For over 35 years, the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) has been working in the province and across Canada to address and end sexual violence in our communities.
The OCRCC was formed in the mid-1970s as a communication network for Rape Crisis/Sexual Assault Centres. It provides information sharing in policy stances, funding and lobbying efforts for centres, and acts as an advisory body to governments, community groups and other organizations.
Yesterday, we found out that two Ancaster sisters are being sued for libel for alleging that their uncle sexually assaulted them. This is OCRCC response.
Superior Court judge Andrew Goodman’s ruling – in which he ordered two Ancaster sisters to pay their uncle $125,000 in libel damages after they accused him of sexually assaulting them as children – belies the fact that those alleging sexual violence continue to be held to more stringent account than are their alleged offenders.
Judge Goodman dismissed the claim because the sisters’ memories of the incident were “not of the clear and cogent nature required” to substantiate the allegations. It was also noted that the women “did not file a police report and that criminal charges have not been laid”.
As an adult, I can think of a hundred reasons why a childhood memory, particularly a traumatic one, might be unclear. As a victim’s advocate who has spent many years supporting women and men in sharing their stories of childhood sexual violence, I can also think of a hundred reasons why a person might choose not to report to the police. Unfortunately these details and others, as presented in Judge Goodman’s ruling, instead work to reproduce old victim-blaming rhetoric.
The erroneous belief that false allegations of sexual abuse – including malicious allegations levelled at a person that one simply “did not like” – are commonplace lurks, unspoken, beneath Goodman’s verdict. It echoes other myths about sexual assault, which posit that innocent men are often accused of sexual assault and women lie about it to get revenge, for their own benefit, or because they feel guilty about having sex.1
In reality, the majority of all reported sexual assault cases are simply not resolved through the criminal justice system. According to Statistics Canada, only 6% of all sexual assaults are reported to police (a lower stat than in other crimes). Of the 6% of sexual assaults that are reported, only 40% result in charges being laid; and of those cases where charges are laid, just two-thirds result in conviction2 . Is this because most of these reports are false? No. Instead, the fact of the matter is that sexual assault is difficult to prove in justice systems3 . When we consider that the majority of sexual assault offenders are known to the victim in some way4 – and that acquaintances, dates or relatives are more likely to use verbal pressure, threats, or mild force during episodes of assault – is it any wonder that physical evidence of sexual assault is difficult to retain5 ?
And based on the above statistics, how many of those who report sexual assault could now expect a libel suits as a realistic consequence to their coming forward? The answer is: most.
Sexual assault myths continue to be ever-present and used against victims within the Canadian criminal justice system. Offenders and defense attorneys commonly take up the alibi that a sexual encounter was consensual; or – like Goodman’s ruling – construct the “victim as delusional, vengeful, exploitative, or an attention-seeker”6 . Given the important role of the courts in supporting victims of crime, I suggest that judgements should not rest solely upon scrutinizing the victim. This discourages survivors of sexual violence from coming forward and takes the onus off of offenders everywhere.
Further, if Canadian justice systems do not consciously work to recognize the realities of child sexual abuse – and the great courage it takes for survivors to come forward – sexual violence will continue to go unchallenged.
Nicole Pietsch, Coordinator, Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres
 Sexual Assault centre Kingston. Busting Myths. Online: http://www.sackingston.com/Default.aspx?pageId=857971;
And The Learning Network. Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document. May 2012: 14.
 Statistics Canada, 2003, The Daily, 25 July
 Hakvag, H. Does Yes Mean Yes?: Exploring Sexual Coercion in Normative Heterosexuality. Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme. Volume 28, Number 1. York University Publication: 122
 The Learning Network. Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document. May 2012: 17.