FAQ – Sexual Abuse and Assault

Q. I never submitted a police report. How can I prove this happened?

A. In our experience, it is very common for survivors of sexual assault to not report their assault to the police, especially if the assault happened when they were a child. We routinely take on cases where our clients have never reported their assault to the police.

The only evidence we need to prove a civil sexual assault claim is our client’s story of what happened.

To support our client’s case, we also do research into the relevant institution and defendant to find out if there are other survivors who have come forward with similar stories. Usually, there are. We also work with doctors when appropriate to help explain how the assault impacted our client’s life, which further supports and explains our client’s case.

No survivor of sexual assault should worry about not having enough evidence to come forward. Our firm is experienced in proving and settling sexual assault claims even when the assault happened many decades ago and all potential documents have been long destroyed.

Q. I'm worried I stayed quiet for too long. Is it too late?

A. It is never too late to report or seek compensation for a sexual assault. There is no statute of limitations for a sexual assault lawsuit. For example, we are often retained by people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s who were assaulted as children.

The law recognizes that survivors of sexual assault often do not report their assaults for years or even decades after it happened. The law recognizes that survivors of sexual assault deserve justice and fairness no matter when the assault took place.

Q. The person at fault is still alive (and maybe even involved in the organization). Do I have to face them?

A. No. In a typical case, you will never see the defendant. Civil sexual assault lawsuits are generally handled by insurance companies and the defendant has little involvement in the process, if any.

The only time a survivor might see the defendant in person is at trial. It is very rare for a civil sexual assault case to go to trial. If it does, our clients have the option to settle without attending the trial.

Q. What does the court process look like?

A. If a settlement negotiation cannot be reached during Mediation, you, the defendant or defendants, and your respective lawyers will be required to attend a pre-trial before a judge, during which the judge will act as a quasi-mediator in order to help facilitate settlement.

If the case proceeds to trial, evidence will be presented before a judge or jury. You will most likely be required to share your story on the witness stand and will be subject to cross-examination from the accused’s or institution’s legal representation. Witnesses, various experts on damages, and others may be called upon to present evidence and face cross-examination.

Once the evidence has been presented and lawyers for both sides have presented their arguments, the judge or jury will determine the case’s outcome as well as the amount of damages the defendant may be required to pay you.

Q. How many times do I have to tell the story?

A. We tell all clients that they will only be asked to tell the story when they are ready to do so; there is no rush. We do not even need to know the full details of our clients’ stories before we take on their claim. We only need to know if there was sexual touching of some nature.

Our clients will, generally, need to tell their story at least once before the claim settles. The insurance company will need to understand what happened in order to know how much compensation is fair. We work with clients to ensure they are ready and comfortable to tell their story beforehand.

Q. Can I remain anonymous?

A. The short answer is maybe. We can apply to the court to ask for your name to be kept anonymous in court documents. In many cases, we can also settle the claim confidentially without starting a lawsuit.

Q. I don't think the person who abused me has any money. How could I get compensation?

A. The law recognizes that institutions are usually responsible for the bad conduct of their volunteers or employees. This is called “vicarious liability”.

Most institutions also have insurance to compensate survivors of sexual assault. If the assault happened in connection with an institution (such as a church, school, company, Boy/Girl Scouts troop, or other organization), then it does not matter if the person who assaulted our client has any assets. We might be able to seek compensation from the institution itself or their insurance policy.

Q. How long does a civil action take?

A. Each case is unique. Some cases settle in a matter of months while others take years to reach a fair settlement.

Q. What is the difference between a criminal proceeding and a civil action?

A. Our firm takes on civil sexual assault claims (lawsuits seeking monetary compensation).

A criminal proceeding is initiated by the police and Crown prosecutors. The survivor has little control over the process and does not get fulsome one-on-one legal support. The standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which can be a difficult standard to prove.

A civil claim is initiated by the survivor themself. They retain control over the proceeding. They get one-on-one legal support from one of our lawyers who will answer all questions and give guidance on the best steps to take along the way.

A civil claim has a less difficult legal test. The survivor does not need to prove the assault happened “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and instead only needs to prove it likely happened, which is a much easier standard to meet. Put simply, it is much easier to win a civil sexual assault case compared to a criminal case. Even if the criminal trial is not successful, the survivor can still pursue and win a civil sexual assault claim. Civil sexual assault claims also usually settle outside of court without a trial, which is less common in the criminal context.

Q. Can I start a civil action if criminal charges have already been laid against my perpetrator?

A. Yes, you can start a civil claim if charges have been laid, if the defendant was already found guilty, and even if the defendant was found not guilty in a criminal trial.

Q. What is achieved through a civil action for sexual abuse and how does it differ from what can be achieved through a criminal trial?

A. A criminal trial focuses on proving that the defendant was guilty of sexual assault. If so, they may be punished through the criminal justice system. The Crown prosecutor retains full control of the entire proceeding.

A civil sexual assault case involves negotiating fair compensation for survivors. We generally also seek written letters of apology from the institution. We want our clients to be in control of the process with our guidance.

Q. How long do I have to start a civil action against my abuser?

A. There is no limitation. A claim may be started anytime.

Q. If I obtain compensation from my perpetrator – what would that amount possibly look like?

A. We seek compensation for the pain and suffering caused by the assault. This includes impacts on physical and mental health, sleep, ability to relate to people and have relationships in a healthy way, and all other ways that our clients’ lives have been negatively impacted.

We seek compensation for all lost income. Sexual assault almost always impacts someone’s ability to work in some way. Some survivors may find it impossible to work at all. Some may be unable to pursue job promotions, experience a loss of confidence in the workplace, or have trouble finishing school, college, vocational training, etc. For clients who were abused as children, we often look at all the income they have earned throughout their lives and compare it to what they would have earned if the assault had never happened. This can be a very large number.

We can seek compensation for all past out-of-pocket expenses, such as expenses for treatment. We seek compensation for any future treatment needs, such as counselling, housekeeping, and medication. When appropriate, we can also seek punitive damages against the institution for allowing the assault to take place, not reporting the assault, or taking steps to hide that the assault took place.

Q. Can I sue if sexual abuse happened to a loved one of mine?

A. If a member of your immediate family was the victim of sexual abuse and lost their life as a result, you may be entitled to pursue a claim against the perpetrator. To learn more, schedule a free initial consultation with our sexual abuse lawyers.

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