The Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog

Why Rapists Don't Typically Get Sued

The violent act of rape certainly is a crime against the social fabric as a whole, which is how criminal law prosecutes cases. But as with other acts of violence, individual rape victims should be able to file suit and collect substantial damages for their unspeakable injuries.

Jeff Dion, director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association, explained the importance of civil remedies for crime victims in a Slate article: 

"The criminal case is about paying your debt to society. The civil case is about [perpetrators] paying their debt to the victim."

Only that doesn't happen as often as one might think for something so serious as rape, according to the article.

Adding insult to injury, a 2004 sex crimes study found that just half of rape cases resulting in an arrest were ever prosecuted (PDF).

Ten years ago this month, the US Supreme Court struck down the portion of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that would have allowed women to sue their attackers in federal court. The rationale behind the act was that rape was a brutal violation of victims' civil rights, although Justices ultimately decided that this overstepped the federal government's bounds.

In other words, the court held that only state courts should handle criminal-justice matters, like other crimes. 

So without a federal civil rights remedy, rape victims hoping to recover damages must look for deep pockets; even many Chicago injury lawyers won't take on such a case unless it makes financial sense. That means a third party such as a shopping mall or hotel owner with lax security often becomes the target, not the rapist.

If a third party cannot be held liable, it's nearly impossible to recover damages in most states.

Fortunately for Chicagoans, Illinois is one of only three states that pick up where the Supreme Court ruling on VAWA left off. The Gender Violence Act allows the victims of gender-related violence (usually rape) to hold their attackers personally liable for damages in state court. 

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