Loss of Interdependency in Sexual Abuse Claims
Sexual abuse is an abuse of power. It is an assault of a sexual nature that violates the integrity of the perpetrator’s victim.
The act of sexual assault does not depend solely on contact with any specific part of someone’s body, but rather can include both touching and non-touching forms of abuse. Non-touching forms of sexual assault might include exposing the victim to pornography, voyeurism (i.e., watching the victim in a sexual way, either while clothed or unclothed), and exhibitionism.
The perpetrators of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment often rely on threats, blackmail, coercion, the use of force, and other deplorable tactics to take advantage of victims who are unable or unwilling to give their consent. This violation often immediately results in shock, fear, and disbelief.
While sexual abuse survivor’s experience and response to their assault is unique, many victims of this despicable crime often face similar psychological outcomes. Common responses to sexual victimization include:
- Minimizing behaviours
- Trust issues
- Memory loss and other cognitive disorders
- And others
The long-term effects of surviving sexual abuse can be all-encompassing, impacting all facets of an individual’s life. Many sexual abuse survivors develop serious mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They may also experience other long-term reactions, including poor health, a sense of helplessness, persistent fear, mood swings, sleep disturbances, flashbacks, panic attacks, phobias, relationship difficulties, paranoia, localized pain, and suicidal ideation.
If you are in distress, contact Talk Suicide Canada by calling 1-833-456-4566.
For many reasons, including rampant social stigmatization and victim-blaming, most sexual assaults in Canada go unreported. According to the Government of Canada’s General Social Study on Victimization, 83% of the nation’s sexual assaults were not reported to police or other authorities. However, recent social phenomena – including the #MeToo Movement – have shone a spotlight on this societal issue, prompting legislative changes that may make it less frightening for victims to speak out against their abusers.
Loss of Interdependency
Because of the trauma endured by the victims of sexual abuse, they may lose their ability to form and sustain interpersonal relationships. In Canada, victims of sexual abuse may, therefore, be entitled to damages related to a loss of interdependency.
Loss of interdependency is often referred to as the loss of the opportunity to marry, or the loss of shared family income. The principle behind this type of claim is that, had the victim not been subjected to abuse, they would not have lost their opportunity to form a relationship that could be expected to produce financial benefits.
In the case of Reekie v. Messervey, the Court was asked to assess the damages of a 21-year-old woman who was rendered paraplegic after a motorcycle crash. To do so, the Court considered the following evidence:
- The injured Plaintiff’s prospects to obtain the financial benefits of marriage had been reduced because of her injuries
- At the time of the trial, 91% of all Canadian women married at least once
- It is less expensive to live as a married couple than as two single people
- The plaintiff’s chances of marriage were reduced as a result of the catastrophic injuries she had sustained in the crash.
The trial judge ultimately awarded $50,000 to the injured Plaintiff as a result of her injury-related loss of opportunity. This award was upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal.
In more recent cases, including Wilhelmson v. Dumma and Hodgins v. Street, the Court held that a Plaintiff is only required to establish that there is a real and substantial possibility that their ability to enter into a permanent relationship has been impaired in order to qualify for this head of damage. In the Wilhelmson case, the Court valued the plaintiff’s loss of interdependent relationship claim at $325,000.
A review of case law underscores the importance of presenting proper evidence to the Court when seeking compensation for a loss of interdependency. The Plaintiff must establish that their chances of forming or preserving a shared living relationship were detrimentally impacted by the injuries sustained. The Plaintiff must also present evidence to substantiate that the shared living relationship would have been economically advantageous to them. This evidentiary requirement can typically be satisfied through the use of statistical, economic, and actuarial evidence that the Plaintiff’s loss of interdependent relationship has actually resulted in a net financial loss.
While there is now judicial clarity and development of this head of damage, there are many considerations for counsel to consider when advancing the claim on behalf of clients.
If you have been or are being sexually abused, or if you know someone who is being sexually abused, it is important to get help. To discuss your situation and receive case-specific feedback, contact us today to receive a cost-free, no-obligation, confidential consultation.
This article was written by Kalin Stoykov.