After a sexual assault occurs, a survivor has multiple pathways to justice and healing. You can choose to pursue criminal charges against the perpetrator as well as a civil lawsuit for your damages.
In a criminal case, your case may go to trial and you will need to present your case in front of a judge and jury. In these situations, it is important to know what to expect before you enter the courtroom.
Understanding Your Rights as a Crime Victim
If you are pressing criminal charges against someone for sexual assault, you have certain rights available to you. Although victims’ rights may differ from state to state, you generally have the right to the following.
- The right to attend and participate in proceedings against the perpetrator
- The right to protect yourself from intimidation or harassment throughout the trial
- The right to apply for crime victim compensation
What Happens During a Sexual Assault Trial?
During a criminal trial, the defense and the prosecution have an opportunity to present evidence and question witnesses in front of a judge and jury. The prosecuting attorney, or the lawyer who represents the interests of the state in your case, will present evidence to prove to the court that the perpetrator is guilty of sexual assault. The perpetrator and his or her defense attorney will present evidence to prove his or her innocence.
You will need to testify at several points during the trial. The defense attorney and the prosecutor may ask you questions about your experiences, and you will need to answer them truthfully to the best of your ability. The judge may also ask you questions during your examinations.
Prior to the trial, you may also submit a victim impact statement to explain how the crime has affected your life. Although the prosecutor is not technically your lawyer, he or she may also review the questions he or she plans on asking and help you prepare for court.
Finding Support for Your Sexual Assault Trial
Many survivors of sexual assault do not press charges against their perpetrators due to fear of the court process. In court, you will need to testify about your experience and relive the trauma of the assault in the process. You will also need to face your perpetrator in the courtroom, which can be very difficult.
There are resources available to support survivors of sexual assault during a criminal trial. Many states allow survivors to bring a trusted friend or family member with them to trial. You can also receive support from a trained sexual assault survivor’s advocate in your area.
Tips for Testifying During a Sexual Assault Trial
Providing testimony is often the most difficult experience for survivors during a trial. When you take the stand, it is important to remain calm, focused, and collected throughout your testimony. The following tips will help you prepare.
- Always tell the truth. If you do not remember or know the answer to the question, so that you do not know. If you want to repeat or restate an answer, ask the judge for permission to clarify.
- If you find yourself feeling angry, upset, or frustrated, pause and wait for the emotion to pass.
- Answer the questions briefly and do not offer additional information unless the attorney or judge asks you to.
- If you do not understand a question, ask the attorneys to repeat it for you. You can also ask the lawyers to rephrase the question.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, criminal trials can help you seek justice. You may also qualify for civil litigation against the perpetrator. Speak to a sexual assault attorney as soon as possible to discuss these legal pathways and strategize your next steps.