Are the Issues in a Civil Suit for Child Sex Abuse Any Different From the Issues in a Criminal Case?

The Difference Between a Civil Child Sex Abuse Case and a Criminal Child Sex Abuse Case

In a criminal child abuse case, the government brings the case as the plaintiff, and a public prosecutor tries to prove it. If the accused loses the case, he or she usually goes to jail or prison. The accused can also be ordered to pay restitution, but criminal restitution is usually limited to the victim’s out-of-pocket expenses, for example, for psychotherapy; it generally does not include amounts for intangible losses, such as pain and suffering.

In a civil claim for childhood sexual abuse, only money and reputation are at stake; the accused cannot be sent to jail or prison. The person who claims to have been abused is the plaintiff and engages a lawyer to bring the case. Usually that lawyer is paid a “contingent fee,” that is, a share of whatever money the plaintiff receives from the abuser and any other defendants. Intangible losses such as pain and suffering usually make up by far the biggest part of the damages claimed.

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