Over the past 30 years, the legal response to sexual violence has evolved considerably. High profile cases such as the 1999 Jane Doe Audit, the 2014 Jian Ghomeshi case in Canada, and the 2017 revelations about sexual violence by powerful men in the entertainment industry have created a huge upswing in public awareness about these issues.
However, survivors of sexual violence continue to face a lack of resources and legal systems that, largely, do not understand the unique realities of this kind of violence. Accessing supports and effective legal responses is even more challenging for survivors who are further marginalized by virtue of their race, Indigeneity, class, immigration status or other aspects of their social location.
On January 22, 2020 the Schlifer Clinic held a knowledge sharing forum with the participation of the Canadian feminist lawyer and women’s advocate Pamela Cross, staff lawyer and lead of the #AndMeToo Project at the Schlifer Clinic Callandra Cochrane, Criminal lawyer Paul Alexander and Scientific Lead of Women’s Xchange at the Women’s College Research Institute Dr. Robin Mason. The forum of legal professionals and service providers opened space for a fruitful discussion on recent improvements and remaining challenges in specific areas of law such as Criminal, Immigration, Employment and Human Rights that service the needs of survivors of sexual violence.
The questions under discussion were:
- How have the evolving political, economic and legal landscapes affected the work you do?
- What are the challenges you face in working with and/or advocating for survivors?
- What are the challenges that survivors continue to face despite a heightened awareness of sexual assault and harassment?
- How do we empower survivors in the work that we do?
Deepa Mattoo, Executive Director of the Barbra Schlifer Clinic opened the forum and welcomed all the speakers and guests.
Criminal lawyer Paul Alexander spoke about an updated definition of consent in sexual assault cases. As he claims in his paper The Men’s Rea of Sexual Assault: How Jury Instructions are Getting it Wrong, cases law from 1990 has updated the definition, but juries continue to be poorly instructed on the updates.
Dr. Robin Mason, an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, Department of Psychiatry and a researcher at Women’s College Hospital, spoke about a newly developed free course on Recognizing and Responding to Commonly Misunderstood Reactions to Sexual Assault.