If you’ve wondered why the women who have accused Deshaun Watson of sexual harassment and assault have filed lawsuits against him instead of police reports, this Chron story offers some reasons.
The 22 women suing Deshaun Watson for allegedly sexually assaulting and harassing them have been criticized for not first taking their allegations to police.
But experts say a civil suit is often a sexual assault victim’s best shot at justice.
“In a civil case, you can expect a broader range of accountability,” said Elizabeth Boyce, general counsel and director of policy and advocacy for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. “You might settle before trial and that might include a public acknowledgment and apology.”
But experts said there are myriad reasons why a victim would choose to file a case in civil court instead of a criminal complaint — including compensation to pay for any emotional and medical care needed after an assault.
“Victims of sexual assault had something stolen from them,” said Noblet Davidson, founder and clinical director of enCOURAGE Trauma Center in Houston. “They need to be compensated. If you get in a car accident, you get compensated.”
The fear of being outed, for example, can deter a victim from filing a police report, Boyce said — especially when the alleged perpetrator is famous.
“Confidentiality and privacy is always at the heart of these cases,” Boyce said. “Honestly, it’s a fear of any victim of sexual assault that this is going to result in some sort of public condemnation or harassment.”
The nation has seen it play out over and over again, Boyce said.
When California professor Christine Blasey Ford testified before Congress, alleging that now-Supreme court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school, she received death threats. She and her family had to move multiple times and had to pay for a private security detail.
For some victims, taking their assault to police can seem hopeless.
Not only are they retraumatized each time they have to describe their assault, Boyce said, but it can also seem as if they are not in control of the outcomes.
“In criminal cases, the state doesn’t represent the victims, they represent the state and they control every aspect of the case,” Boyce said. “And so often (the cases) are refused for prosecution for a variety of reasons — if they think they can’t win or they think there’s too much political pressure.”
The criminal investigation process also is intrusive and time-consuming, with court hearings, follow-ups with police and medical appointments, said Olivia Rivers, executive director of the Houston-area advocacy nonprofit Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Officers may show up at the victim’s house or workplace. Family and friends — who the victim may not want to tell about the assault — may be interviewed to corroborate the report.
“A sexual assault exam can take hours,” she said. “How do you explain to your family why you were at a hospital for that long? Or how do you explain to your employer why you had to miss so much work for court?”
Additionally, the burden of proof also is lower in a civil court than in a criminal prosecution. Civilly, the victims only have to show a preponderance of evidence, but in criminal cases, authorities have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the assault happened.
Therefore, it can easier for victims to get some form of justice in a civil court, whether it be a public apology or a monetary award for pain and suffering — especially when there isn’t enough physical evidence to criminally convict a perpetrator.
“Sexual violence … isn’t taken seriously by society,” Rivers said. “This about having their voices heard.”
Sometimes, victims might seek both criminal prosecution and civil damages.
At least one alleged victim has done exactly that, and others may follow. In the meantime, lawsuit #22 is on the books. We won’t know how successful this approach is until we have some resolutions in these cases, but the reason why the lawsuits were filed should be clear.