Ottawa, ON – Today, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) and subject matter experts released a new report showcasing the need for more “avenues to justice” in Canada to address sexual violence.
Sexual violence remains a persistent problem across Canada. Women, girls, and gender diverse people are most at risk of sexual violence – with Indigenous and Black women experiencing this violence at a disproportionate rate. Over thirty percent of all women aged 15 and older in Canada have been sexually assaulted.
However, only five percent of sexual assaults will ever be reported to the police and many survivors of sexual violence – especially Indigenous and Black women – report revictimization and retraumatization when they do go through the process of reporting. Many survivors have also expressed that they want different options, but often feel their only option is to file a report with the police.
“Survivors and advocates have known for decades that the default response to sexual violence is not adequate. We also know that there are many well-established mechanisms to meaningfully address violence—they’re simply not well-known, are inadequately funded, and in some cases are even prohibited from being used in legal cases,” said LEAF’s Executive Director and General Counsel Pam Hrick. “This research shows that justice for many more people is possible if we also look outside the criminal legal system.”
Transformative and restorative justice approaches provide other responses than the standard institutional responses to sexual violence. These practices have roots in many Black, Indigenous, queer, trans, and sex worker communities. They are non-adversarial, recovery-focused ways of understanding justice that often reach for deeper social change.
“Indigenous systems of dispute resolution and restorative justice have been sitting idle for two hundred years, but our laws and practices are as relevant as ever when it comes to effectively addressing sexual violence,” says Charlotte Hunter, Métis Nation of Ontario Provisional Two-Spirit Council Representative and advisory committee member for the report. “These systems are ready to be revived and re-implemented in ways that centre survivors, and with a focus on repairing community rather than demolishing lives.”
The report, co-authored by Mandi Gray and Tamera Burnett, provides an overview of the promising practices emerging across Canada that offer remedies to harm and to prevent future violence by addressing root causes of violence.
The report also outlines recommendations that governments across Canada can implement to support restorative and transformative justice, such as re-evaluating moratoriums on using transformative and restorative justice mechanisms in criminal sexual assault cases, increasing funding for these mechanisms, enhancing Independent Legal Advice programs for survivors, and funding public education and awareness around transformative and restorative justice.
“For years, I’ve supported survivors of sexual violence through the criminal justice process. I’ve seen the harm that the criminal justice system imposes on every single person that engages with it,” says Audrey Huntley, co-founder of No More Silence, an advocacy group raising awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women. “Their healing is not even considered, much less prioritized. We need restorative justice to be widely available and well-funded to give survivors the best chance at justice and healing possible.”
The Avenues to Justice Report was generously funded by the Canadian Bar Association’s Law for the Future Fund and the Department of Justice Canada.
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The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) is a national not-for-profit that works to advance the equality rights of women, girls, trans, and non-binary people in Canada through litigation, law reform, and public legal education. Since 1985, LEAF has intervened in more than 130 cases that have helped shape the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To find out more, visit www.leaf.ca.