the victim can seek monetary compensation for include but are not limited to “funeral expenses, medical bills, counseling fees, and lost wages.” [2] For the more subjective personal damages such as counseling fees, typically an expert witness would be called in to testify about the speculative cost. [2] Victims as well as parents and legal guardians of victims can act as plaintiffs in a child sexual abuse lawsuit. Additionally, depending on the nature of the crime, the plaintiff(s) can sue both the perpetrator and the perpetrator’s employer for damages. [2]

Due to the fact that there is no “tort of sexual assault or rape” causes of action for child molestation suits can be any taken from the following list: battery, assault, false imprisonment, outrage, seduction, violation of section 1983 (a federal civil rights statute that guards against deprivation of federal rights by state actors), intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. [4]


1. “Criminal and Civil Justice.” The National Center for Victims of Crime. N.p., 2012. Web. 24 July 2015. http://www.victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexualabuse/criminal-and-civil-justice

2. Boeschen, Coulter. “Filing a Civil Lawsuit for Child Sexual Abuse – AllLaw.com.” AllLaw.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 July 2015. http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/personal-injury/filing-civil-lawsuit-child-sexualabuse.html

3. “Crime Definitions.” Crime Definitions. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2015. http://apps.rainn.org/policy-crime-definitions/index.cfm?state=California&group=7

4. Bublick, E. (2009, September). Civil Tort Actions Filed by Victims of Sexual Assault: Promise and Perils. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence/Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Retrieved 24 July 2015, from: http://www.vawnet.org

Photo Credits

“The Guardian” or “Authority of Law” statue by James Earle Frasier in front of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. Photo take on 6-7-2009 Mark Fischer. Uploaded to Flickr under the Creative Commons License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/