It takes tremendous inner strength for sexual assault complainants to come forward and testify against their alleged assailant in court. They face the risks of having their sexual intimacy being disclosed, their credibility and reputation damaged as they go through defence lawyers’ grills and attacks in court.
Sexual assault cases in Canada have a conviction rate of about 45 per cent, according to the latest figures from Statistics Canada. It's the lowest conviction rate for violent crime aside from attempted murder. Sexual assault victims cite fear and mistrust as one of the biggest deterrents from reporting it and testifying in court. And that is why victims are reluctant to come forward, leaving sexual assault the most under-reported crime in Canada.
But those who speak out in the face of great adversity are remarkably courageous and admirable.
Former CBC radio star John Ghomeshi faces charges of sexual assaults and choking. As his high profile trial gets underway, the first complainant testified in court, and faced Ghomeshi lawyer’s two days’ vigorous cross-examinations that intended to erode her credibility. On the first day of cross-examination, she was challenged on the inconsistencies in her account of events, from a misremembered car to uncertainty over a kiss to the mystery of a set of hair extensions. Her testimony ended with the lawyer’s suggestion that she outright lied under oath.
In sexual assault cases, the complaint’s credibility stands and falls on her testimony and her demeanour, according to legal expert. As the defendant is entitled to his strong rights to present a full defence, the defence lawyer would often browbeat the witnesses by suggesting they are lying.
As the complainant in Ghomeshi trial returned to the witness stand the second day, she faced another round of intense scrutiny by the defence lawyer, who dramatically revealing “flirtatious” emails contradicting the complainant’s repeated claims that she had no contact with Ghomeshi after the alleged sexual assaults.
The complainant said she’d sent the emails – one including the photo of her in a bikini - as “bait” for Ghomeshi to call her so she could ask him why he violently punched her in the head.
I really feel for the women who endured such hardship in court. Sometimes they are just in a very vulnerable or even impossible situation where their narrative cannot survive a cross examination from a pit bull lawyer. Inconsistencies in the narrative account resulting from memory fragments are common among us all. Therefore, some slight differences every time a narrative is given in connection to a sexual assault are not surprising at all, say the legal experts.
To navigate the court process can prove very difficult for victims of abuse. Even with plenty of testimony, sexual assault cases can often fall short of convictions due to a lack of definitive evidence to show a crime occurred. At the end of the day, victims may find they did not get what they were looking for by going through the criminal justice system.
While many victims are unable to see that their alleged assailant is proven guilty by court, it is truly the courage and the stunning bravery that has made the measure of justice possible. They serve as the role models for victims of sexual abuse and inspire them to speak out. Because of them, there are others who have found solace in seeking their own justice.
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