Sexual Assault: Taking Action Years Later

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Victims of sexual assault often need time to fully understand what happened. And it can take years before they have the courage to take action. The time limit for taking an aggressor to court is different for civil and criminal cases.


Making a Criminal Complaint

Sexual assault is a crime. There is no time limit for making a complaint of sexual assault to the police. Any one who knows about a sexual assault can make the complaint, not just the victim.

The police investigate the complaint. Then the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions, often called the “Crown,” decides whether to formally accuse the suspect of a crime. So, a suspect’s trial might take place years after the sexual assault. 

A person found guilty of sexual assault can be sent to prison.

The criminal court process can be difficult for victims. So, the law gives them special rights to ensure they play a role in the process. 


Civil Case: Asking for Compensation

The victim of sexual assault can take the aggressor to court in a civil case. The purpose is to ask for an amount of money to repair the harm the victim suffered.

Victims can take the aggressor to court in a civil case even if no criminal complaint was made. Criminal and civil cases are different. There is a time limit for taking someone to court in a civil case.

As of May 23, 2013, victims of sexual assault have 30 years to take the aggressor to court in a civil case. Before that date, the time limit was only three years. This means that if the assault took place before May 23, 2010, a civil case might be refused. It’s best to see a lawyer.

The time limit does not usually start to run at the time of the assault. It might take years for victims to realize that the harm they suffered was caused by the assault. So, the time limit starts to run only from the time the victim becomes aware of this. Also, if the victim was under 18 at the time of the assault, the time limit can’t start before they turn 18.


Resources for Victims 

There is a free help line available at all times: 1-888-933-9007.

CAVAC, or crime victims’ assistance centre, helps victims overcome the psychological and social consequences of sexual assault. Their services are confidential.

CALACS, or coalition of sexual assault centres, help women who are victims of sexual assault and their relatives and close friends. They offer various services, including support throughout the legal process. They can be contacted anytime at the phone numbers or email addresses listed on their website.

IVAC, or crime victims indemnity, handles victims’ claims for compensation for physical and psychological harm they suffered because of a crime. Victims must meet some requirements to be eligible.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.