There is no statute of limitations for prosecution of sexual assault in Canada.
One in three girls and one in six boys will suffer from sexual abuse.
In 2008 in Canada there were over 13,600 cases of sexual assault against children or youth that were reported to police, and in 82% of those cases, the victim was female. In 75% of the reported cases the accused was known to the victim, and in 33% it was a family member (with a 97% chance of that family member being male).
It’s estimated that only 3% of cases of sexual abuse against children are ever reported.
All of this, among other reasons, is why it is so flabbergasting to me that two sisters, now in their 30’s, have been ordered by the Ontario Superior Court to pay $125,000 to their uncle for accusing him of sexually abusing them when they were children in the early 1980s.
The women allege that for four years between 1982 and 1986, beginning when they were just 4 and 6 years old, they were sexually abused by their uncle at his farmhouse, where they often stayed.
From CBC News:
During the court proceedings, the younger sister testified that she had two distinct memories of being sexually abused by her uncle. In the first, she recalled feeling like she was being pinned down by her uncle, and she had pain in her legs or groin. Years later, she believed the pain was in her vaginal area, court documents say.
In the second incident, she recalled being pulled up onto a bed in her cousin’s bedroom where the children often stayed and something soft being placed in her mouth, which “may have been his penis.”
The older sister also described two memories of being assaulted, which she described as a static image like “a snapshot” or “an out-of-body experience.”
“(She) testified that she does not see (her uncle’s) face but, as with the first memory, she knows it is (him),” court documents say.
In 2006 the women approached their uncle and asked him for an apology, which he refused to give. After that, they emailed relatives and friends explaining their claims and stating that they “did not want anyone else to be sexually abused.” In turn, the uncle sued them for libel, and they counter-sued with sexual battery. However, a couple of weeks ago Justice Andrew Goodman decided that the line in their emails about not wanting others to be abused, was “intended to evince the defamatory meanings that (he) is a sexual predator, likely to reoffend and is not to be trusted or left alone with children” and therefore ruled in favour of the libel suit based on that one sentence.
There’s a lot to be said about how completely messed up this is.
We know the problems that occur when women try to report sexual assault. We know the stigma and the fears that are attached. We know how hard it is to win a case when it’s just the word of the victim against the word of the alleged abuser. These women went through all of that, with the added pressure of creating major rifts between their once close-knit family. Now they are being asked to pay their abuser hundreds of thousands of dollars for being unable to prove their claims in a court of law.
What message is this sending to other victims who are unsure of whether or not to come forward?
When a Superior Court Justice says that these women just ““did not like their uncle,” what message is that sending to other victims?
What message is it sending to other victims when a judge decides that the usual privilege protecting those who allege sexual abuse from libel suits can just be taken away, simply because they stated that they were worried about the possible danger others could be in?
When a judge states that the balance between encouraging victims of sexual assault to come forward and protecting those accused has “tipped in the opposite direction” and then rules in a way that can only be taken as discouraging victims to come forward – what message is that sending to other victims?
I realize that being accused of sexual assault is something that can completely destroy a person’s life. I realize that those who are falsely accused don’t deserve that burden, and that there needs to be some way of ensuring their safety too. However, I also realize that false claims of sexual abuse are not nearly as prevalent a problem as is sexual abuse. That there are not hoards of women using this so-called “power” to forever ruin the lives of men that they just don’t like, or want to get back at.
When Justice Andrew Goodman wrote his decision, he stated that if the women’s claims were proven, then they would be granted $35,000 each in damages. Instead, he charged them both over 3 times that for alleging the abuse.
Goodman is making it clear that to accuse someone of sexual assault and not be able to prove it is a worse crime than actually committing sexual assault.
Image from tree-climbers.org
Lawyer Elizabeth Grace, who specializes in sexual abuse, expertly described the gross contrast, saying “That an invasion of the deepest kind of privacy and intrusion on one’s physical body with long-lasting effects would be worth $35,000 and the damage to a grown man’s reputation is worth so much more, it strikes one as concerning.”
Concerning, yes. But also so much more than that. Justice Goodman was very concerned about the harm to the uncle’s reputation. In his decision he really hammered home the fact that the uncle is a religious man. He said the uncle “cherishes family, church and community” and that he has had to deal with the allegations “throughout his close-knit religious community.” Never mind the permanent psychological damage faced by adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Forget the effects it has on their development, sexual and otherwise, their ability to trust others, the possible depression and fears of being touched, the way it affects their ability to relate to others. Clearly, if you believe this has happened to you. If you believe there is even a remote possibility of saving another child from experiencing the same trauma. Clearly, unless you can irrefutably back up your claims 30 years later, you’d best not bring it up because you’d harm that man’s reputation.
Grace has also stated that Goodman’s decision has a “chilling effect.”
I’d say it’s a lot more than that.
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