A statute of limitations (SOL) sets the amount of time a victim or prosecutor has to file a lawsuit. Typically, if you file a lawsuit after the SOL expires, your case will be dismissed. Virginia has different criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations.
Typically, courts apply the statute of limitations that was in place at the time of the abuse. This means that even though the SOL may have been lengthened since the incident, it typically cannot renew time-barred cases. For this reason, it is important to report sexual abuse as quickly as possible.
Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Abuse
In a civil lawsuit, a victim of sexual abuse demands compensation and damages from his or her abuser. You may be entitled to economic and non-economic damages, including compensation for your pain and suffering. You may also have a civil lawsuit against an organization that failed to protect you from abuse (like a school or church).
Virginia has a specific SOL for child sexual abuse cases. If you were a victim of sexual abuse as a child, you must file your claim within 20 years of:
- Your 18th birthday, or
- When a doctor linked an injury (such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression) to your childhood abuse.
- However, Virginia does not have a special statute of limitations for adult sexual abuse claims. Instead, the standard personal injury SOL is applied. Adult sexual abuse claims typically must be filed within two years of the act.
If sexual abuse occurs at your workplace, you may also have a sexual harassment claim under federal law. You must file a complaint (or charge) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 300 days of the sexual abuse or harassment. The EEOC will investigate your claim and determine whether it will pursue a lawsuit on your behalf. If it decides not to litigate your claim, it will issue a Right to Sue letter. You must file a lawsuit within 90 days of the EEOC’s Right to Sue letter.
Criminal Cases for Sexual Abuse
The Commonwealth of Virginia files criminal sexual abuse cases on behalf of a victim or victims. In order to file criminal charges, you must notify law enforcement of the sexual abuse. The authorities will investigate your claims and a prosecutor may file charges against your abuser. If a suspect is found guilty of criminal conduct, he or she may be sentenced to significant jail time and sex offender registration.
Virginia does not have a statute of limitations for felony sexual assault. In other words, felony assault cases may be filed at any time. Misdemeanor offenses must be filed within a year of the offense.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Sexual assault and abuse cause permanent damage and it can be emotionally difficult to file a complaint. These cases also may involve a detailed legal and factual analysis, and strict procedural rules. Expert witnesses may be necessary to help interpret DNA evidence and calculate your damages. A personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process, educate you about your rights, and offer emotional support.
Victims of sexual abuse should also file criminal charges with a law enforcement agency. Even though Virginia does not have an SOL for felony sexual abuse, quick reporting may help lead to a successful prosecution of your abuser.
If you are facing sexual abuse charges and prosecution, a criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights. Time is of the essence, so talk to an attorney as soon as possible.