Slate is really on a roll lately with interesting sexual violence articles.
This one is actually a few weeks old, but still definitely worth a mention.
The author of Why Don’t More Women Sue Their Rapists? poses some interesting questions about the civil legal remedies available to survivors.
Under the original provision of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), women could sue their rapists in civil court. If they won the judgment, they could collect both damages and attorney fees.
The ability of rape victims to seek a civil remedy, however, was seriously damaged by a 2000 Supreme Court Ruling. In United States v Morrison the court decided that a victim’s suit could not go forward because “Congress had overstepped its constitutional authority by creating a federal remedy in the criminal-justice realm that usually falls to the states.” While the court agreed that it was well-within the rights of a rape victim to sue her/his attacker, the ruling basically forced these cases to the state court level and stripped certain protections that were originally included in the law (such as the requirement that attorney’s fees be included in successful judgments).
Without the power provided by the original VAWA language, it is much more difficult for survivors to file civil suits against individual rapists. For example, a rape victim who files a civil suit against an acquaintance may have to pay attorney fees, or be unable to secure legal representation because individual judgments do not usually provide a hefty pay-out.
Luckily, the author points out that “At the moment, only Illinois, California, and New York City have laws that pick up on this message of VAWA,” which help make civil cases against rapists easier for victims to consider.
While NYC might be better than some other places, I wonder how many victims understand that this is a legal remedy?
Do you know anyone who has sued (successfully or unsuccessfully) their rapist in civil court?
Do you think that this needs to be publicized more widely?