Warning: This story discusses sexual violence that may be triggering for some readers.
A Kelowna woman is speaking out and wants to know why people are not outraged by the grim reality awaiting survivors of sexual assault who hope to seek justice through the court system.
The women’s identity and details of the ongoing case cannot be made public due to a publication ban enforced by the courts.
She will be referred to as Jane Doe and is speaking not only for herself, and her case, but for the other survivors of assault who have slipped through the cracks of the justice system.
She said that she wants her experience of abuse and the long road of silence and feelings of comparative insignificance that followed “to matter enough for something to be done about it.”
She clearly remembers the day that her nightmare started, when she was raped by a man previously unknown to her. There is, however, no horizon of reprieve in sight that would signal an end to the multi-year sexual assault case. The once seemingly imminent and final end to the trial now appears to be clouded and grey after being delayed time and time again by her abuser who has missed court dates, spent periods of time on the run and is now filing numerous appeals following a guilty verdict.
She said that it feels like her abuser is given the grace to make mistakes and have his humanity respected, while she was not.
“I felt like I was presumed guilty in a system where he was innocent until proven guilty.”
Doe explained that while her abuser has been given chance after chance to offer even a glimmer of doubt in the eyes of the law, a slight slip-up on her part would cause the entire case to crumble.
In Canada, the justice system is designed to protect people against wrongful convictions and above all else, ensures that a guilty verdict comes only after sufficient evidence is shown to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused did commit a crime. The Crown bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, often relying heavily on evidence provided by the survivor in cases of assault that take place behind closed doors.
However, there are few protections in place for the survivors of assault who must testify and recount the events of a traumatic incident without much formal support from the judicial system.
“There is nobody to help the victim through the court process.”
There are supports available through the RCMP victims services and organizations like the Elizabeth Fry Society but often it is the responsibility of the survivor to reach out and organize the services that they need. Long wait times for access to counselling and support groups, embarrassment, denial and self-destructive behaviours can leave survivors of abuse feeling alone and without help.
Victim Service workers provide referrals to additional community resources and will advocate to ensure that a victim’s rights are upheld, says the BC RCMP.
When a file is proceeding through the criminal court process, the victim services unit will provide ongoing court updates, and court orientations and assist with writing Victim Impact Statements.
The Elizabeth Fry can send a representative to sit with survivors during the court case and can help them prepare for what to expect in court, if that is desired.
If you are the victim of a crime or a traumatic event and in need of support, you can contact the Kelowna RCMP detachment and the Victim Services Unit for more information at 250-470-6242.
Being cross-examined on the stand as a witness is often traumatizing and isolating for survivors. Defence lawyers pry and try to uncover cracks in the story, relying on mistakes made on the stand when survivors are asked to repeatedly recount specific details of an incident that took place, at times, years prior. It is common to hear questions like; “why didn’t you fight harder? Did you like it? What were you wearing?” and suggestions about sexual preferences asked to survivors while they are standing in court in front of their abuser.
In addition to the challenges faced while on the stand, many survivors struggle to find peace outside of the courtroom. Doe would have her weeks interrupted with updates stating that her abuser had violated the terms of his probation order, had missed a court date, or that he is appealing a decision based on semantics and she may be called back into court to testify yet again.
“Why is there nothing there to protect the victims? To make sure the victim doesn’t give up?” asks Doe.
When asked why she chose to pursue a criminal conviction Doe explained, “if I am not the one fighting and being loud for myself, that nobody ever would.”
She wants to protect other women from her abuser and inspire legal changes that could help other survivors of sexual assault.
She explained that she has felt left in the dark regarding many of legal processes involved in the multi-year trial and feels isolated, ashamed and vulnerable as a result.
“In my angry desperation for someone to be punished, I found myself as a suitable option… This rape was incredibly destructive,” said Doe. “Safety has become an inaccessible feeling.”
“This has changed me completely, and not every change can be re-branded as strength.”
While Doe awaits the next steps of the process, she wants people to know that her patience and restraint should not be mistaken for acceptance.