Like many victims of sexual violence, it took me a long time to talk about what happened to me and to understand the impact it has had on my life. I tried to forget. I tried blaming myself. Finally, I tried reporting it to police.
I know that times and laws have changed, but there remains a huge barrier for historic victims to come forward and receive justice.
Since what happened to me took place in 1974 and Canada’s laws were not changed until 1983, there is a different set of rules. Prosecutors and investigators must follow the outdated laws that were in place at the time the event occurred, when victims were blamed and forced to prove their “chaste character” to authorities. It was easy for perpetrators to argue their victims consented to the abuse.
Since the pre-1983 laws still apply to old cases, women continue to be painfully victimized by the justice system. I found there is little appreciation, even among professionals who deal with sexual violence, of these special challenges.
In the past year I devoted considerable personal time and emotional energy trying to understand why nothing could be done. The process was difficult and grueling. Even professionals who deal with sexual violence issues daily offered little hope of success.
Beyond ensuring that all agencies dealing with sexual assault cases are properly trained in the special needs of historic victims, we must also ensure that access to help and support is easier. There are many departments and agencies with responsibility and they are confusing to navigate.
Our political climate has an appetite to admit the failures of past laws which permitted appalling treatment of various groups, and respecting the rights of its citizens. Some examples are the apologies for the Chinese Head Tax and the treatment of students in Residential Schools. Recently, hundreds of people marched in support of missing and murdered women.
Women and men who are failed by weak sexual violence laws of the past should be shown similar respect.
We need to ask what can be done for those victimized by predators, no matter when it happened. We need to find the moral indignation to help others cope.
In British Columbia the Representative for Children and Youth has proven that an independent body can successfully audit, advocate and extract accountability from public institutions on important matters of public policy. Recently, the province appointed Canada’s first Seniors Advocate.
A similar office should be established to do the same thing for victims of sexual assault. We need a non-political body to ensure multiple agencies dealing with sexual violence are working in a common cause and that their services are easy to access. We need a single independent voice to push governments to move faster on reforms that are meaningful.
We deserve to know that someone has our back when it comes to these important issues. Giving up is not an option.