Articles Posted in Child Abuse

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School for the Deaf Students make sexual abuse claims

Recently former residents of the Nova Scotia School for the Deaf have come forward with allegations about childhood sexual abuse. I have been representing survivors of childhood sexual abuse for almost 25 years. In most cases the allegations that give rise to the claims are decades old. So the most common question that I get asked about by survivors is: “How do I prove that I was abused?”

What is “The Burden of Proof”?

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Former residents of the Interprovincial School for the Education of the Deaf, more commonly called the Nova Scotia School for the Deaf have come forward with allegations that they were physically and sexually abused while they were students of the school.

The school was originally in Halifax and children from all the Atlantic provinces were sent to the school for education. In 1960 the governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick assumed joint responsibility for operation of the school and moved it to Amherst Nova Scotia where is was renamed the Interprovincial School for the Education of the Deaf.

While these allegations have not yet been proven in court they follow a string of other institutional abuse claims from various Residential Schools across the country where children were forced to lived in isolation, separated from their parents. Many of these children subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

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Jian Ghomeshi criminal charges

There are few Canadians that haven’t heard about the sexual assault allegations being made against former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi. Two weeks ago Ghomeshi was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of physical assault. To date nine women have come forward stating they were victims of sexual or physical assault by Ghomeshi. Some of the allegations date back a decade or more.

Bill Cosby facing sex assault allegations but no criminal charges

South of the border about 20 women have come forward claiming that they were sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby.

Cosby has faced allegation of sexual assault in the past. In 2005 a Canadian woman told Canadian Police she had visited Cosby at his Philadelphia mansion. Cosby gave her medication which she said made her dizzy and pass out. She claimed when she woke up her bra was undone and her clothes were in disarray. At the time, Police found “insufficient credible and admissible evidence” to support criminal charges.

This week prosecutors in California decided not to lay criminal charges against Cosby based on allegations he he sexually assaulted a 15 year old girl.

So why is Jian Ghomeshi facing criminal charges in Canada while Bill Cosby is unlikely to face charges anywhere in the United States?

These two cases highlight the difference in the laws (both criminal and civil) relating to sexual assault.

American Statue of Limitations on criminal charges

A “Statute of Limitation” is a law that sets a time limit on how much time one has to file a law suit or press criminal charges.

In the United States there are statutes of limitations for most criminal charges. In other words, if a sexual assault victim does not swear out a criminal complaint within a certain period of time after the assault the ability to lay criminal charges is barred.

For example, under Nevada law sexual assault victims must lay a charge within 4 years of the assault. In New York sexual assault charges must be laid within 5 years of the assault. In California, where the most recent allegations arise, the time limit for felony sex crimes in 1974 was 3 years from the date of the offence.

In other words, if the victim was 15 years old, she had to go to police to lay charges before she turned 18 years old.

Canada has no statute of limitations on serious criminal charges.

On the other hand, in Canada, there is no time limit for filing charges of a serious criminal nature. So charges of serious sexual assault have no statute of limitations.

As a result, Ghomeshi is now facing sexual assault charges for acts alleged to have happened almost ten years ago.

Difference for civil suits for compensation

There is also a big difference in the laws relating to civil suits for compensation for harms suffered as a result of sexual assault.

In the United States, like criminal charges, civil law suits for sexual assault have specific and sometimes very short statutes of limitations. So if a sexual assault victim wants to pursue their abuser (or the institution that employed the abuser) for compensation they are not able to do so unless they bring forward their claim within a few years of the assault.

Time limits on claims unfair to abuse survivors

This can be problematic for many victims. For people who have been subjected to severe sexual assault the psychological consequences can be devastating. Sexual assault victims may simply be psychologically incapable of filing a civil suit as a result of the harm they suffered because of the sexual assault.

Supreme Court of Canada changed the rules for abuse survivors

In Canada, the laws relating to filing sexual abuse compensation claims changed dramatically as a result of a 1992 court decision known as M(K) v. M(H).

In that case the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the time limit for filing a civil suit did not begin to run until the sexual assault victim discovered the connection between the assault and the harms they experienced later in life.

The Supreme Court of Canada and the Canadian Criminal Code recognize that survivors of sexual assault can feel a paralyzing sense of shame and embarrassment. Sometimes the assaults create such a powerful lack of trust that they are fearful of going to the police or talking to a lawyer.

In many cases survivors of sexual abuse suffer serious psychological problems that effectively disable them. Survivors may not realize that the problems they are suffering later in life (alcoholism, depression, problems with interpersonal relationships, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress) are connected to sexual assaults they experienced earlier in their life.

Since the M(K) v. M(H) case, most provinces in Canada have changed their Limitations of Actions Acts to allow victims to sue for compensation for sexual abuse years (and sometimes decades) after the assault occurred.

Most provinces have no limitation period for sexual assault claims. Some provinces apply the “discoverability rule” as described in the M(K) v. M(H) case.

Nova Scotia to change Statute of Limitations for sexual assault claims

Nova Scotia is currently looking at changing its Limitations of Action Act to eliminate all limitation periods for sexual assault compensation claims.

As an advocate for surviors of childhood sexual abuse I fully support the proposed changes to Nova Scotia’s Limitation of Actions Act. But the changes may not go far enough.

Some survivors want the proposed legislation to be made retroactive.

The proposed limitation period, when it is proclaimed into effect, will apply to anyone who brings forward a claim after the new law is in place.

But what about sexual abuse survivors who have already come forward and may have had their claims statute barred?

If the province of Nova Scotia is recognizing that there shouldn’t be a time limit on when sexual abuse survivors can file their claim, shouldn’t that apply to all sexual abuse survivors?

What do you think?

Breaking the Silence

Many survivors suffer in silence thinking that they are the only one who was victimized by their abuser. In many cases when one survivor has the courage to break their silence and come forward to lay criminal chargers or file a civil suit it sheds light on the abusers activities and other victims, who thought they were alone, take courage and are able to come forward to seek accountability.

Sexual assault survivors often carry a crushing guilt throughout their lives blaming themselves for what happened to them. Reaching out to talk to someone; be it a friend, a family member, a health care professional, a police officer, or a lawyer, is for many survivors the first and hardest step in their healing journey.
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Class action settlement announced

A 16 year fight for compensation ended yesterday when the Province of Nova Scotia and former residents of the Home for Colored Children announced the details of a class action filed by former residents.

About 140 former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children filed a class action seeking compensation for what they describe as years of neglect and emotional, physical and sexual abuse suffered by children in the school.

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The federal government recently introduced legislation to create a public database of child sex offenders.

The bill increases the sentences for child sex crimes and requires sex offenders to provide information when they travel and also facilitates information sharing between various law enforcement agencies.

As an advocate for survivors of childhood abuse I support legislation increasing the penalties for child sex offences.

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CTV News has reported that Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton has issued a formal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in running the Indian Residential Schools.

Smith said:

“…we the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and Northwest Territories apologize to those who experienced sexual and physical abuse in residential schools under Catholic administration.”

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Newly ordained Pope Francis has certainly started his papacy by making the headlines. He turned down the luxurious Papal housing in the Apostolic Palace in favour of a simple hotel room, he travelled to a juvenile detention centre to wash the feet of the inmates, and he has issued what is seen as a strong statement against sex abusers in the clergy.

Pope Francis, the head of 1.2 billion followers of the Roman Catholic faith, called on the Church to act against clergy sex abuse. He demanded that the Bishops’ conferences around the world need to step up to disciplining the priests and assisting the victims. USA Today reports, :

“This could be an indication that he will move from a strongly centralized government of the church of 1.2 billion people to one that places increased authority locally.”

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Priests Suspended After Alleged Child Abuse

Last week the Archdiocese of Moncton announced that two of it’s priests Rev. Yvon Arsenault and Rev. Irois Despres had been removed: “from any ministry whatsoever following allegations of serious sexual abuse on minors on their part.”

Concern Over Failure to Report

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Memories of Abuse

As a lawyer who helps people with sexual abuse compensation claims one of the most common challenges my clients face is dealing with the intrusive effects of the memories of their abuse.

In the text Principles of Trauma Therapy: A Guide to Symptoms, Evaluation, and Treatment the authors John Briere and Catherine Scott identify several areas where memories of childhood abuse may effect psychological function in adults:

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A new California law mandates that computer technicians who discover child pornography MUST report it immediately to a specified child protection agency. Laws like this are proven to help catch sexual predators and those who protect them. A recent example is the convictions of Father Shawn Ratigan and Bishop Robert Finn.

Bishop Failed to Report Child Porn

In December of 2010 a computer technician found “alarming pictures” of children on Reverend Ratigan’s laptop. Despite the pictures being shown to Bishop Finn, the Bishop decided not to report Ratigan to police.