Did she really fight back? Did she scream loudly enough? Why doesn’t she remember the details? Why can’t she remain calm during her testimony?
When it comes to sexual assault cases, harmful myths and stereotypes persist. They may influence judges’ thinking about how complainants are supposed to behave during the assault and in court. The Ontario Court of Appeal recently criticized a judge for “applying stereotypical views” to her verdict in a sexual assault case, and ordered a new trial.
In recent years, judges’ behaviour in other sexual assault cases has drawn national attention. In a 2017 Halifax sexual assault case, the judge prompted public outrage by using the phrase “Clearly, a drunk can consent” in his acquittal. In 2014 case in Calgary, a judge asked a complainant why she didn’t resist by keeping her knees together.
Only 5 per cent of sexual assault cases get reported to police in Canada, and one of the key reasons is that the majority of victims don’t feel confident the justice system will offer them justice. One way we can help change that is by urging policy-makers to adopt mandatory education on sexual assault for provincial or territorial judges. This is especially important because most sexual assault cases are initially heard by judges appointed by provincial governments. (And while Prince Edward Island is the only province with this kind of legislation, it may not be as strong as it should be.)
You can help support survivors of sexual violence and build the gender equality movement in Canada: Sign this letter in English or French before October 14, 2019 to urge your representative to adopt mandatory education on sexual assault for provincial and territorial judges.
This idea of mandatory training for judges may sound familiar to you, as earlier this year there were calls for the passage of Bill C-337. It would have been similar to the legislation above, but aimed at federal judges. This bill didn’t make it past the Senate before its 2018 session ended, and it won’t go any further right now since it’s an election year.
- Sign this letter in English or French before October 14, 2019 to urge your representative to adopt mandatory education on sexual assault for provincial and territorial judges.
- Send this letter in English or in French to ask party leaders what they are planning to do to strengthen gender equality if they win the 2019 federal election.
- If you’re in Toronto, join us to hear award-winning journalist Robyn Doolittle discuss her latest book, Had it Coming: What’s Fair in the Age of #MeToo, on October 28, 2019. More information and tickets.
I think this is a great idea. Judges need to be properly trained in dealing with these cases before judging them. Sexual assault cases are already hard enough on the victims as it is, having judges who don’t have adequate education and training on the matter can make an already difficult situation even more difficult. I think part of the problem is that so many judges have been working in the field for longer than most sexual assault laws have been in place. With an ever changing government and society, we need judges who can change with that. The things judges may have learnt in law school about sexual assault decades ago may be outdated now and further education is necessary to prevent mishandling of cases in today’s day and age. Thank you for educating women on this matter, it is so important we get this message out!
I agree that requiring more sexual assault education is a great step towards justice for victims. However, it is not the only reason girls and women don’t come forward when they’ve been assaulted. So many survivors fear that nobody will believe them because a lot of the time sexual assault cases, if not reported immediately, are lacking in evidence and become “he said, she said” cases. Many don’t even make it to trial on lack of evidence, and everything victims do to get to that point is for nothing. Uneducated judges are certainly a huge problem with our justice system in cases of assault but requiring education won’t completely eliminate the problem surrounding reporting sexual assaults. Victims fear not only not being believed by judges, but by police, and even friends and family. The thought of going through retelling the events of what happened over and over to someone they don’t know and trust and the process of going through a trial whether judges are equipped to handle it or not is intimidating in and of itself. Educating judges is a huge part in changing the stigma around reporting sexual assault but it can’t stop there. We have to change the way victims are treated not only in the courtroom but in every conversation. Building trust and surrounding victims with people who will support and believe them is equally as crucial as having an effective justice system.