Civil Legal Rights and Remedies for Rape Victims

By Katie Feifer

When most of us think about the crime of rape, we think about getting the  "bad guy"[1] and prosecuting him criminally. We think about the victim getting "justice" and perhaps even feeling empowered if her assailant receives legal sanction or punishment. However, unlike most other crimes, we all too often question and scrutinize the victim's actions leading up to the attack rather than the perpetrator's actions. We ask, “Why was she in his room?” or, “Was she giving him mixed signals?” when we should be asking, “Why did he keep buying her drinks?” or, “Why did he corner her in a room away from her friends?”

Then, when it comes to "justice" we focus all attention on the rights of perpetrator (justifiably so, given the important constitutional rights afforded those who are accused of crimes), but what about the needs of the victim?

In both cases our focus and devotion of energy and resources is skewed. There are many instances where a victim of sexual violence experiences social and legal problems as a direct result of the violence done to her. These can include problems with school or work, physical safety, housing, economic stability or immigration status. It is arguable that we ought to focus as much if not more on providing victims with civil legal remedies for problems and injustices they face after they are sexually assaulted than punishing the perpetrators of these crimes. For some thoughts and perspective on the case for civil legal remedies for rape survivors, read "The Second Wave: An Agenda for the Next Thirty Years of Rape Law Reform."

[1] Disclaimer: not all perpetrators are men and certainly not all victims are women, but for ease the author will use gendered pronouns. This is in no way meant to diminish the pain and harm inflicted on male, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered victims of sexual violence.