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What Rights Do Survivors of Sexual Harassment and Abuse Have?


The viral #MeToo campaign and the recent flood of sexual abuse allegations in the news have made one thing clear: sexual abuse affects countless people, particularly women, and many people believe it’s time to start holding abusers accountable.

It seems that we may be approaching a time when survivors can come forward with less fear of being silenced or punished. However, publicly making allegations against people in power still comes with risks. With so much on the line, it’s critical that those who have experienced sexual abuse, assault or harassment know about their legal rights.

Can You Sue for Sexual Abuse?

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. With the criminal justice system failing to put most perpetrators in prison, survivors may be able to turn to civil courts in their pursuit of justice.  Many victims sustain lasting scars from sexual abuse – emotional, physical and even financial.

In addition to causing emotional trauma, abuse can affect victims’ careers and financial stability.  Last year, for example, our attorneys secured more than $7 million for a client who lost her job at the hands of an abuser. Our client had been sexually harassed by her employer and fired for investigating another female employee’s rape allegation.

There is no legal cause of action for sexual assault per se, but it may be actionable under another tort, such as:

  • Assault and battery
  • False imprisonment
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress, a potential cause of action against witnesses

In some cases, other parties may contribute to the assault and the resulting pain. We’ll explore third party claims in a future post.