When a child has been the victim of sexual abuse, it may trigger both the civil and criminal process. While these processes both involve the courts and have many similarities, there are also fundamental differences, too.
Fundamentally, a criminal case is targeted towards obtaining a guilty plea or verdict and jail time for the perpetrator; in some cases, restitution may be awarded to the victim but is usually limited to actual medical expenses or out of pocket expenses (for example, lost wages for having to take time off to testify). Of course, in the case of most child sexual abuse victims, these remedies are woefully inadequate because the harm is generally emotional and unseen rather than physical injuries that can be neatly quantified in medical bills, and because most are not of working age yet.
However, in a civil case, a victim can seek monetary damages to compensate him or her for past, present, and future pain and suffering and medical, psychological, and psychiatric needs. In many states, punitive damages may also be available. For victims of child pornography, Federal law may provide a civil remedy as well, automatically providing damages if the victim qualifies (18 U.S.C. § 2255).