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Home > Civil vs Criminal Sexual Abuse Cases: What’s the Difference?

Civil vs Criminal Sexual Abuse Cases: What’s the Difference?

a man inappropriately touching a coworker on the waste in the workplace

Victims of sexual abuse pursue criminal charges and file civil lawsuits, so it is important to understand the differences between civil versus criminal sexual abuse cases when considering the next steps. Civil and criminal cases differ in levels of proof, outcomes, consequences, and statutes of limitations. Civil cases typically are intended to provide the victim with financial damages for their damages, while criminal cases seek to punish wrongdoers with jail time or fines. Contact a sexual abuse attorney at Cordisco & Saile LLC to learn more about your civil suit options.

When sexual assault or abuse occurs, victims have the right to choose whether they would like to file criminal and civil charges against the perpetrator. Even if the state chooses not to proceed with the criminal charges the victim files, the victim still has the right to bring a civil case to seek justice and compensation for the damage done by the abuse.

There are several notable differences between civil and criminal lawsuits to consider when deciding on which course of action to take. Criminal and civil lawsuits differ significantly in the type of proof required to win the case and how long you have from the time of the abuse to begin your case. Civil lawsuits aim to compensate the victims for the harm done. Meanwhile, criminal prosecution seeks to punish the wrongdoers with jail time or fines. The sexual abuse attorneys at Cordisco & Saile LLC will be able to help you understand your legal options and will fight for you if you choose to pursue a civil sexual abuse case.

Civil Sexual Assault


Civil sexual assault cases have the goal of securing compensation for the victim rather than jail time for the accused. This compensation usually comes in the form of monetary damages, covering the financial losses and the impacts on the victim’s life resulting from the assault. These may include the following losses:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity and business opportunities
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional and psychological damages

Civil sexual assault cases, unlike criminal cases, do not result in jail time for the accused.

Burden of Proof

In a criminal case, victims must prove that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” to win the case. In civil cases, however, this is not the case. To win damages in a civil sexual assault case, the victim must demonstrate the wrongdoer is responsible for the harm by a “preponderance of evidence.” This means the victim must show it was more likely than not that the accused caused the harm.

Statute of Limitations

Every state has a statute of limitations for different types of civil cases, which gives victims a limited window of time to file a civil sexual assault lawsuit. This amount of time varies by state. 

Pennsylvania recently amended its civil statute of limitations for civil sexual abuse cases. Sexual abuse survivors abused before age 18 now have until their 55th birthday to file a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the 2019 law also gives individuals who were between the ages of 18 and 23 when the sexual abuse occurred until their 30th birthday to file suit. While people between 18 and 23 are not considered minors, they can still suffer sexual abuse from forcible compulsion—via physical, emotional, or psychological force—or the threat of forcible compulsion.

Before the 2019 law, the civil statute of limitations required child victims to file a case within 12 years of turning 18—or by age 30. 

If the abuse happened when the victim was older than 23, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania is two years

However, the 2019 law was not retroactive, so survivors who had already turned 30 by 2019 are time-barred from filing lawsuits. A proposed change to the state constitution is pending that would re-open the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse survivors. However, that legislation would need the approval of both houses of the General Assembly before it could be put to voters through a ballot measure. 

In New Jersey, the statute of limitations is seven years from the assault date. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse have until age 55 or seven years after they become aware of the abuse, whichever comes first.

Criminal Sexual Assault


In a criminal case, the intended outcome for the accused usually includes jail time or fines. While the court may order some financial restitution for the victim,  it typically would only cover minimal expenses like hiring a lawyer. 

Burden of Proof

The burden of proof in criminal sexual assault cases is higher than in civil cases. Like other criminal cases, the accuser must prove that the accused committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that the victim must prove to the judge or jurors that it was reasonably certain that the accused committed the assault.  

Statute of Limitations

In Pennsylvania, a victim who was 18 years old or older at the time of the assault has 12 years to file criminal charges. If the abuse occurred before age 18, a victim generally has until their 55th birthday to bring criminal charges. 

In New Jersey, there is no statute of limitations for criminal sexual assault charges. 

What Are Your Rights After Sexual Abuse?

After sexual abuse, you have the right to pursue both a civil lawsuit and or criminal charges. You do not necessarily have to choose between civil and criminal actions. You can still file a civil case even if the state chooses not to prosecute the perpetrator. 

You have the right to an attorney who will advocate on your behalf. Hiring an attorney specializing in sexual abuse cases is a good idea because it means you have someone on your side who knows the ins and outs of the complicated legal process. 

Can Cordisco & Saile LLC Help Me with My Sexual Abuse Case?

The attorneys at Cordisco & Saile LLC have decades of experience with winning compensation for victims. Our team of award-winning sexual abuse lawyers will help guide you through filing a civil sexual abuse case.

Cordisco & Saile LLC has a strong track record of providing compassionate and professional legal representation for those who have suffered an injury due to the actions of another person. When handling sexual abuse cases, we will be available to offer advice and answer questions at every step of the process. 

Our firm also prioritizes giving back to our community through involvement with local schools, businesses, and other organizations. Cordisco & Saile LLC believes that strong communities are the best way to ensure everyone has access to justice and equal rights. We are a dedicated and compassionate group of legal professionals who constantly aim to make the community a better place.

Past Case Outcomes

In the past, our firm secured several multi-million-dollar settlements on behalf of our clients. Cordisco & Saile LLC has won cases in several personal injury and premises liability practice areas, including civil sexual abuse cases. Taking a compassionate yet aggressive approach to fighting for the compensation our clients deserve will always be our priority. 

Types of Civil Cases We Handle

Cordisco & Saile LLC fights on behalf of victims of a wide variety of types of sexual abuse. While this list is not exhaustive, some of the types of civil cases we handle include:

If you or someone you love has experienced civil sexual abuse, Cordisco & Saile LLC will fight for the justice you deserve. Call or contact us today to schedule a free consultation and to learn more about how we can help.

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