Calls get louder for better treatment of sex assault survivors

© Can Stock Photo / lucidwaters

There are more calls for the justice system to change the way it deals with sexual assault victims.

At a webinar hosted by the Chatham-Kent Sexual Assault Crisis Centre on Wednesday as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an anonymous survivor described her “horrific experience” of sexual assault and the criminal justice process that followed saying the justice system needs to change because it too often fails victims of sexual assault.

The survivor said she was attacked by two strangers in the Spring of 2017 in her bed and often asks herself why it happened to her. The woman said she cried at work that night, doesn’t feel safe in her own home anymore, and feels like a prisoner because she has to sleep with her bedroom door locked.

The survivor said police officers need more training to properly deal with victims because too often victims feel like they are treated like criminals during initial questioning. She said she reported her rape five days after it happened and was asked by the investigating officer why it took so long.

“I was questioned why it took me so long to report it, not realizing for me reporting it would be another trauma, reminding me that nothing was normal anymore,” said the woman.

The woman was also critical of the way sexual assault evidence was collected in her case, saying she spent 5-6 grueling hours in the hospital getting a rape kit completed after her attack, all the while getting poked and prodded by strangers who took photographs of her genitalia. The woman added that there is not one person who would put themselves through all of that unless they were actually sexually assaulted.

“I became a walking, talking, and perceivably functioning crime scene,” said the woman, who prefers to be called a riser of sexual abuse. “I cannot tell you the hour when I slept, the clothes I put on, what I ate, when I ate. My brain and body were on auto pilot.”

The anonymous survivor added publication bans need to change because they prevent many victims from telling their stories and warning others about rapists, thus also protecting the attackers. The woman said it should be up to the victim if they want a publication ban lifted even if it is designed to protect them.

Ontario Provincial Police Detective Sergeant Kimberly Miller, Regional Abuse Issues Coordinator for the West Region, also spoke at the webinar. Miller said work has been done over the past few years to better determine if an abuse or rape is founded or unfounded and a review committee was set up in 2018 to enhance OPP sexual assault investigations with input from community organizations. She added more officers are also getting enhanced training now that is more focused on the victims.

“I am seeing a difference,” Sergeant Miller said.

Sergeant Miller fell short of directly telling victims to ask for another officer if they found they were not being heard during the reporting phase, but added if she was reporting a crime, she wouldn’t talk with anyone who was not interested in what she was saying.

Pamela Cross, a well-known and respected lawyer on violence against women, agrees the law surrounding publication bans must change to allow victims to tell their stories without being charged. The Globe and Mail reported in April that a Kitchener woman was fined $2,000 and handed a $600 victim surcharge earlier this year for breaking a publication ban on her case by emailing a transcript of a court ruling to her family and friends, which contained information that identified her as the victim.

Cross also said there’s now free legal advice available to sexual abuse survivors that opened up across Ontario on May 1, 2021.

Click here for more information on the free legal advice.