Here’s the sad reality:

People who identify as LGBTQ are statistically more likely to experience sexual assault. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of gay men have experienced sexual violence, as opposed to 21 percent of heterosexual men. Forty-four percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. For heterosexual women, that number is 35 percent.

LGBTQ youth, too — already more likely to be bullied — are especially vulnerable. In a landmark study on sexual assault on college campuses, the Association of American Universities found that “rates of sexual assault and misconduct are highest among undergraduate females and those identifying as transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming, questioning, and as something not listed on the survey.”

In the era of #MeToo, it is possible that the LGBTQ community faces a crisis.

The damage inflicted by sexual assault can last a lifetime regardless of sexual orientation. In addition to physical injuries, victims of sexual assault may suffer mental and emotional trauma such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Moreover, fear of reprisal, social stigma and related stress often make it difficult for victims to come forward seeking the treatment and justice they deserve.

The American justice system is complex. But it is important for LGBTQ victims of sexual assault to know that they have options. Regardless of sexual orientation, no human being should be assaulted, sexually or otherwise.

Civil Litigation for LGBTQ Victims

One thing to keep in mind is that legal options extend beyond criminal charges (which may or may not be pursued by a prosecutor) and include civil litigation. Civil cases are separate from criminal cases and carry a lower burden of proof, so victims may be able to win a civil claim even in cases where the perpetrator was found not guilty or not charged at all. However, in most situations, criminal charges help support the foundation to the civil case because it gives the case more substantial proof.

Damages won in a civil case can help pay medical bills associated with the assault, including costs related to psychiatric treatment and counseling. Compensation may also be awarded for pain, suffering and emotional distress, as well as lost wages. The perpetrator may also face punitive damages which are designed to punish the perpetrator and deter others in the future.

While some perpetrators do not have the resources to pay compensation awarded in a civil case, victims of sexual assault may file a complaint against another responsible party. Examples include a business that provided inadequate security, a company that failed to screen employees’ criminal backgrounds or a professional such as a psychiatrist or teacher who failed to report a threat. These cases can be very complicated.

Finally, many sexual assault victims are discouraged from pursuing civil litigation for financial reasons. Legal services can be expensive, but it’s important to know that some law firms like ours do not charge attorney fees unless financial compensation is offered or awarded.

Equal Protection Under the Law

Members of the LGBTQ community may face disproportionate threats of sexual violence. And the reality is, sexual assault cases are rarely prosecuted — a fact especially true of crimes involving LGBTQ victims, according to Lambda Legal, a legal organization advocating for LGBTQ equality.

The system may not be perfect, but victims may still pursue justice and compensation through civil litigation — even if they think they can’t afford an attorney.

Everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law, and everyone deserves justice. No one should ever be a victim.

Gene Riddle is managing partner at Riddle & Brantley LLP and an experienced sexual assault lawyer in North Carolina. Riddle & Brantley welcomes clients of any sexual orientation and gender identity.