Sexual abuse. It’s not an easy topic to discuss; nor is it an easy crime to disclose. People who have been sexually abused are often afraid and ashamed to admit it. Despite the silence, sexual abuse has occurred and continues to occur in our society. Silence allows it to grow in the shadows of our lives. Sexual abuse is a crime; it harms and often has devastating effects, effects that are usually long term. There is no quick fix available. The harm can impact all areas of life, including emotional, mental and physical health, family life and work. Some survivors of sexual abuse do report to police and ultimately criminal charges may be laid. But even if the abuser is found guilty in Criminal Court, the penalties faced by the abuser are not in any way comparable to the impact of the abuse on the person who was sexually victimized.

As a result some survivors of sexual abuse will choose civil court action against their abuser to try to be compensated for some of the damages they have suffered. For example, in a 2012 reported Nova Scotia court case, an adult male sued for the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his probation officer when he was a teenager. The Court allowed him to proceed without having his real name used to protect his privacy. As an adult, he came to realize the devastating impact that the abuse had on his life. In his case, he sued the employer of the probation officer. Employers have an obligation to ensure that their employees do not hurt other people on purpose in the course of their work. In this case, the survivor was successful in Court. Going to Court to sue won’t give a survivor back their life as it was before the abuse occurred, but if the case is successful, the survivor can receive compensation to help deal with some of the losses and damages suffered as a result of the abuse.

The law usually puts a cap on the length of time people have to sue. Prior to recent changes in the law in Nova Scotia, the time limits were more restrictive when it came to suing for sexual assault/abuse. Nova Scotia has now eliminated the limitation period for sexual assault regardless of when the assault took place. This is a big change in the law and a positive step for victims of sexual assault, who often do not understand the impact of what they have suffered until many years after the abuse.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse you can report the crime and there will normally be a police investigation and possible Criminal Court proceedings. Another avenue that is sometimes pursued is a civil court action to sue your abuser for damages. It’s not an easy decision to make as it can open up old wounds and painful memories. However, some survivors say that suing helped them to regain a feeling of power and control and actually assisted in their healing. If a person chooses to make a criminal complaint, it doesn’t mean a civil action can’t be pursued and vice versa. Anyone wishing to discuss the various legal options should contact a lawyer.

Articles posted on this blog are meant to offer general information and should not be relied upon as legal advice. For advice on your specific matter, contact Kennedy Schofield Lawyers at 902-826-9140.

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