Sexual assault is any non-consensual act of a sexual nature, imposed by physical or psychological coercion. Any sexual assault is fundamentally assault within the meaning of section 265 (1) of the Criminal Code, and it is necessary to prove that the victim did not consent to the assault. To this end, what is the statute of limitations for a sexual crime?
The Civil Code and the statute of limitations for sexual assault
The statute of limitations provided for in the Civil Code of Québec has been 30 years since May 23, 2013. Before this date, it was only three years. However, the countdown to the statute of limitations does not begin immediately on the day of the assault. It only begins once “the victim becomes aware that the harm he or she has suffered is attributable to the assault or act of violence”.
The time limit can also be suspended, even if the victim is aware that the harm suffered is attributable to the assault, in two cases:
- If the victim was a minor at the time of becoming aware of the assault, the time limit is only counted from the day on which he or she reaches the age of majority;
- If the victim, regardless of age, can demonstrate that he or she was unable to act despite this awareness (fears of reprisals, cultural or social taboo, physical or psychological oppression by the aggressor, significant psychological disorders, etc.).
Victims of sexual crime and the possibility of civil proceedings
A sexual assault victim can sue her abuser in civil court for damages to seek financial compensation for the harm she has suffered.
A civil suit is possible even if no criminal complaint has been filed because they are two completely different processes. However, in civil cases, the victim must respect deadlines, i.e. 30 years.
Criminal prosecution cases
In criminal matters, there is no maximum time limit. Anyone who has knowledge of a sexual assault can make a complaint, even if they are not the direct victim.
At that time, a prosecutor from the Criminal and Penal Division will decide whether charges can be laid as a result of the police investigation. A person can therefore be charged with sexual assault years after the events.
Hybrid offences: the difference between a criminal act and a summary offence
Many Criminal Code offences are hybrid offences, including sexual assault. This means that prosecutions can be initiated either for a criminal act or for a so-called summary offence.
When an offence punishable on summary conviction is prosecuted, the process is different from that for an indictable offence and the penalties are lower. Where both types of prosecution are applicable, the Crown prosecutors decide what type of charges will be laid, in part because of the seriousness of the offence. In the case of a summary conviction, the Crown has six months to lay charges based on the fact in dispute.
Sexual crime and the statute of limitations: when should you hire a lawyer?
If you are charged with or are a victim of sexual assault, the help of an expert lawyer may be recommended. At DUI Montreal Lawyer, we can assist you throughout the legal process. Contact us now to find out how we can help.