It seems that not a day goes by without the media reporting new claims of historical sexual abuse against a priest, a Scout leader, police officer, teacher or some other person in authority. Sexual abuse is one of the most horrific experiences a person can be made to suffer. One of the most common questions we are asked is whether it is possible to recover compensation for the harms caused by childhood sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse compensation claims present unique challenges because the injuries, though devastating, are invisible and frequently there are no records or witnesses to document the abuse.

In order to understand what compensation you can get for a sexual abuse claim and how claims of this nature are determined, we’re going to dig into this uncomfortable topic in depth. We’ll start by exploring how sexual abuse is defined by the law, as opposed to our own innate beliefs about the act. It’s also important to understand the differences between a criminal and a civil sexual abuse case, as they each have vastly different outcomes. Finally, we’ll address what type of compensation is available for sexual abuse survivors.

How is Sexual Abuse Defined in Nova Scotia?

It is important that we define sexual abuse so that everyone understands what we are talking about. You may see the terms sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual violence used interchangeably. Sexual “abuse” is not a legal term. It is a general description of conduct that includes offences of a sexual nature. For example, sexual harassments (making unwanted comments or advances of a sexual nature, usually in a workplace) is a form of sexual abuse. Sexual assault or sexual battery (any form of unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact) is also a form of sexual abuse.

Most civil compensation claims deal with compensation for sexual assault or battery and are dealt with in the civil courts. On the other hand, compensation for sexual harassment is most commonly dealt with by provincial human rights tribunals.

If you don’t understand how the law defines the nature of the claim you want to pursue, you risk wasting time and money following a path that won’t provide the results you are looking for. One way to avoid this is to work with an experienced sexual abuse lawyer that understands the law and can ensure that your claim is brought in the proper legal forum.

In Nova Scotia, sexual assault includes any act of unwanted touching, violence, physical or psychological, carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality. Childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment, degrading sexual imagery, sexual exploitation, cyber-harassment, sexual assault, and rape would all be forms of sexual violence.

It is important to understand that an act of sexual violence does not necessarily require physical violence. Nor does sexual abuse necessarily mean that intercourse is required.

What’s the Difference Between a Criminal Sexual Abuse Case and a Civil Sexual Abuse Claim?

There is a very big difference between criminal sexual assault charges and a civil sexual abuse claim. While each is a way of making your attacker pay, they do so in very different ways. Criminal charges focus on punishing the abuser. A civil lawsuit focuses instead on compensating the survivor for the harm they have suffered. There are advantages and disadvantages to each process and which process best meets s survivors needs depends on what the survivor wants to achieve.

Criminal courts do not have the power to provide any form of monetary compensation for what you went through. Criminal charges would result in an investigation into the circumstances of what happened. If there is sufficient evidence, the police will arrest the accused offender. Your attacker will have to face their day in court and if they are found guilty, they may be forced to serve time behind bars. For some victims, this type of accountability is priceless and worth so much more than monetary compensation.

However, a criminal charge might not always be the best course of action. Criminal charges require “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” so the barrier to getting a conviction is a high one. In order to win a criminal case the burden of proof is higher than in a civil case. But a civil lawsuit does allow you to seek monetary compensation for what you were put through.

Alternatively, in some rare cases where there are multiple victims, it may be more appropriate to pursue the matter as a class action lawsuit. While this may happen when one person attacks several or many, it is much more likely to happen when the sexual abuse happened on an institutional scale. Multiple victims are represented through one lawsuit in this manner.

It is worth noting that while many places have a statute of limitations on sexual assault claims, Nova Scotia does not. Those who have suffered historical sexual abuse, that is sexual abuse from years ago rather than recently, are still able to seek compensation despite the crime occurring years, even decades ago.

What Type of Compensation is Available for Sexual Abuse Survivors?

To be perfectly clear, no amount of money can change what happened or take away the memories of the abuse, we understand that. But sexual abuse can destroy a person’s life and compensation can provide some measure of accountability.

As a sexual abuse survivor, you could file a sexual assault claim and seek compensation for:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of support
  • Emotional distress
  • Psychological distress
  • Mental health counseling
  • Therapy costs
  • Other financial losses suffered due to the attack (for example, being too emotionally distressed to be able to finish the current year of education and thereby losing the money spent on that semester)

There is no simple yardstick to determine how much compensation a survivor of sexual abuse may be entitled to receive. Compensation depends on the nature of the assault, how many times it happened and the specific harms and losses the survivor has had to endure.

Should I Speak to a Lawyer?

If you have suffered sexual abuse then you should speak to a lawyer to see what can be done to help you recover. This may mean looking to recover damages following your assault or it could mean pressing criminal charges against your attacker.

To figure out the best course of action, you should speak to a lawyer. Using the specifics of your situation, they will be able to provide you with advice about what steps you should take next and the best course of action moving forward.