When Victims of Sexual Assault Come Forward, We MUST Listen, Believe
With the rise of the #MeToo movement from social media platforms to marches across the world, survivors, family, and friends stand in solidarity for those who deserve to have their voice heard. Survivors of sexual assault live with the inherent fear that they will not be believed if they come forward, and the #MeToo movement is giving a platform and a voice to change that.
The tide is changing and every day across the United States, more and more victims of sexual assault are bravely coming forward with their unimaginable stories of violence. The most prominent survivors in recent memory have been the incredible women who stood up in court to condemn gymnastic coach turned convicted rapist Larry Nassar for his unspeakable crimes. These gymnasts lead the way for other young people to pursue their own right to justice. Larry Nassar will never see the outside of a prison cell as long as he lives because these women stood up and spoke up. They acted fearlessly in the face of great violence to ensure a criminal was no longer able to hurt another human being again.
It goes without saying that the dozens of women who have fearlessly come forward to condemn the depraved actions of Harvey Weinstein, former media mogul turned convicted rapist, are to be commended, applauded and respected as well. Nassar and Weinstein are men that committed acts of violence so atrocious it’s hard to believe they are possible; but we must. The most important thing we can do as witnesses to this movement is to believe each and every woman who stands up and speaks those two words: Me Too.
The more prevalent this bravery becomes in our society, the more Personal Injury attorneys are seeing the rise of these victims as clients. The responsibility of the Personal Injury attorney is to protect the rights of those victims not only to financial compensation, but to protect their right to having their voice heard in a court of law. It takes a great deal of bravery on behalf of the survivor and their family to speak in front of a judge after coming forward about a sexual assault.
A survivor of sexual assault may feel a great deal of emotions including shame, embarrassment, depression, and anger, even though they are never to blame for being attacked. While all of these emotions are normal after a life-altering assault, victims have hidden in the shadows for many years feeling they had no recourse against their attacker. Victims often feel they’ll lose their job and have no way to provide for their children if they come forward. In some circumstances when an assault occurs in a healthcare setting, a victim may feel they won’t receive the healthcare they require if they come forward.
A Personal Injury attorney dedicates his or her entire career to not only representing victims, but allowing them to come forward after they’ve been harmed by someone else’s deplorable decisions. When victims of sexual assault come forward, it’s important that those around them listen as they share their experience and that they are believed. For many victims, the fear of not being believed surpasses the fear of job loss or lack of healthcare.
Within this article, the Shaked Law Blog will provide a unique, sensitive, and informative look at victim’s rights after a sexual assault. The Shaked Law Blog will focus on the victim and the importance of the movement that’s ongoing around the world to allow victims the platform and respect they deserve when choosing to come forward with their ordeal. The most important thing we can do for survivors of assault is to understand the gravity of what they’ve experienced, and that the pain and suffering doesn’t end with the attack. Survivors of these attacks suffer lifelong, unrelenting PTSD, mental anguish, and depression after they’ve become the victim of someone else’s illegal and immoral actions.
LEGAL THEORY APPLIES
Sexual assault and sexual abuse are subjects that are sensitive in nature. We must remember that no dollar amount can be placed on the well-being of the victim after an assault or prolonged abuse. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the survivor’s right to compensation. A survivor of sexual assault must be compensated to the full extent that the law allows, and to accomplish this, a Personal Injury (civil) attorney must be retained. A Personal Injury attorney with experience will never question whether his or her client is being truthful, because they know that coming forward with a sexual assault claim is difficult and can cause a great deal of mental anguish. The first thing a Personal Injury attorney must do to establish an empathetic and understanding rapport with a client is to believe them.
The type of compensation available to survivors of sexual assault as well as sexual abuse varies from case-to-case, however, the cause of action will be the deciding factor in the damages the victim receives for their pain and suffering. “Cause of action” is known as a legal theory that proves the facts of the case. Within the scope of the law, there is no specific legal theory entitled “sexual assault”. Therefore an attorney must choose to file the action on behalf of the victim as “Assault and Battery”, “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress”–or both.
ASSAULT IS MORE THAN PHYSICAL
When considering the damages to be awarded to a survivor and their family during trial, a judge will look at the extent of how the victim suffered during and after the attack or prolonged abuse occurred. Some of the things that will be taken into account during a sexual assault trial, to better provide the victim with the compensation they deserve include, but are not limited to:
- The victim was harmed physically; what were the extent of the physical injuries sustained at the time of the assault? Will the victim recover physically, in full?
- The victim has suffered mental anguish; what types of mental anguish will they continue to suffer from? (PTSD, flashbacks, and depression)
- Was the victim a minor? Elderly? Victims of a more “fragile” nature are often awarded extremely high amounts of compensation. However, most if not all sexual assault cases award the victim substantial compensation for the suffering they endured and will continue to endure, lifelong.
We Believe The Women
Due to the nature of sexual assault and sexual abuse, it’s important to give victims a platform to speak their truth. There are things we MUST do not only as Personal Injury attorneys but as human beings with empathy to ensure that victims feel safe and as at ease as possible when sharing their ordeal. We must listen when they speak, and never interrupt. Some victims will not want to speak of their ordeal at the first meeting, and may want to write it down. Encouraging a survivor of sexual assault to pursue their right to justice in a gentle and understanding manner, while remaining patient and willing to fight for them are the most important things an attorney can do.
Remember, when an attorney is retained by a survivor of sexual assault or abuse, they are placing a great deal of trust in the chosen attorney. That confidentiality, trust, and belief in their story (as well as their right to justice) is something that cannot ever be broken. These types of cases are extremely sensitive in nature, and must be handled carefully and only by experienced board-certified legal counsel.