Elaine Craig argues that some lawyers need to change the way they talk about sexual assault
Sexual violence is an indisputable threat to the physical and mental health of Canadian women. The outcry in response to the discovery of rape chants on university campuses, the use of social media to harass and re-traumatize victims of sexual violence, and the allegations against high profile public figures, such as CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, has focused enormous public attention on the issue of sexual violence. In fact, the Premier of Ontario recently took the unusual step of reminding defence lawyers that victims of sexual assault cannot be interrogated for the way that they dress or for their sexual history. However, despite significant reforms to improve the criminal law’s response to sexual harm, conviction rates have not risen, and reporting rates remain dramatically lower than for some other types of violent crime. Sexual assault complainants continue to identify a lack of faith in the judicial system as one of the main reasons not to report their victimization.
An important aspect of the social problem of sexual harm involves the legal profession’s response to, and discourse surrounding, allegations of sexual harm. It matters how lawyers, who serve as significant actors in the criminal justice system, describe allegations of sexual violence, portray the law of sexual assault, and explain the available defences to charges of sexual assault. Today most lawyers have websites that advertise their legal services online. Examination of these websites offers a window into the narratives about sexual assault that some defence lawyers construct for their clients.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.