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Professor Elaine Craig's new book reveals how the courts are failing sexual assault survivors and how trials can be made more just
On the evening of Sept. 6, Schulich School of Law Professor Elaine Craig told an almost full house at Halifax Central Library’s Paul O’Regan Hall that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted during our lifetime than to earn a university degree or be paid the same as their male counterparts. She was there to discuss her new book, Putting Trials on Trial: Sexual Assault and the Failure of the Legal Profession, which launched earlier this year and is published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.
“The criminal justice system, warts and all, remains the single most significant societal response to the social problem of harmful sexual behaviour,” said Craig. She pointed out that during sexual assault trials, the complainants are asked to remember and be able to share—over and over again in public, with people they don’t know—the intimate details of their personal lives and trauma.
These women are required to testify for hours, often over several days, in an unfamiliar setting. “Most painfully, we require them to expose themselves, to be vulnerable, in ways too profound to even capture with words,” said Craig.
As a profession, I would suggest that too often we are failing in our duty to show sexual assault complainants respect, and we are failing in our duty to protect them from discrimination and abuse. — Professor Elaine Craig
The women often take the witness stand without being properly prepared. It’s the failure to consistently prepare, protect, and accommodate sexual assault complainants that Craig addressed in her book, which is the result of six years of research.
“As a profession—as criminal defenders, Crown attorneys, judges, law professors, and law society regulators—I would suggest that too often we are failing in our duty to show sexual assault complainants respect, we are failing in our duty to protect them from discrimination and abuse, and we are doing so unnecessarily,” said Craig.
Putting Trials on Trial provides suggestions to make the criminal trial process less traumatic for complainants without threatening the rights of the accused. “The recommendations to reduce the trauma of the trial for sexual assault complainants that I identify in this book are achievable,” Craig told the audience, “and neither the constitution nor our adversarial model of justice create obstacles to making them happen.”
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