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Will I Have to Testify in My New York Civil Sexual Assault Case?

Civil Liability Claims Against Perpetrators and Other Responsible Parties

While there is no law requiring plaintiffs to testify in a civil sexual assault trial, there are a variety of reasons why the testimony may be necessary for the case. A major factor in this decision is that the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff, or sexual assault survivor.

The sexual assault team at Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP is very sensitive to our clients’ hesitation to testify and do everything we can to prepare them for the questions that are coming. You will not be alone; you will not be surprised. Our sole aim is to help you tell your story and get some measure of justice for your harrowing ordeal.

Sexual Assault Lawsuits in New York: Criminal vs. Civil Cases

It’s important to understand the differences between sexual assault cases tried in criminal versus civil courts. Sexual assault cases in New York criminal court are pursued by the state. A criminal defendant facing these charges is looking at potential jail time, fines, and other penalties.

Survivors have the option to pursue financial compensation through the civil court system. Civil plaintiffs have a lower burden of proof than state prosecutors. The jury is only required to weigh a “preponderance of evidence” in civil court. Criminal prosecutors must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Either court, however, may require the victim’s testimony.

Call (212) 684-1880 or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation with our sexual abuse and assault lawyers in New York.

Pros of Testifying in a Civil Sexual Assault Trial

It can help to speak with professionals who specialize in trauma and victim support. They help survivors assess their readiness to testify and provide resources to cope with any emotional challenges.

Benefits of providing testimony in your case include:

  • Support for the Case: Testifying in a sexual assault civil case can be a powerful way to support your allegations. Testimony invites survivors to share their personal experiences, emotions and details of the incident, which can help establish case validity. Even small details — like the color of the wallpaper or the type of cigarette the perpetrator smoked — can corroborate the story.
  • Emotional Catharsis: Some survivors find that testifying provides a sense of closure and catharsis. It can be an opportunity to speak their truth and confront their assailant.
  • Empowerment: Taking the stand can be empowering for survivors. It allows them to exercise agency and regain control over their narrative on the path to reclaiming a sense of power and self-worth.
  • Plaintiff Fears of Testimony are Common Many fears of testifying are based on false assumptions, myths, and lack of knowledge about the legal process. Our experienced NYC sexual assault lawyers will encourage survivors to ask questions before trial and will provide essential information every step of the way to ease anxieties about testifying.

That said, survivors are commonly worried about:

  • Re-Traumatization: Testifying can be an emotionally and psychologically grueling experience. Reliving the trauma can lead to re-traumatization, which can have lasting effects on a survivor’s mental health.
  • Privacy Invasion: Testifying can feel like an invasion of privacy, as personal details of the assault and the survivor’s life may become public knowledge. Some may worry about how they will be portrayed or discredited during cross-examination.
  • Pressure and Fear: Questioning from the opposing counsel can make survivors feel vulnerable and out of control. Survivors may experience intense pressure and fear, including the fear of retaliation or intimidation from the perpetrator or their supporters.


Limited Alternatives to Testifying in Civil Court

There are some limited situations that could potentially take live testimony off the table or at least limit the scope of certain lines of questioning.

Such instances include:

  • Settlement: Many sexual assault civil cases are resolved through settlements, where the survivor and the defendant agree to a compensation amount without going to trial, thereby avoiding the need for in-court testimony.
  • Deposition: In some cases, testimony may be provided through a pre-recorded deposition statement taken outside of court. This can be less intimidating than testifying in open court.

Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP: Trusted NYC Sexual Assault Attorneys

There is nothing easy about sexual assault cases with survivors being compelled to relive arguably the worst moments of their lives in front of their attackers and other strangers. With that always top of mind, our clients’ well-being is a priority at Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP.

We will be by your side through every stage of litigation—including during your testimony— whether you give it live or in deposition. For more information about how we can help, please contact us for a free, legal consultation.

If you would like to speak with our sexual abuse and assault lawyers in New York, complete our contact form or call (212) 684-1880 to schedule a free consultation with our legal team.