The Flaws of the Judicial System and Why We Need to Reform Sexual Assault Trials


Photo credit to CBC News


The verdict in this first sexual assault trial against Jian Ghomeshi is one that is, unfortunately, not very surprising for those of us who work to support women who experience sexual assaults. We know the statistics - 0.3% of sexual assaults lead to a conviction. We know and understand the struggles, oppression and marginalization that women face on a daily basis. We understand why women don’t come forward to report their sexual assaults, when their credibility, actions and responses is what actually ends up on trial.

Ghomeshi being acquitted of all charges highlights the way in which our judicial system fails to bring justice to those who choose to take their sexual assault cases to court. It deters survivors from coming forward and further pushes them into the margins, into silence and isolation. Our judicial system is only just for and works to protect the accused. In our current judicial system, Ghomeshi had the right to choose not to testify in his defense. This means his actions, responses and credibility are not tested. Rather than focusing on the systemic ways in which oppression influences complainants’ actions and reactions, our judicial system places the survivors of sexual assault on trial, rather than the perpetrators.

The term ‘whacking’ refers to tactics that seek to exploit the stereotypes and vulnerabilities inherent in sexual assault cases. While this has been outlawed by the Supreme Court of Canada since 1999, there is no doubt that this tactic is being used to this day to discredit survivors and their stories. ‘Whacking’ asks questions of survivors that make an already brutal process even more traumatic. The judicial system fails to protect sexual assault survivors by the way it allows ‘whacking’ to be used as a tactic to discredit testimonies and re-traumatize survivors.

In our work, we learn that trauma is messy. Human beings are complex and our reactions to trauma, stress, fear and pressure can vary and change widely from person to person. Just as complex as human beings are, and how imperfect we are, we must accept the fact that there will never be a ‘perfect victim’. When we teach women that there’s a wrong way to be a victim, we also teach men that there is a right way to assault. When a person experiences trauma, the reaction usually has very little to do with what looks to make sense, but rather what can keep them sane, alive and surviving.

Our judicial system needs to recognize that trauma exists as a symptom of an oppressive system and needs to adapt and begin to mitigate that. Out of 1000 sexual assaults only 33 will be reported and of that only three will lead to a conviction. The verdict in this trial solidifies the already understood notion that within the current system survivors’ voices will not be heard.