Sexual abuse as a child or even as an adult may leave psychological scars that last for life. Few of us deserve justice more than the victims of sexual abuse. While the pain of sexual abuse may never entirely fade, victims can win justice with help from a Halifax sexual abuse lawyer.

In Canada, sexual offences against children did not become a serious public concern until the 1970s. In 1980, Parliament established a special committee to investigate child sexual abuse and to make recommendations.

The Report of the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youth (the “Badgley Report”) confirmed that child sexual abuse is a national problem of major proportions with considerable implications for Canadian children.

What Constitutes Sexual Abuse?

There is no reliable single “profile” of individuals who sexually abuse children. A perpetrator may be a teacher or a coach, a member of the clergy, a neighbor, a family member, or a complete stranger.

Sexual abuse has a number of definitions, some medical and some legal, but the most widely accepted definition of sexual abuse is “non-consensual sexual behavior or contact.” This definition includes but is not limited to:

1. rape and attempted rape
2. unwanted sexual touching
3. forcing or coercing someone to commit unwanted sexual acts

Sexual abuse may be a one-time traumatic event, or it may be a part of ongoing abuse in a domestic violence or human trafficking situation.

What Are the Effects of Sexual Abuse?

The long-term physical effects of childhood sexual abuse can be devastating. For women, these effects may include chronic pelvic pain, nonspecific vaginitis, dyspareunia, vaginismus, and gastrointestinal disorders.

While these physical injuries may often be the result of sexual abuse, psychological injuries are even more common and can have a long-term negative impact on a survivor’s mental health, personal relationships, and quality of life.

How Does Sexual Abuse Impact Mental Health?

The relationship between sexual abuse and mental health is complicated – and different for each victim. Not everyone who experiences sexual abuse suffers lasting psychological pain, but researchers have established a strong connection between sexual trauma and mental health.

Victims who suffered sexual abuse as children have significantly higher rates of anxiety, alcohol and drug dependency, and antisocial behavior. They tend to have trouble bonding and forming lasting relationships, and their divorce rates are substantially higher than the general population.

In the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse, a victim’s inability to function well or interact with others appropriately is an indication of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies have shown that approximately 94 percent of abused women experience PTSD symptoms.

How Can Sexual Abuse Victims Win Justice?

If this describes you or someone you love, it is important to seek a counselor’s help – promptly. In the most severe cases, a counselor may refer a patient to a medical doctor for medications and treatment.

How can you preserve evidence of sexual abuse for legal purposes? After an abuse incident, go to an emergency room at once. If possible, do not change your clothes, wash, or brush your teeth. If you need to change clothing, put the clothes you were wearing in a bag and bring it with you.

Winning justice is one way that sexual abuse victims can help to heal themselves. Sexual abuse victims have two legal options: criminal prosecution and civil action. If you file a criminal complaint against a perpetrator, that person could be convicted and serve a lengthy sentence.

How Are Sexual Abuse Charges Prosecuted?

To pursue criminal charges, you will have to file a criminal complaint with the local police, who will investigate to determine if evidence exists that supports your claim. If the police uncover such evidence, they will turn that evidence over to the crown prosecutor’s office.

A crown prosecutor will decide if charges should be filed against the alleged abuser. At that point, the abuse victim no longer has control over the case or the way it is prosecuted.

However, and particularly if the abuse happened long ago, too many of these cases boil down to one person’s word against another’s, and a conviction in a criminal court may be difficult to obtain.

How Are Civil Sexual Abuse Claims Handled?

On the other hand, a civil claim for monetary compensation nay be easier to prove than a criminal case, and unlike a criminal case, the victim can receive substantial compensation that may be used to pay for counseling and treatment costs.

When a sexual abuse victim files a civil claim for compensation, the victim hires his or her own Nova Scotia sexual abuse lawyer and has a genuine say in the way that the case is conducted. Sexual abuse victims, however, do not have to pay a lawyer “up front” or “out-of-pocket.”

A Halifax sexual abuse lawyer will work on a contingency basis, which means the victim pays nothing until his or her attorney obtains the monetary compensation – and the justice – that the victim seeks.

What is the Best Legal Option?

Sexual abuse victims may seek justice in a criminal court, a civil court, or both. Be advised, however, that the more time has passed since the sexual abuse occurred, the more difficult it will be to gather evidence, to find reliable witnesses, and to win justice.

If you file criminal charges first, and the abuser is convicted, that conviction will serve as powerful evidence of your claim in a civil proceeding. But if the crown prosecutor fails to win a criminal conviction, it may be difficult to prevail with a claim in a civil court.

Is There a Time Limit for Filing Sexual Abuse Claims?

Nova Scotia revised the Limitation of Actions Act in 2015. This revision enables victims of sexual abuse, including childhood sexual abuse, to sue for compensation without a time limit.

The Limitation of Actions Act now allows claims based on “misconduct of a sexual nature” to be filed whenever the victim is prepared to take legal action.

Nevertheless, to bring the strongest possible claim with the most likelihood of success, it is essential to seek legal advice as quickly as you can from a Halifax sexual abuse claims lawyer. Evidence in these cases can deteriorate quickly or even disappear, and memories fade over time.

If you are or have been a victim of sexual abuse in Nova Scotia, the law is on your side. Let a sexual abuse lawyer help you win the justice – and the compensation – you need and deserve.