Compensation for Victims of Sexual Misconduct: General Damages

February 20, 2024

By: Chelsea Hishon

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Those who have experienced sexual violence often do not realize that they are entitled to compensation for their injuries. By bringing a lawsuit against the perpetrator of the abuse and/or others who may be legally responsible, the victim can ask a court to award “damages” for their injuries.

Damages refer to the types of compensation an injured person is awarded in a lawsuit. Three types of damages are most often awarded in cases involving sexual misconduct: general damages, economic damages, and special damages. This article will focus on general damages, with subsequent articles expanding on the latter two.

The purpose of general damages, or “non-pecuniary damages”, in sexual assault cases is to provide solace for the victim’s pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life, to vindicate the victim’s dignity and personal autonomy, and to recognize the humiliating and degrading nature of the wrongful acts. The “humiliating and undignified circumstances” of the assault, often result in aggravated damages being awarded as well. Aggravated damages are not awarded separately, but increase the amount of the general damages award.

In determining the amount that should be awarded for general and aggravated damages, the following factors may be considered:

The circumstances of the victim at the time of the events, including factors such as age and vulnerability;

the circumstances of the assault including their number, frequency and how violent, invasive and degrading they were;

the circumstances of the defendant including age and whether he or she was in a position of trust; and

the consequences for the victim of the wrongful behaviour including ongoing psychological injuries.

Next, the important characteristics of the case are compared with other similar cases to establish an appropriate range of damages, and then an amount is selected within that range. Prior case law has established a broad range for general damages in sexual assault cases as being between $175,000 and $350,000 when accounting for inflation. That said, some cases may assess below or above this range, depending on the circumstances of the case.

The Courts in Canada have gone through an evolution over the past number of decades in their understanding of the impact of sexual violence on a person, with the range for general damages increasing per that understanding. This was explained by the B.C. Court of Appeal in the 1996 case of S.Y. v. F.G.C.

What is fair and reasonable compensation for general damages, including aggravated damages, in this case, is not easy to say. This is an evolving area of the law. We are just beginning to understand the horrendous impacts of sexual abuse. To assess damages for the psychological impact of sexual abuse on a particular person is like trying to estimate the depth of the ocean by looking at the surface of the water. The possible consequences of such abuse presently are not capable of critical measurement.

With each case that goes before the court, every expert that testifies, ongoing research in the field, and most importantly, the bravery of those who have been victimized coming forward, the system evolves and better understands the devastating impact of sexual violence on a person’s life.

Unfortunately, there are times when a person who is rightfully entitled to compensation may not benefit from advancing a lawsuit. This is most often when the perpetrator of the abuse is deceased or has no assets or savings to pay. In those situations, it may be that there is another person or institution who could be found legally responsible for the injuries resulting from the abuse or assault. For example, if the sexual misconduct took place in the context of the perpetrator’s employment (teacher, youth leader, religious official, camp counsellor etc.), the employer may be found legally responsible for the person's injuries and required to compensate the victim.

A lawyer specializing in representing sexual abuse victims, like those at Beckett, can help explain your legal rights and the options available to you. We understand that it can be difficult to make that first call. When you are ready, we are here to listen and help guide and support you through your journey to justice.

Published on February 20, 2024

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