While sports are commonly thought to “be a safe, healthy environment which contributes to the positive development of young people, it is also an area where violence can manifest itself in various ways, including sexual assault.” Between 2 and 8 percent of all Canadian athletes are victims in sexual abuse at some point in their careers, a number which may come as a surprise to sports fans and sexual abuse prevention advocates alike.
Concerns for the safety and wellbeing of child and young adult victims have seen a sharp rise in recent years as incidents of sexual abuse in any environment—including athletics—are brought to the public’s attention thanks to the #MeToo movement and similar visibility efforts.
In as many as 98 percent of these incidents, the perpetrators of sexual abuse were coaches, teachers or instructors of the victims, violating the sense of trust and kinship that is highly valued in the context of an athletic team.
Is Sexual Abuse in Elite Sports a Hidden Epidemic?
As the #MeToo movement continues to gain traction across Canada, supporters have continuously called for not only an end to sexual assault victim stigmatization, but also for an improvement in the way that sexual assault incident reports are handled by authorities. In Canada, sexual assault allegations are investigated by local police departments or the RCMP. RCMP statistics indicate an estimated 635,000 incidents of sexual assault occurred in Canada during 2014.
Tip of The Iceberg
Unfortunately, as someone who has been representing survivors of sexual abuse for more than 25 years, I can state without a shadow of a doubt that these reports are just the tip of the iceberg.
I expect most Canadians would be shocked to learn that nearly 90 percent of all sexual assault incidents go unreported. A variety of factors contribute to this:
First, victims may feel intimidated by longstanding social and cultural attitudes exhibited towards sexual assault victims, and feel that it is safer or “easier” to say nothing about their experience.
Second, a lack of investigative accountability, victim support and sexual assault education allows many assaulters to “slip through the cracks” unintentionally meaning that even if a report is made, it does not guarantee that an arrest will result. Cases in which an assaulter is determined to have “not violated the law,” or that a crime was “falsely reported” are classified as unfounded.
Nova Scotia has proclaimed a new Limitation of Actions Act. That is the law that establishes the statute of limitation period (how long a plaintiff has to sue) for various claims.
There are a number of important changes in the new statute of limitations. Specifically it shortens the limitation period for many claims to two years.
Court still has discretion to extend limitation periods
Historical sexual abuse claims can be complicated and difficult to prove for many reasons; the abuse happened long ago, witnesses may have died, records are destroyed and memories fade.
Limitation Periods a Barrier
One of the biggest hurdles abuse survivors faced was the fact that the time limit to file a claim had usually run out by the time the survivor had the strength or courage to be able to disclose what happened to them as a child.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled today on Christensen v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Québec, an important case out of the province of Quebec that addresses the rights of sexual abuse survivors in that province to pursue compensation for their injuries.
Quebec has the shortest statute of limitation (time limit) in Canada for filing sexual abuse compensation claims. In Quebec, if sexual abuse survivors wish to pursue a compensation claim, they must sue their abuser (or the abuser’s employer) within three years of the sexual assault!!
In other words, if a child is sexually abused when they are 7 years old, they must file a claim before they turn 11 years of age. Does that sound crazy?
Takes Time to Discover Effects of Abuse
Time Limits for Sexual Abuse Claims
This week the Supreme Court of Canada released its decisions in a pair of historical sexual abuse cases arising out of Nova Scotia. In Borden v. Attorney General of Nova Scotia and Smith v. Attorney General of Nova Scotia, the plaintiffs filed claims against the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children and the Children’s Aid Society alleging the defendants were liable for damages for sexual assault and breach of fiduciary duty relating to sexual abuse that allegedly occurred in the home between 1966 and 1984.
The Home for Colored Children and the Children’s Aid Society applied for summary judgment to dismiss the claims on the basis that they were statute barred pursuant to Nova Scotia’s Limitation of Actions Act.