Are you considering suing the person who molested or abused you as a child? Even if the perpetrator never went through a criminal trial, you may be able to file a civil lawsuit of your own. Here are five things to keep in mind and ask a lawyer about if you think a civil case may be a helpful option for you:

1. Use a Pseudonym

Most courts allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to use a pseudonym in court papers instead of their real names. For example, instead of using your real name, you can use some version of Jane Doe, John Doe, or your initials. Courts will allow you to use this kind of “code name” for the case even if you are an adult when you file your lawsuit. Adult victims of sexual assault are usually allowed the same protection.

2. Don’t Assume You Are Too Late to Sue

Most states have a deadline for filing civil lawsuits based on childhood sexual abuse. These deadlines are called “statutes of limitations” and vary widely from state to state. Don’t think that just because many years have passed, it is too late for you to seek justice in civil court. Even if the deadline for prosecuting your abuser in criminal court has passed, you may still have time under the civil statute of limitations to file a case.

Because the deadlines vary so much, don’t delay in finding out what the statute is in the state where your abuse occurred. Almost all states start the clock running only after a victim has turned 18, but there are a few exceptions around the country that may require you to sue while you are still a minor. Many states have reformed their statutes of limitations for civil child abuse lawsuits and allow victims to sue many years later.

For example, in Oregon, victims of child abuse (sexual or physical) can file a civil lawsuit up until their 40th birthday, or even after they turn 40, as long as they file the case within five years of when they knew or should have known of the connection between their adult injuries and their childhood abuse. Other states have similar statutes.

3. Get a “Contingency Fee” Agreement from Your Lawyer

Most lawyers will represent you in a civil case against your abuser on a “contingency fee” basis. This means that you do not pay your attorney by the hour for her time. Instead, your attorney only gets paid if you recover money from the lawsuit, either through settlement or a jury verdict. If you recover money, you pay your attorney a percentage of the amount recovered.

You also have to pay for the “hard costs” of the lawsuit – things like court filing fees, private investigators, and expert witnesses. Usually, your attorney will front these out-of-pocket expenses and get reimbursed out of your share of any money recovered.

4. Consider Holding Organizations Accountable if They Played a Role in Your Abuse

If the person who molested you played some other role in your life – such as your teacher, pastor, Scoutmaster, or coach – you may be able to sue the school, Boy Scouts, or church for failing to protect you and allowing your abuse to happen. Whether you can bring a claim against an organization depends on the law of the state where your abuse occurred, and every state has different law.

Similarly, if you were abused in a foster home setting or a government agency was otherwise involved, you may be able to sue the state agency, such as Child Protective Services. Again, the law on such claims is different from state to state.

5. Find a Counselor You Trust

A civil lawsuit may be one tool to use in your healing process, but it cannot be the entire process. It is important that you continue using other tools to help you heal, including finding a good counselor with experience working with adult survivors of childhood abuse. Litigation itself is a lengthy and stressful experience. A good therapist can help you deal with this stress as you move forward with your lawsuit and your life.


At the Dumas Law Group, we believe that holding individuals and institutions accountable for child abuse is a good thing. Civil lawsuits against child molesters and trusted institutions that allowed the abuse can bring long-awaited justice. Such lawsuits can empower child abuse victims and may protect other children from abuse.