As of September 1, 2015, the government of Nova Scotia has removed a potential barrier to justice for victims of sexual assault.
It is well known that many victims of a childhood sexual assault are unable to come forward about their abuse at the time that it occurs. In fact, one study indicates that the average time for a victim to disclose the sexual abuse was 22 years, with men taking longer than women. Each victim has their own reasons for not coming forward about the abuse right away. Many reasons, such as anxiety, fear, repression, embarrassment and depression, actually result from ongoing psychological trauma caused by the abuse.
Prior to September 1, 2015, victims of a sexual assault that occurred more than one year ago were barred from bringing a claim in Nova Scotia unless they met a ‘discoverability test.’ The test was very fact specific. The Court would consider a victim’s awareness of the causal relationship between the sexual abuse and any related injury or harm. They would also consider the victim’s capability to bring a claim in consideration of any physical, mental or psychological conditions that resulted from the sexual abuse. A determination was then made about whether or not the claim was allowed to proceed.
Under the new rules, victims do not have to worry about the ‘discoverability test.’ Victims are able to pursue a civil claim in relation to a sexual assault at any time after the assault occurs. This means that the average person who needs more than 20 years to be able to seek justice for their abuse no longer has to worry about being told that they ‘took too long’ to come forward.
In making this change, the government brought Nova Scotia’s legislation up to date with our neighbours in New Brunswick and Newfoundland, as well as with the Criminal Justice system. More importantly, this change has the potential to help victims feel more comfortable in pursuing justice for past sexual assaults, including childhood sexual assault.
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Study cited: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Interim Report: Volume 1, pp.158 & 197