If you have been the victim of a sexual assault and you want to take legal action against the assailant, you may choose to proceed through the civil legal system. In the civil legal context, sexual assault is recognized to be a kind of “tort”.
The word “tort” used in a legal context is derived from the French word meaning wrong. It refers to a wrongful act committed by one person that directly causes harm, injury, and/or loss to another person.
In civil proceedings, the person harmed by the tort sues the person who committed the wrongful act for financial compensation for the harm, injury, and loss they suffered due to the wrongful act. This compensation is referred to as “damages”.
What this means is that if you decide to proceed against the assailant in civil court, you would be starting a lawsuit against them seeking financial compensation from them for the harm, injury, and loss that you suffered due to the sexual assault.
You would be named in the lawsuit as the “plaintiff” (the person suing) and they would be the “defendant” (the person being sued). The defendant has the right to hire their own lawyer to defend the lawsuit, or may decide to defend the claim without a lawyer.
It is important to note that in a civil lawsuit, the remedy that you are seeking is monetary. It is not about punishing the assailant with measures such as jail time that are only found in the criminal context.
One of the biggest differences between criminal and civil court is the difference in the standard of proof required to prove your case. In criminal court, the judge or jury must be convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused is guilty of the sexual assault.
This is a very high standard requiring nearly 100% certainty. In civil court, the judge or jury must believe on a “balance of probabilities” that the accused committed the sexual assault.
To put it another way, the civil judge or jury only need to find that it is “more likely than not” (ie. they need to be 51% or more sure) that the assailant committed the sexual assault. This means that sexual assault cases that fail to be proven in criminal court can and often are proven in civil court.
In Canada, there are no time limits for bringing civil lawsuits for physical and psychological injuries arising out of sexual assault. This means that it does not matter when the assault occurred, you still have legal options.
Civil and criminal proceedings in sexual assault cases are not mutually exclusive. You may choose to pursue one, the other, or both. You can also choose to commence those proceedings at the same time or one after another. There are many considerations in deciding how to proceed and when.