Sexual Assault: Taking Action Years Later



Over the past year, many sexual assault victims came forward even though the assault took place long ago. But can a sexual aggressor be taken to court 10, 20 or even 30 years after the assault? Yes, it's possible in some cases. But the time limits depend on whether the aggressor is taken to court in a civil case or a criminal case.


Civil Case or Criminal Case?

A sexual assault harms not only the victim, but society as a whole. That's why it's usually possible to take the aggressor to court in both a civil case and a criminal case. But the time limits for taking action in each case are different.


Civil Case: Three or 30 Years

The purpose of a civil case is to repair harm suffered by victims.  When victims want compensation for physical or psychological harm, they can take their aggressors to court in a civil case. They can go to court with or without a lawyer. They must prove that the aggressor committed the assault, and that the assault caused them harm

What Is the Deadline?

On May 23, 2013, the time limit for taking a sexual aggressor to court in a civil case was changed from three to 30 years.

Important! The three-year limit might still apply in some cases. It's best to check with a lawyer.

Whether the time limit is three or 30 years, the clock only starts to run when the victim becomes aware of the link between the harm and the assault. Sexual assault is very traumatic for victims. It may take many years before they recognize the link between the assault and the harm they’ve suffered. Often, victims recognize the link only after therapy.

What Are the Consequences for the Aggressor?

If the judge finds that the aggressor caused the harm suffered by the victim, the judge can order the aggressor to pay the victim an amount of money as compensation for the harm.


Criminal Case: No Time Limit in Most Cases

The purpose of criminal cases is to find out whether people accused of a crime are guilty and to punish them if they are found guilty. This is a way of protecting society as a whole. But it's not the victim who takes the suspected aggressor to court in a criminal case. Instead, a government lawyer called a "criminal and penal prosecuting attorney" takes the accused to court.

What Is the Deadline?

In most cases, there is no time limit to take action in a criminal case for sexual assault.  

What Are the Consequences for the Aggressor?

Aggressors who are found guilty of sexual assault can be sent to prison.


Anyone who knows that a sexual assault has happened can report it to the police.

The crime victims assistance centre (CAVAC) provides help and support to victims of crimes. CAVAC'S services can help victims with the psychological and psychosocial consequences of the crime. CAVAC's services are free and confidential. 

Provincial helpline This is a telephone information and referral helpline for sexual assault victims, their family and friends, and caregivers: 1-888-933-9007

The Center for relief of sexual assaults (CALACS) provides help and support to women and teenage girls who have been victims of sexual assault as well as to their loved ones. It offers various support services including help throughout a court case. You can contact the organization through its website or by calling 1-877-717-5252.

The crime victims compensation program (IVAC) provides financial compensation for physical and psychological injuries suffered by crime victims.