Amid the thousands of women around the world who have come forward to disclose they were victims of sexual assault by powerful men following the more than 50 women who have accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of everything from sexual harassment to outright rape, there exists a small clique of men enabled by anti-feminists who strangely feel they are the real victims in all of this.
It has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada that sexual assaults are vastly underreported and the successful prosecution of these cases is often undermined by entrenched stereotypes and myths. A Globe and Mail investigative report called Unfounded concluded that, of the women complaining of sexual assault to the police, many were disbelieved by the authorities on the flimsiest of grounds and no charges were laid.
As a result of Unfounded, police services across Canada are now taking a closer look at the closed cases.
I was a panelist last Thursday at an event hosted by the University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society. Yes, there is such a thing. One of my co-panelists was lightweight, loudmouth, self-described “civil rights activist” Diana Davison who revelled in her shtick of propagating the prevalence of men unjustly accused of sexual assault relying on “data” and “lots of stuff out there,” without any reference whatsoever to specific statistics or literature. Don’t let the evidence get in the way of whipping up an already wound-up audience of about 150 mostly angry white men.
The panel was oddly titled “Prosecuting Sexual Assault: Should we hear it all?” I say oddly because it is recognized as a basic rule of evidence that the party seeking to introduce evidence must be prepared to satisfy the court that it is relevant and admissible. That applies to all criminal cases, including sexual assaults. So, the answer to the question is a simple no.
The panel was pitched as a “robust dialogue and debate” surrounding Bill C-51 which imposes a duty on the defence to follow a set procedures in order to use records in the possession of the accused, such as emails and text messages from the complainant, to ensure that they are not improperly used at trial to reinforce sexual stereotypes. Defence counsel, predictably, are in an uproar, dramatically calling it a “catastrophe.”
Opponents of C-51 see it as a knee jerk reaction to the acquittal of Jian Ghomeshi. A closer scrutiny of the emails used by defence counsel and how the trial judge treated them would most likely have been allowed even if C-51 had been law. The emails were used to prove the complainants made inconsistent statements at various times and suggested collusion among them. This is fair game in a criminal trial and will be fair game when C-51 becomes law.
Audience member after audience member lined up at the mic, often to wag their finger at me. It felt like I was in a twilight zone. A female audience member lamented that the need for corroboration was eliminated for sexual assault cases and should be brought back.
In another insistence, I was making the point that sexual stereotypes also exist among the police. Who can forget Michael Sanguinetti, the Toronto police officer’s safety tip to avoid sexual assault at a campus safety information session at Osgoode Law School in 2011: “Don’t dress like a slut.” It caused international uproar and yearly transnational movement of protests worldwide. In response, someone from the audience heckled “yeah, don’t dress like a slut.”
All of which was evidence enough why we need to continue strengthening the rape shield law and how C-51 can’t pass soon enough.