Any kind of sexual activity that takes place without consent is sexual assault or, in the civil context, a sexual battery. In the context of sexual experiences, consent is a clearly understood, ongoing, active, and revocable agreement between two adults. When one party engages in unwanted, non-consensual sexual activity, they have committed sexual assault.
Sexual assault is a broad definition for a number of reprehensible actions, including attempted or completed rape, forced kissing, grabbing, unwanted touching, sexual harassment, and more. These actions represent a power imbalance in a sexual dynamic, where one party takes control away from another. Perpetrators of sexual assault rob their victims of the right to control what happens to their body.
In 82% of cases, victims of sexual assault personally know their abuser. Most often, their abusers are friends, family members, neighbours, or people in positions of authority such as religious leaders, teachers, or sports coaches. Although anyone from any demographic can and may be the victim of sexual abuse, women are disproportionately over-represented among survivors of sexual assault. Young women, Aboriginal women, and women with disabilities are at a higher risk of being assaulted.
Surviving sexual abuse can have long-term emotional repercussions, including pervasive feelings of anxiety or depression, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is especially true for those who were assaulted or exploited as children or young people.
Speaking out against abusers is an incredibly brave and difficult act for any survivor of sexual assault. In Canada, only 6 in 100 incidents of sexual abuse are reported to the police. This is because many survivors feel like their situation is futile. Many fear that speaking out will mean facing unwarranted criticism, victim-blaming, public scrutiny, and– perhaps worst of all– disbelief. Furthermore, survivors of assault may worry that pursuing legal action against their abusers may be a costly and emotionally re-traumatizing experience.
However, survivors of sexual assault are entitled to pursue civil action against their abusers and, in certain situations, against their employer or other institutions responsible for introducing the abuser to the victim. In Ontario, even if the assault took place years in the past, victims are legally entitled to seek restitution for the crimes committed against them.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse, an Ontario lawyer may be able to sensitively and discretely discuss the circumstances of the case, and explain options that may be available in your pursuit of justice.
Pursuing Civil or Criminal Charges for Sexual Abuse in Ontario
In Ontario, a lawyer may be able to help survivors of sexual assault by pursuing a civil claim.
When pursuing a civil claim for sexual assault, a survivor of sexual abuse may work with a lawyer to recover damages they incurred as a result of their experience. Even though no amount of money will be able to compensate the survivors of sexual abuse, by working with a lawyer to file civil action against the offending parties, they may be able to help recover the damages that are owed. These damages are often related to the emotional distress they experienced following their assault.
In many situations, victims of sexual assault were abused by an authority figure who used their position of power within an organization to perpetrate their crime. Often, the organization that employed or introduced the abuser to the victim can be held responsible for the acts of the abuser even if the employer or organization was not directly negligent.
By working with a lawyer, a sexual assault survivor may be able to compile and present various forms of evidence to substantiate their claim. By doing so, a lawyer may be able to help their clients recover financial compensation for the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Lost income
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Medical expenses
- Punitive damages
- And possibly more
Sexual assault survivors may also choose to pursue criminal charges against their abuser. Criminal prosecution will not result in financial compensation for damages incurred because of the assault. However, if the Crown is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a victim’s abuser indeed perpetrated the crime, the offending party may be incarcerated for a substantial length of time.
To pursue criminal charges against a perpetrator of sexual abuse, victims must first report the assault to the police. The authorities will then conduct an investigation and determine if there is enough evidence to prove that the crime took place. If sufficient evidence exists, the Crown will bring charges forward in court.
Although the burden of proof in criminal proceedings is much higher, in the civil context, the burden of proof is much lower and based on a “balance of probabilities,” as opposed to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The higher criminal standard may be one of the reasons why only one in fifteen cases of sexual abuse reported to police in Canada results in jail time.
The Statute of Limitations on Sexual Assault Claims in Ontario
In accordance with Ontario’s Limitations Act, there is no statute of limitations for cases related to sexual assault. This means that no matter how much time has passed since the assault occurred, a victim will still be eligible to bring civil charges against their abuser.
It takes courage, mental preparation, and emotional fortitude to begin the process of pursuing a claim against your abuser. When you feel ready to begin speaking about abuse you have endured, we will be ready to listen. If you are prepared to speak with us now, contact Preszler Injury Lawyers today.
Other Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors in Ontario
In addition to pursuing civil or criminal charges against your abuser, if you have been the victim of sexual assault in Ontario, a number of resources and organizations exist to provide support, counselling, and guidance. Some of these resources include:
- Ontario Coalition of Sexual Assault Centres: Supports victims of sexual assault by providing a list of local counselling resources in regions throughout the province, and by engaging in political action and policy analysis.
- Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres: Provides leadership and support to hospital-based treatment centres throughout Ontario, and connects victims requiring support with local counselling services.
- Assaulted Women’s Helpline: Offers free, anonymous, confidential, 24-hour-a-day phone support to women in crisis, in addition to online counselling, emotional support, and educational resources to empower women who have been abused.
- Child Development Institute – Child and Adolescent Services for Abuse and Trauma (CASAT): Provides services for children who have experienced sexual abuse and works to improve the lives of children and youth between the ages of 4-18 who are suffering from abuse-related trauma.
- Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse: The first program of its kind in Canada provides 24-hour multilingual crisis support and referrals to male survivors of sexual assault.
Contact Preszler Injury Lawyers Today
If you have been the victim of sexual assault and wish to pursue legal action against your abuser, Preszler Injury Lawyers may be able to respectfully review your case, and provide you with useful legal advice. To discuss the legal options that may be available to you, contact us today.
For a free, initial consultation, call Preszler Injury Lawyers at 1-800-JUSTICE.