March 24, 2016
Statement of Solidarity with Sexual Assault Survivors
The release of the reasons in R. v. Ghomeshi has exposed the many problems with the criminal justice system with regard to sexual assault complaints. The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) wishes to express solidarity with all sexual assault complainants on this difficult day.
The reality is that most women do not report sexual assault to police, and this case has starkly illustrated why they so often do not proceed. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults in Canada, it is estimated that 997 assailants walk free; 12 see charges laid; six are prosecuted and just three lead to conviction. (1)
The women who came forward with their stories of sexual assault are exceptionally brave, and they should not have been the ones on trial. Most women who are assaulted know their attacker. Most will have some form of ongoing relationship with that person. Most have been socialized to try to smooth things over, to doubt themselves, to tuck the assault away and get on with their lives.
LEAF emphasizes the judge’s finding that his “conclusion that the evidence in this case raises a reasonable doubt is not the same as deciding in any positive way that these events never happened.”
For over 30 years, LEAF has used litigation, law reform and public education to address inequality and injustice in Canada. In the area of sexual violence, LEAF challenges rape myths and stereotypes in the criminal justice system and was instrumental in advocating for the rape shield provisions in the Criminal Code and for a strong legal standard for consent in multiple interventions before the Supreme Court of Canada. We have stressed that rape myths have no place in Canadian courts and that consent must be affirmatively communicated. Nonetheless, it is clear that the criminal justice system is not the complete answer to addressing the sexual violence endemic in our society. Systemic changes are required to the justice system in order to promote and protect women’s equality, but we must also focus on prevention.
We must advocate for broader societal changes to create a culture of consent, rather than putting faith in a criminal justice system that so often is weighted against women. Women must have the social, healthcare and other supports to assist them, whether or not they choose the route of reporting violence to police. We must teach a robust concept of consent to young people and encourage bystander interventions while discouraging the victim-blaming and shaming that is still all too common. Women must have access to education, employment and housing to ensure they can make decisions about their own sexual autonomy and bodily integrity.
LEAF will continue to advocate for needed reforms to legal processes, and urge a focus on prevention to create a positive shift in our societal understanding of consent and sexual assault. Until then, we must all support survivors, whether they decide to report or not.
About Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
Since April 17, 1985, when equality rights were enshrined in sections 15 and 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, LEAF has worked toward equality for women and girls. LEAF intervenes in key cases to ensure that when courts interpret equality rights, there will be a systemic improvement in women’s lives. For more information about LEAF, visit www.leaf.ca
- Source: Johnson, “Limits of Criminal Justice Response: Trends in Police and Court Processing of Sexual Assault,” in Sheehy, Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism, 2012). See also: YWCA, 460,000 and Counting. Online: http://ywcacanada.ca/en/blog/35?page=1