As a lawyer who regularly represents victims of sexual abuse, I
was interviewed by Law Times about the quantum of damages awarded
to successful plaintiffs in civil claims for sexual assault and
sexual abuse. While the courts "readily acknowledge in a
general way that sexual abuse causes ... profound injury and
loss" that recognition hasn't translated into
"specific and quantified damages [commensurate with] that
injury and loss". This is particularly troubling when the
damage awards in sexual assault cases are compared to damage awards
in other types of cases, such as defamation.
For example, in a
recent defamation claim before the Ontario Superior Court an
Ontario man successfully sued two of his nieces for loss of
reputation based on their accusations of childhood sexual abuse.
The judge rejected the nieces' counterclaim for sexual assault.
The uncle was awarded $125,000 in general damages. In stark
contrast to the large sum awarded for the uncle's lost
reputation, the judge held that if the nieces' claims had been
accepted, he would have awarded each of them $35,000 in general
damages. The judge would not have ordered either punitive or
aggravated damages for the nieces.
The discrepancy between the actual award for lost reputation and
the proposed award for sexual assault suggests that injury to a
person's reputation is greater than the harm suffered by
victims of sexual abuse. I have practiced in the area of
sexual abuse for nearly two decades, and have observed that when
one "sees over and over again the profound damage wrought
by sexual abuse and being constantly reminded of the depravity and
evil perpetrated against vulnerable individuals, one has to
question why it is that awards in this area are not more
consistently, or even sporadically, higher than they have been to
Lawyers have noted a number of factors that contribute to the
low awards of damages in sexual abuse cases. Many of the harms
suffered by survivors of sexual abuse are psychological, and
therefore "invisible". Unlike a traditional
personal injury case, where a car accident may have caused a broken
leg, the suffering of survivors of sexual abuse can be more
difficult to assess. This may be compounded by the fact that
victims often bring sexual abuse cases years after the underlying
Elizabeth Grace is a civil sexual abuse lawyer in
Toronto and has specialized in sexual assault matters for
almost two decades now.
In Irwin v. Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, 2015 ABCA 396, the Alberta Court of Appeal found that the "ABVMA" failed to afford procedural fairness to a veterinarian undergoing an incapacity assessment.
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