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Myths still prevail in sexual assault trials

Posted on February 9, 2017 by Vauxhall Advance

Last week, the verdict for the sexual assault trial of Alexander Wagner came back; not guilty.

This is his second acquittal in a case that has sparked national outrage over a judge’s reliance on sexual-assault myths.

For those not familiar with Wagner’s case, perhaps you are more familiar with then-provincial court Judge Robin Camp. Back in 2014, Camp found Wagner not guilty, and asked the complainant involved why she couldn’t keep her knees together. He also told her that pain and sex sometimes go together, and called her ‘the accused’ several times during the trial.

Camp is now a federal judge, and the Canadian Judicial Council is deciding whether or not to remove him from the bench. A judicial committee recommended that he be discharged, and Camp wants to make his argument as to why he shouldn’t be in person. According to a column in the Globe and Mail, he is “remorseful,” “educated” and “rehabilitated”.

Camp has been criticized for relying on myths about sexual assault for forming his verdicts, and has since been removed from hearing cases after complaints to the CJC. A new trial was ordered, taking place late last year, and, as stated earlier, ended in yet another not guilty verdict.

Sexual assault cases are almost unique in the way the complainant has to prove that they were sexual assaulted. The accused in these cases can often sit back and relax; afterall, they are not the ones truly on trial here.

Despite the hoops that Camp has to jump through just to try to hang onto his job, it appears the judge retrying the case has followed in his footsteps. Part of the reason that he found Wagner not guilty was because he considered his testimony to be more reliable, because the complaintant had been drinking heavily and was having trouble remembering what happened that night, while Wagner was much more candid in his testimony, according to a Canadian Press article.

Adding that Wagner’s lawyer had the audacity to ask if she was attracted to his client, had suggested that any pain involved was due to the size of his client’s penis and called the incident a case of buyer’s remorse. Wagner was able to call out to her to tell the truth from his spot in the prisoner’s docket and flirt with another woman in the courtroom. The complaintant’s credibility was constantly being attacked.

A Calgary journalist’s tweet reported Wagner shouted “Yeah,” as he exited the court room. He would have a lot to celebrate, after his two trials on the same case received a not guilty verdict.

Being frank does not mean you are innocent, and just because you were drunk and don’t remember some parts, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Aren’t there campaigns going around explaining that drunkenness does not equal consent?

For reasons many cannot understand, the general perception is that if you are not a beaten-up woman who didn’t know her attacker, you weren’t raped.

If you enjoy sex and/or have lots of it, you weren’t raped. If you are wearing revealing clothes or were out late, you weren’t raped. If you knew your attacker and/or were in a relationship with them, you weren’t raped.

If you were friendly to your attacker before or even after the attack happened, you weren’t raped. If you are a male, you weren’t raped. The list goes on as to what you can’t be in order to be sexually assaulted.

Some statistics, courtesy of sexassault.ca: one in four North American woman will be sexually assaulted during her life; 80 per cent of attackers are friends or family of the victim; and only six out of every 100 victims of sexual assault will report it to the police.

To make maters worse, a victim will have to relive their sexual assault multiple times; the actual assault, reporting it, preparing for trial and testifying. Often times during it, they are degraded and dragged through hell and back, because they’re a vindictive bitch/a liar/mistaken/untrustworthy/just confused.

The process of attempting to bring their attacker to justice may not be worth it for many victims, because it is designed to persecute them from the start.

In Canada, we are fortunate enough to subscribe to the ‘innocent before proven guilty’ line of thought in our justice system.

The burden of proof lies on the crown to make the case that this person did do this, and if there is reasonable doubt to suggest that they didn’t, then they are found not guilty. If the defence so wishes, they don’t have to say a word in their defence; as long as some fault is found in the crowns’ case, there is reasonable doubt.

In cases of sexual assault, the easiest way to show reasonable doubt is to attack the victim’s credibility. Don’t remember what happened? My client does. You liked it, didn’t you? Is this revenge for you because you felt he wronged you? What makes you so sure it was my client? Weren’t you on a date? Wasn’t it just rough sex and not non-consensual?

By attacking the complainant’s credibility and enforcing rape myths, the defence can take apart the case without the accused having to ever take the stand.

And if they do? Well, it just proves that they aren’t guilty, they have nothing to hide.

If someone is robbed, they don’t have to prove they were robbed in the first place. Everyone assumes they’re telling the truth, and the focus is on finding the perpetrator and proving that this person did it.

But for a sexual assault case, they must prove that this did happen to the complainant, and then find and prove that this person did this, because despite only two per cent of all sexual assault complaints being false complaints, prejudice says they must be lying.

Is it really any wonder that only six per cent will come forward to report their sexual assault to the police and tell them what happened?

Wagner’s acquittal may prove to be Camp’s saving grace, because both judges involved had found Wagner to be not guilty, so Camp can argue that he was right to acquit.

But this case proves that there is a significant problem within our judicial system on the reliance on outdated thinking and myths when it comes to sexual assault victims.

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