Sexual Abuse: Civil v Criminal Actions that can be Taken

SMQ Legal have specialised civil litigation solicitors and caseworkers in personal injury law.  Hannah explores one area of civil claims that can be brought in respect of psychiatric injury.

With the increased emergence of the #Metoo movement from predominant figures within the entertainment industry, and the ever-growing world of social media, individuals have been greatly encouraged to speak out against sexual abuse. This has led to an increase in criminal prosecution against those who commit this offence.

In the English Criminal Justice System, sexual assault is triable either way. This means it can be heard before a Magistrates Court or a Crown Court, which will be in the presence of a jury. An individual who is convicted of sexual assault can receive a maximum of 10 years imprisonment depending on which category their offence falls within. The offence range usually see’s defendants convicted of anything ranging from a Community Order to seven years imprisonment.

Once a defendant is convicted of sexual assault, and has been convicted in the criminal court, the question is often asked whether this is enough for the victims of their offence. This will obviously depend on an individual’s subjective view and the way they view our justice system; however, victims often feel as though even the maximum custodial sentence is not enough to compensate them for what they have been through. This could especially be said where the impact of the offence has left victims unable to work, or meant their lives have been generally turned upside through the psychological impact of what they have had to endure. This in turn could have a great impact on an individual’s livelihood and way of living. Will a prison sentence compensate them for this? What about the far-reaching impact sexual assault can have on one’s life?

A way in which victims may be compensated for the offences committed against them is through monetary damages awarded by the civil courts. There has been an increase of victims bringing civil proceedings against those who committed a sexual assault against them, and this can be done by bringing a personal injury-based claim against the perpetrator through the civil court. This can include physical and psychiatric injuries.

The Judiciary provide guidance on the level of damages an individual may be awarded, and previous case law also assists in being able to provide an estimate of the compensation that could be recovered. The factors taken into account when valuing claims of this nature include:

  • The Claimant’s ability to cope with life, education, and work;
  • The effect on the Claimant’s relationships with family, friends, and those with whom they come into contact with;
  • The extent to which treatment would be successful;
  • Future vulnerability;
  • Prognosis; and
  • Whether medical help has been sought.

It should be noted that in cases of this nature, claims usually relate to significant psychological or psychiatric damage and the above points are only a starting point in outlining some of the factors to be considered. In addition to the above points, these types of cases may involve elements of false imprisonment, a person abusing their position of trust, or an extended period of abuse. Further elements such as these are likely to mean the case will fall within the higher categories of damages. This means the case would reflect aggravated damages and result in a monetary value towards the top end of the bracket.

The categories of damages range from severe, with top awards of £108,620, to less severe, which has a lower value of £1,310.

The Statute of Limitations

 If you are reading this and feel as though you may have a claim, please be aware that there is a time limit on a victim’s right to file a claim against those that committed the offence against you. The primary limitation period to commence formal Court proceedings is 3 years, however the Courts have been known to be willing to extend this three-year period in cases of historical sexual abuse, in order to allow victims access to the justice the deserve.

At SMQ Legal Services we understand this is a traumatic and often life changing experience, and as a result we are here to support you and listen when you feel ready to talk about it. Please know we offer fully confidential advice to those who seek it, and we will do our best to support you in any way that we can.

By Hannah Stevens


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