Criminal vs. civil proceedings: advantages and disadvantages
Revenge porn, also known as non-consensual pornography or image-based sexual abuse, is a crime in many jurisdictions, allowing the government to prosecute and imprison the perpetrator if convicted. It can also give rise to civil claims, which allow the victim to sue the perpetrator for money. Generally, if you choose to only pursue a civil case it will not lead to imprisonment.
The advantages of the criminal law route compared to civil are:
- The police do the investigation at no cost to you.
- If the perpetrator has masked his or her identity online, the police have investigation powers not available to civilians.
- Involving the police—and the prospect of possibly going to prison—can be sobering for the perpetrator and get them to stop and/or take down images already posted.
The disadvantages of the criminal law route compared to civil are:
- The police and prosecutors make the decision about whether to proceed, not you.
- They are often overstretched and may not be able to give full attention to your complaint.
- Some polices forces are not sophisticated about online crimes and may blame the victim rather than the perpetrator.
- While judges sometimes award money from the perpetrator to compensate the victim as part of the criminal sentence, this is relatively rare and these amounts are usually small. The victim generally does not get direct compensation.
The advantages of the civil law route compared to criminal are:
- You alone are in charge of the strategic decisions in the case: whether to proceed and what to sue for.
- You can receive money from the perpetrator if you win, assuming they have the funds to pay.
- You can sometimes get an injunction requiring the perpetrator to take down the material immediately.
The disadvantages of the civil law route compared to criminal are:
- You have to pay lawyers to pursue the case (you can do it yourself without lawyers if you want, but it’s not always easy). However, if the case has good prospects of success, lawyers may take the case on a contingency or “no win no fee” basis.
- In some jurisdictions, you may have to pay the legal fees of the perpetrator if you lose. It may be possible to buy insurance against this.
It is possible to do both: pursue the criminal case first, and if it succeeds, that will establish a strong basis for winning a civil case. To preserve your right to pursue a civil case while a criminal case winds its way through the courts, you may need to contact a lawyer.
Each case is different. Legal advice will help you weigh your alternatives.