Suing an Abuser
You may have a right to seek justice from the abuser through the court system where you live. When people are injured by others, they are permitted to seek what the law refers to as “damages,” in the form of money, for such things as medical bills, lost wages or employment, physical and emotional pain and suffering, and, in some cases, to punish the abuser. Each state has its own laws on these subjects, but, for the most part, they are very similar when it comes to injuries from abuse. To do this, you will most likely need the help of a lawyer. Some lawyers will take a case like this for a “contingent fee.” That means the lawyer doesn’t get paid unless you win in court, and then s/he takes some percent, usually a third, of whatever damages the judge orders. Sometimes the judge will order the defendant to pay for your attorney’s fees.
If your damages are below a certain amount, you may be able to file on your own in small claims court. Small claims court, which is also called conciliation court in Minnesota, is a less formal type of court, and many people are able to go to small claims court without the help of an attorney. In Minnesota, you may file in small claims court on your own for $15,000 or less1 - however, if the claim involves a consumer credit transaction, the limit is $4,000 (you can read the definition of a “consumer credit transaction” on our Selected Minnesota Statutes page). If you want to sue for more, you cannot file in small claims court and may need the help of a lawyer. You may talk to the clerk of court for help in filing a lawsuit in small claims court.
You can read more about small claims (conciliation) court on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
In addition, Minnesota law specifically allows the victim of the crime of nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images to sue the person who shared the private sexual images in a Minnesota courthouse as long as either you (the victim) or the defendant lives in Minnesota. The time limit within which you have to sue (the statute of limitations) doesn’t start to run until the day that you discover that the images were shared.2 As long as you did not give permission for that person to share the images with anyone else, you can sue the person who publicly shared your private sexual images even if:
- you agreed to allow yourself to be photographed/filmed; and/or
- you voluntarily sent the photo or video privately to someone.3
To read exactly what you would have to prove in order to be able to sue someone for sharing your private images, see subdivision (1)(a) of section 604.31 the law.
Minnesota law also specifically allows you to sue someone who used your personal information to invite, encourage, or solicit sexual acts without your consent and knows (or should know) that it will cause you to feel harassed, frightened, threatened, oppressed, persecuted, or intimidated.4 For example: Let’s say that Joe wants to get revenge on his ex-girlfriend, Mary. Joe posts an ad on Craigslist that says “I will have sex with anyone who comes to my house tonight” and Joe includes Mary’s address and phone number. Mary could sue Joe under this law.
If you sue for either of the two reasons mentioned above, you can request any or all the following that apply to your situation:
- general and special damages, including all financial losses due to the dissemination of the image and damages for mental anguish that you suffered;
- an amount equal to any profit that the defendant made from the dissemination of the image;
- civil penalty damages of up to $10,000;
- your court costs, fees, and reasonable attorney fees; and
- a temporary or permanent injunction or restraining order to prevent further harm, such as further dissemination of the images or further sex-related posts inviting people to contact you. If the defendant violates such an injunction, it could result in a fine of up to $1,000 per day.5
If you need help in finding a lawyer who can take your case for a contingent fee, contact:
National Crime Victim Bar Association
2000 M Street NW, Suite 480
Washington, D.C. 20036
Lawyer Referral Line: 800-FYI-CALL
Offers information and lawyer referrals to crime victims seeking to sue offenders.
1 Minn. Stat. § 491A.01(3a)(a)
2 Minn. Stat. § 604.31(1), (7), (9)
3 Minn. Stat. § 604.31(1)(b)
4 Minn. Stat. § 604.31(2)
5 Minn. Stat. § 604.31(3), (4)