By John McKiggan, McKiggan Hebert Lawyers.
If a person has never experienced sexual abuse, it probably seems pretty far from their reality. However, the statistics about how common childhood abuse is are frightening; 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males in Canada will encounter some form of child abuse before the age of 17.
The good news? Recent cases like the Kenneth Estabrooks class action lawsuit highlight the fact that you don’t have to suffer in silence. His many sexual abuse victims – up to 253, reports CBC Canada– came forward to denounce him. You have legal options:
One option is a civil action. This means you bring a claim in civil court against your abuser or the institution that employed the abuser. The goal of the civil justice system is to fairly compensate the harms and losses suffered by someone who has been injured by childhood abuse. While no amount of money can ever change what happened, civil claims for childhood sexual abuse are about compensating survivors of abuse for the harm they have suffered.
Civil compensation claims typically ask the court to hold an abuser responsible for the serious and long-term consequences of childhood abuse. Claims usually include compensation for the significant emotional and psychological distress suffered by victims; the financial losses survivors incur from not being able to finish their education or obtain employment and economic compensation for ongoing expenses for medical treatment and psychological counselling.
Usually a civil suit is brought on your own as an individual, with the help of a sexual abuse claims lawyer. Sometimes, where there are many victims of abuse, a class action may be filed where many survivors band together to pursue a claim.
Another option is to pursue criminal charges. To start the criminal process you give a statement to the police. They investigate to determine if there is enough evidence to prove that a crime has been committed. Then the Crown Attorney’s office brings the charges forward in court. An abuse claims lawyer can help you decide what the best option is for you.
In Canada there is no time limit (called a statute of limitations) on bringing criminal charges for sexual assault – meaning you can swear a criminal complaint and file charges at any point in your lifetime. However if your abuser has died, the criminal courts will not be able to proceed with charges.
In Nova Scotia there is no time limit for bringing a civil claim for compensation for sexual abuse. But different provinces have different rules about when an abuse survivor can bring a civil claim and it is important to speak to an experienced sexual abuse claims lawyer to learn what the proper time limit is in your case.
You can also take both approaches. Taking civil action does not prohibit you from swearing a criminal complaint, and vice versa.
Looking for the bottom line? It’s this: You don’t have to do this alone. If you have been the victim of sexual abuse in Canada, or know someone who has, you have options. Here at McKiggan Hebert Lawyers, we’re here to help.
This article is part of the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia's "Law in the Community" series, which features law-related articles by lawyers, other legal service providers, and the media. It is reproduced with permission from McKiggan Hebert Lawyers.