Sexual Assault & What You Can Do About It

Weinstein, Sheen, Franken, and now Charile Rose. Treating women right is a hot topic in the news. Ever wonder why Bill Cosby is facing criminal charges others end up paying settlements?

I’ve won cases involving rape and child molestation in both civil and criminal courts and during university investigations. Sexual assault is as serious as it sounds. First, there is a horrible accusation. Next, it needs to be verified or somehow corroborated. Then with the evidence available, a criminal case may be put together if the facts can convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. If memories fade or there isn’t enough evidence to convince a jury that consent was lacking, then all that may be left is a civil suit to try and recover something from someone that contributed to the assault. Just because the evidence doesn’t support a criminal case doesn’t mean the victim is out of options.

First and foremost, sexual assault in Florida is known as “Sexual Battery” and/or “Lewd or Lascivious Battery”. The crime is characterized by the degree of the touching- exactly what touched what and how exactly if there was penetration. The offense is further characterized by the victim. Was she (or he) under 12 or over 65. Was the victim forced or unaware? Was a weapon involved? Did the act cause great bodily harm or pain, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement?

Sexual battery requires that the accused (1) penetrated or has contact with the sexual organ of the victim (including the anus) or mouth of the victim, (2) without the victim’s consent. Lewd and Lascivious Battery is pretty much the same as sexual battery but consent isn’t the issue, the age of the victim is.
An important distinction is that the age of consent is technically 18 in Florida. However, if two teenagers engage in consensual intercourse, so long as one is 16 years-old or older and the other is 24 or younger then they should be protected by the State’s Romeo and Juliet Law (Fla. Stat. 794.05).

What exactly is “consent”?  It’s defined as an “intelligent, knowing, and voluntary consent and does not include coerced submission”. Consent does not mean the failure of the victim to offer physical resistance to the offense either.

The criminal case hinges on the state’s ability to prove the elements of touching and a lack of consent for a sexual battery beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt. For a lewd and lascivious, the state needs to prove the touching and that the act occurred when the parties were within the necessary age ranges beyond a reasonable doubt.
With most of the cases making news today involving the celebrities in Hollywood, reporters, and politicians its very likely that the time allowed to bring the suit has passed or there isn’t sufficient evidence to corroborate the allegation. Assuming there’s still time to bring charges (and there are a lot of factors to determine if a criminal case can be brought beyond the usual time-limits) then the next issue goes to corroboration to enhance the believability of the accusation. Did the victim mention the attack to someone shortly after it happened? Or is the report delayed by weeks, months, or years? The more time passes the more a jury is going to wonder what took so long to speak up. Memories fade, “the when, where, -why, who-else-saw-something” all get harder to prove with the certainty required.

In addition to the testimony as evidence, what about fluid samples, hair collections, evidence of struggle like blood, scars, bruising, the perpetrators skin under nails, broken bones, and the location where the struggle took place to corroborate the allegation, etc? All that evidence helps a jury know that they are making the right decision. If they don’t have it, the jury is left to wonder why.

Assuming there is a party that bears some responsibility for the assault, and that party (or those parties) have the ability to compensate the victim, it may be possible to get a money judgment against them. In a civil lawsuit, the victim doesn’t have to prove the attack beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury only needs to be convinced that it is more likely than not that it happened. If a condominium complex allowed someone on the property that they should have known was a threat, or even a nursing home, school, after-school activity, employer, etc., the organization could be a contributing cause to the battery.
Maybe they failed to provide adequate security, hired without doing the necessary background or supervision, or didn’t supervise the staff that was doing thing they should have been able to prevent. All of those things could be negligence if whatever they did or didn’t do wasn’t reasonable. If a jury agrees, it could be a big judgment to compensate for the sexual assault.

Every case is different and speaking to a lawyer who has successfully won in both criminal and civil court is a good place to start to see if you have a claim.

Nothing contained herein should be considered formal legal advice or the formation of the attorney-client relationship. Call us for more information or to schedule an appointment. 305-665-3978.

About Matthew Ladd

Federal Criminal Attorney practicing in Miami-Dade County with our office in Coral Gables. Matthew Ladd is a former prosecutor with the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. He is a graduate of Syracuse University College of Law and received his bachelor's degree from Marshall University.

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