Speaking out against sexual assault in Yukon

On Monday, May 2nd 2016, Yukon NDP Justice Critic Lois Moorcroft made the following statement to mark Sexual Assault Prevention Month:

I rise on behalf of the Official Opposition to acknowledge that during the month of May, we undertake national and local campaigns to prevent sexual assault. This campaign aims to raise public awareness about the prevalence of sexualized assault in Canada.

One in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. In the Yukon in 2014, the rate of sexual assault was 3.8 times higher than the national average. Fifty-seven percent of aboriginal women report having been sexually abused, and aboriginal women are three times more likely to be violently assaulted.

The calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada specifically call upon governments to investigate and find remedies for the disproportionate victimization of aboriginal women and girls in Canada.

Sexualized violence refers not only to rape, but includes stalking, harassment, assault and sexist attitudes. These occurrences each contribute to a culture that condones and supports sexualized violence.

Sexual assault is a gendered crime and one that is rarely reported. Statistics Canada reports that over 80 percent of sexual assault victims in Canada are female. Of these victims, 66 percent are under age 24, 60 percent are under age 17, and 11 percent are under age 11. Those are numbers that should cause all of us to be outraged and motivated to end sexualized violence and all forms of violence against women and girls. Eighty percent of sexual assaults occur in the home; half of all sexual offenders are married or in long-term relationships.

Mr. Speaker, as I have said in this House before, the fundamental cause of violence against women is inequality. It is violence that keeps women “in their place”. The Canadian Women’s Foundation states: “In our society, gender inequality is visible in politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace. Both men and women receive many messages — blatant and covert — that men are more important than women. This fundamental inequality creates a rationale for humiliation, intimidation, control, abuse, and even murder.

“In this context, it becomes easier for a man to believe that he has the right to be in charge and to control a woman, even if it requires violence. This is not only wrong, it’s against the law.

“Violence against women is rooted in the belief that women deserve less social power and it is therefore acceptable — maybe even necessary — to exert power over them. This mindset also drives many other forms of violence, such as racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and religious persecution.

“There is no evidence that alcohol or mental illness causes men to be violent against women. Men who assault their partners rarely assault their friends, neighbours, bosses, or strangers. In fact, when it comes to alcohol, there is a double standard: while alcohol consumption by an offender is often used to excuse their behaviour, victims who have been drinking are often blamed for their own victimization.”

Mr. Speaker, one of the most public trials in recent memory has shone a spotlight on the realities of sexualized violence and sparked a national outrage about how survivors are treated in the legal system. In the lead-up to the recent high-profile trial and acquittal of Jian Ghomeshi, we saw hashtags like #BeenRapedNeverReported and #IBelieveSurvivors dominate the public discussion. Following Ghomeshi’s acquittal, there has been much public discussion and legal comment about what is needed to improve the criminal justice system response to women reporting sexualized violence. There hasn’t been a systematic review of criminal law since the law reform of the early 1980s when evidence, law and procedure were amended to abolish such rules as the doctrine of recent complaint, which provided that a women who had not raised a hue and cry immediately after her assault must be discredited, and a requirement for a witness to corroborate such a complaint.

We must maintain the right of an accused person to a fair trial, while at the same time ensuring that trials are not discriminatory and that Charter rights to equal protection and benefit of the law are also respected.

One commentator asserted that fear of the unknown is preventing people from reporting. I believe that in fact many women who choose not to report sexual assault do understand the system and make a fully informed decision based on knowing what to expect in a courtroom, and that decision is that they do not report.

I recall a conversation I had many years ago with a senior RCMP official who said that he would advise his daughter not to report if she was raped. Because the system often re-victimizes, estimates in Canada are that only six out of every 100 sexual assaults are reported to the police. Since the summer of 2014, Yukon residents have the option of third-party reporting. This means that anyone 19 and over who has been sexually assaulted can make a confidential report to Kaushee’s Place about the crime. The assault is then reported to the police, but the victim’s information is kept confidential unless the victim later gives consent to disclose it to the police.

In 2012, Holly Johnson prepared an attrition pyramid published in Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism. The actual number of sexual assaults is unknown, but rates have been calculated from general social survey data. Many reports are filtered out as unfounded by the police, which means that charges are not laid. Many cases are dropped when a prosecutor determines that there is not enough evidence to proceed to trial, and conviction rates are low. Professor Johnson’s study finds that 0.3 percent of perpetrators of sexual assault were held accountable, and 99.7 percent were not. So what are we doing in Yukon to address a societal crisis of sexualized violence? Tomorrow night, Gwaandak Theatre is presenting a reading of Melaina Sheldon’s play Chance, followed by discussions.

On May 10 in Whitehorse, Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre is presenting a panel of young speakers to share their reflections on the Ghomeshi trial, the media and how to prevent sexualized assault from happening by teaching and learning about enthusiastic consent. Their announcement reads: “Everyone is welcome to share your frustration, build your solidarity, and create dreams of a better response system to sexualized violence.”

In Watson Lake, a group called Youth for Safety has launched a petition about changing language in the criminal law to more accurately describe criminal acts of violence against children. This work with the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society and Youth for Safety demonstrates youth leadership for justice.

Sexual assault prevention must become a focus of our attention 12 months of the year. We should encourage consistent dialogue and education for women and men on sexual assault and the root causes that lie in the sexism of our society. We need to recognize that in our territory this is an issue of increased concern. The rates of sexual assault in Yukon are alarming and are cause for immediate concern and action. No individual should ever experience sexual assault, but a quarter of all women in Canada will in their lifetime. What does this tell us? That we are not doing enough. High heels don’t cause rape. Short skirts don’t cause rape. Women’s bodies don’t cause rape. Rapists cause rape.

During Sexual Assault Prevention Month, I urge everyone present and all members of our community to meet the challenge of ending sexualized assault each and every day of the year.


Photo: joshuatree / flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.