Dalhousie University - Inspiring Minds

 

How the courts are failing sexual assault survivors — and how trials can be made more just

- September 14, 2018

Professor Elaine Craig at Halifax Central Library (Photo: Andrew Church)
Professor Elaine Craig at Halifax Central Library (Photo: Andrew Church)

Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted during their lifetime than to earn a university degree or be paid the same as their male counterparts.

That was just one insight shared by Schulich School of Law Professor Elaine Craig last week (Sept. 6) before a full house at the Halifax Central LIbrary’s Paul O’Regan Hall.

Prof. Craig was there to discuss her new book, Putting Trials on Trial: Sexual Assault and the Failure of the Legal Profession, published earlier this year 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 Prof. Craig.

 She pointed out that during sexual assault trials, the complainants are asked to remember and be able to share the intimate details of their personal lives and trauma — not just once, but over and over again, in public, with people they don’t know. 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 Prof. Craig.

As a profession... 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 Prof. Craig addressed in her book, 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 Prof. 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,” Prof. Craig told the audience, “and neither the constitution nor our adversarial model of justice create obstacles to making them happen.”

Putting Trials on Trial can be ordered from McGill-Queen's University Press.


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