LEGAL COMPENSATION FOR SEXUAL VIOLENCE: Therapeutic Consequences and Consequences for the Judicial System

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The article considers some of the therapeutic consequences of the civil legal process on survivors of sexual violence. The research was commenced with a view to test the often-held assumption that the last thing victims need is to “go to court.” It compares results from surveys of victims who received compensation from a government agency distributing limited compensation for victims of violent crimes, and surveys of victims who used the tort system and sued in civil courts. Although preliminary, the results show that, in both cases, victims who pursue a civil remedy want more than money. They often are searching for a public affirmation of the wrong that they suffered. The victims are seeking to be “heard.” Such a finding inspired the authors to examine the ways in which the traditional adversarial system may be silencing the victims and, therefore, produce nontherapeutic effects. The authors suggest several adjustments to the civil hearing process in terms of judicial practice, lawyering role and use of expert evidence. They also argue for further exploration of the role for punitive damages in the context of sexual battery claims, with the view to affirm the victim's voice and not silence or belittle it. In the end, the authors conclude that the question should no longer be whether victims should be encouraged to participate in the civil or compensation process but rather how can the processes be improved to minimize their antitherapeutic effects.

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