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Sexual Assault by Teachers and School Employees in Canada

Teacher and school sexual assault

Students in Canada are at risk of being sexually assaulted by a teacher or other school employee. Such sexual abuse can have devastating effects on a student’s academic performance and can disrupt their mental stability for the rest of their lives. Victim’s losses can include both pain and suffering and lifelong future earnings losses.

As a result, some victims choose to sue the teacher (and their school) who sexually assaults them to obtain financial compensation. Such sexual assault lawsuits against teachers and school may result in judgments for hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.

Vulnerability of Students

Teachers are in a position of power towards their students that creates a situation that is ripe for sexual abuse. To children, teachers are authority figures who have a significant degree of influence in their lives. They not only assign grades, but report behaviour to their parents. Students thus feel pressured to comply with a teacher’s demands for fear of negative repercussions. For younger students, they may also fear getting in trouble if they don’t comply with their teacher’s wishes.

Awareness of the problem of sexual assault in our schools has become more widespread as the media has recently given more attention to such cases. As a result of this awareness, sexual assaults against students are being reported more frequently in Canada than ever before. This is resulting in both an increase in criminal prosecutions of teachers and students suing for sexual assault.

Taking action against the teacher and school is important and helps prevent others from being sexually abused. Such actions force schools and governments to take action to protect children and stop more sexual assaults from occurring.  

Holding the School Responsible for Sexual Abuse

If a student is sexually assaulted by their teacher, or by a school employee, the school board (government) may be found vicariously liable for the student’s sexual assault lawsuit. This effectively means that the government will have to pay a future settlement or judgment to the victim. Given that sexual assault judgments and settlements are commonly more than $100,000, having the government legally obligated to pay is important. It ensures that the victim who be able to collect on the eventual financial compensation in the case.

The school can be found vicariously liable and required to pay even if the sexual assault did not occur on school property. Sometimes a teacher entices a student to go to their house, a hotel, or other location and sexually assaults them. In these cases, since the teacher came in contact with the student through his employment at the school, the school or school board can usually be held financially responsible. If there is no relationship between the victim and the teacher's employment, the school may be off the hook.

The essential question is whether the asailant came in contact with the child through his role as a teacher. If the student goes to his or her school, or had in the past, or is otherwise in the proximity of the teacher as a result of his employment, or on school property, the school can likely be held liable.

This means that if a teacher sexually assaults a random child in a public park, the school is probably not a valid party to the lawsuit. This, of course, will depend on the exact circumstances of the case. If the sexual assault occurred while the teacher was on a school field trip to the public location, this may be enough to tie the school board to the case financially.

Just because a school or school board refuses to admit responsibility for a sexual assault doesn't mean they are off the hook. Ultimately, this is question of law that is the decision of the court.

It should be noted that even if the school is not vicariously liable, the teacher may still have enough assets to pay the settlement or judgment to the victim. The teacher's investments, bank accounts, real estate holdings, and other assets are still subject to the legal action. Furthermore, the bankruptcy act specifically exempts sexual assault judgements from being discharged. This means the teacher will carry the financial liability until it is paid off.

Sexual Assault by College and University Professors

Sexual assaults committed by college instructors and professors against adult students are becoming more frequent in Canada. Professors may develop relationships with their students outside of the classroom, which sometimes includes attending parties and other social environments. Students may feel pressured to allow sexual advances made by a teacher in these circumstances because they feel not doing so will have a negative impact on their grades.

While many times this fear is implied, in more egregious examples the teacher will threaten the student about the repercussions of non-compliance. Not all professor/instructor sexual conduct is sexual assault. It is only a sexual assault if there is a lack of consent on the part of the victim. If the student is of legal age and provides valid consent, while the professor’s action is likely a violation of employer policy that could result in termination, it is not necessarily criminal or actionable in civil court.

If the student consents to the sexual assault because the professor is in a position of power towards them, the consent is arguably invalid. The responsibility to ensure consent is valid lies on the accused, not the victim. If a professor makes sexual advances towards a student, they have a high burden according to the law to ensure that student's consent is valid. In circumstances where the professor is in a position of power towards the student, such as the position to assign grades, the amount of due diligence required would be extremely high.

Similar to sexual assault cases involving public school teachers, the professor's employing college or university may be held financially liable for the sexual assault. Even if this is not the case, professors tend to be well paid professionals who would likely have the assets to pay off the settlement or judgment over time.

Teacher Sexual Abuse from Years Ago

You can still sue or criminally prosecute a teacher even if the sexual assault occurred many years ago. It is often the case that a student is sexually assaulted by their teacher and the crime goes unreported for years. The reasons for this include fear of punishment, fear they will not be believed, and the general fact that many child sexual assault victims suppress their pain until adulthood. In some cases, the school sexual abuse may have occurred decades ago.

While the passing of time does not necessarily prevent a lawsuit or prosecution, it may negatively impact the case. The most typical negative effects include:

1) Witnesses may have died or lost their recollection of important facts of the case;
2) The assailant may have died;
3) A vicariously liable company may have since ceased to exist and thus is unable to be held financially accountable (possibly limiting the victim’s ability to collect money);
4) Other evidence may cease to exist that would have helped the victim’s case.

While all civil litigation is subject to statutory periods that limit the victim’s time to file a claim, there are exceptions that can apply to sexual assault victims in most cases. Courts have ruled that sexual assault victims may be unaware of their loss until long after the abuse has happened. The timeline for the beginning of the lawsuit starts at the point the victim became aware of their losses.

This exception means that it is possible for someone who is sexually assaulted by their teacher to pursue financial compensation as an adult. Victims ought to be aware that their ability to do this will ultimately depend on the facts of the case.

Disclaimer: All information on this page is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice or presumed to be completely accurate, or infinitely up to date. If you have questions regarding your case, please contact a local lawyer immediately because there are time limitations on civil claims. Failure to contact a local lawyer immediately could prevent you from making a claim.

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