FAQ – Burden of Proof in Sexual Abuse

FAQ – Burden of Proof in Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse can leave emotional scars for decades. Studies have shown that the traumatic effects of child abuse are magnified when the acts of sexual abuse are committed by someone the sexual abuse victim should have been able to trust, like a family member, a teacher or a member of the clergy.

Aside from the psychological and emotional pain, there can be very real ongoing financial costs from sexual abuse like having to pay for counseling or needing to take time off from work or school due to mental health issues.

If you are a victim of childhood sexual abuse, an experienced personal injury lawyer may be able to help you receive financial compensation for the harm you suffered. While no amount of money can erase the past, it can help you cope with counselling expenses and lost income. Many victims also find that having a court acknowledge that a wrong was committed helps with the healing process.

Many childhood sexual abuse victims feel that there is no point in coming forward years after the fact because of the difficulty of proving what happened long ago. With a proper understanding of the required burden of proof, it may be possible to bring a sexual abuse claim even decades after the fact.

What Is the Burden of Proof for Criminal Charges?

The criminal justice system is designed to hold criminals accountable and to punish them for their criminal acts. Making a criminal complaint opens the possibility that the abuser may be punished with a fine, jail time or probation for their actions. The burden of proof in a criminal case is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that in order for a person to be convicted of sexual abuse, there must be evidence almost to the level of certainty that the accused person committed acts constituting sexual abuse.

If you picture a set of scales with all the evidence in favour of conviction on one side and all the evidence against conviction on the other side, in order to get a criminal conviction the scales must tip almost entirely to the side in favour of conviction. That’s proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Because there cannot be a conviction without this level of proof, the police or Crown prosecutor will frequently want to interview the victim and search out corroborating evidence before deciding whether charges can be brought. A decision to not bring charges does not necessarily mean that the authorities do not believe the complaint, only that they do not believe they can meet the high burden of proof.

What Is the Burden of Proof for a Civil Compensation Claim?

In a civil claim for monetary compensation, the burden of proof is very different. Compensation claims for sexual assault require a lower threshold of proof. The legal term is “proof on balance of probabilities.”

Again, think about the scales weighing the evidence, with all of the evidence showing that the abuse occurred placed on one side of the scale and all of the evidence that suggests the abuse might not have occurred placed on the other side of the scale. As long as the scale is tipped even slightly in the claimant’s favor, you have met the standard of proof on the balance of probabilities and monetary compensation may be awarded.

What Is the Time Limit for Bringing a Sexual Abuse Claim?

There is no time limit for filing a criminal complaint about sexual abuse. But every province has a different time limit for filing claims for compensation for sexual abuse. If you were a victim of childhood sexual abuse at any point in the past, contact our firm to discuss whether you may be able to bring a civil compensation claim.

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