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What Are My Legal Options?

It is important to note that there are two legal systems that a victim may be involved in, and the processes and remedies available in each are different. 

The Criminal Legal System

The criminal legal system is designed to punish the person who broke the law. How do you initiate this process? The first step is to make a report to law enforcement. As an adult, you decide whether or not you want to make a report. As a person under the age of 18, you can also decide to make a report. However, due to the mandatory reporting laws in Washington State, there may be times when a report is made on your behalf. These laws, which were crafted to protect youth, require some people to make a report if they have reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered physical or sexual abuse or neglect. Some examples of mandatory reporters are social services counselors, advocates, licensed child care providers, and school professionals.

Once a report to law enforcement has been made, the State, i.e. the prosecutor's office, has the authority to initiate criminal legal action through the filing of criminal charges against the perpetrator. A report is made, an investigation takes place, and then it is ultimately up to the prosecutor's office to decide whether or not to move forward with a case. During the decision-making process, the prosecutor is evaluating: if the crime occurred; what forms of evidence exist; what can be charged under the state's criminal statutes; and whether or not the crime can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Civil Legal System

The civil legal system is designed to offer the victim safety options or some type of compensation for the harm caused. The victim is the person that initiates this type of legal action, and they can do so without making a report to law enforcement. The standard of proof in the civil legal system is "preponderance of evidence," which means "more likely than not." Some examples of civil cases that a sexual assault survivor may be involved with are: protection orders, family law (e.g. custody or divorce), sexual harassment in the workplace or by a landlord, personal injury.

Depending on where the assault took place or who the perpetrator is, the survivor may also be involved in campus judicial process, a correctional facility's administrative investigation process, or the military justice system. 


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Reviewed: December 6th, 2016