Jailing sexual assault victims shows we must rethink sexual violence
 

Jailing sexual assault victims shows we must rethink sexual violence

Anne Kingston: The inhumane treatment of assault victims shows the insidious ways that social class and status intersect with sexual violence


 
(Halfdark/Getty Images)

(Halfdark/Getty Images)

Outrageous. Sickening. Horrifying. Heartbreaking. All of these words describe a CBC report in early August that two more female sexual assault complainants were jailed in Edmonton to ensure their testimony at trial. One was 16 when she was shackled and placed in the same cellblock as the man later convicted of raping her at knifepoint. After ignoring a court order to appear, the second was forced to spend a sleepless night at the remand centre while seven months pregnant (she was spared proximity to her attacker as he was out on bail).

The report follows the public broadcaster’s June story about a woman detained five nights at the remand centre after she fell asleep and had trouble focusing at a preliminary hearing for reasons never made clear. At least twice she was forced to travel in a prisoner transport van with a man later convicted of brutally stabbing, beating, choking and sexually assaulting her.

Alberta’s Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley ordered an investigation. No doubt it will delve into “systemic” problems with procedure. What these snapshots of inhumane treatment need to trigger, however, is discussion of the insidious ways social class and status intersect with sexual violence—in Edmonton courtrooms or at the trials of Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby. If we did, we’d frame sexual violence as a social justice issue, not simply a criminal one.

READ: Jian Ghomeshi: How he got away with it

Though sexual violence knows no class boundaries, bountiful research indicates underprivileged women are far more likely to be victims, a fact blurred by media focus on campus sexual assault. No surprise, then, that the women jailed in Edmonton were not daughters of industrialists or college students. They were “marginalized,” to quote the CBC—or, in other words, poor, powerless and deprived of family, legal and community support. They’re also nameless, their identities shielded by publication bans that both protect victims and insinuate that there’s stigma attached to being a sexual violence victim.

The woman in the first CBC story, dubbed “Angela Cardinal,” was Cree, homeless, on her own since age 14. She’d used crack cocaine but reported stopping before trial, with no evidence to suggest otherwise. Crown prosecutor Patricia Innes was “concerned about her physical and mental state” at trial but didn’t suggest hospitalization. Rather, it was acceptable to incarcerate her close to a man whose attack caused Cardinal to tell the court: “I was praying I would die before anything else happened” (she was killed in an unrelated, accidental shooting in December 2015). The teenager in the CBC story had been in a group home; the third woman was described as a “drug addict and street prostitute.”

High-profile sexual assault trials invariably highlight how social class and status figure in how sexual violence cases are handled. During Ghomeshi’s trial, defence lawyer Marie Henein subtly jabbed at complainant Linda Redgrave’s social standing to discredit her—in one example, that Redgrave bounced between part-time jobs as a makeup artist and “cater-waiter” on the fringes of Toronto’s arts community. At Cosby’s trial, complainant Andrea Constand’s strong family support network clearly factored in her filing a police report against the powerful entertainer (her mother and brother-in-law, a Toronto police detective, testified for the state).

READ: Bill Cosby’s creepy ideas about women and sex go back decades

Yet surprisingly little research on social status and sexual violence exists. The 2014 study “Young women’s risk of sexual aggression in bars: The role of intoxication and peer social status” offers a glimpse. Tracking Canadian women between the ages of 19 and 29 in bars, it found a link between perceived social status (as measured by the women in the study) and men’s sexual aggression: 51 per cent of high-status women who’d imbibed five drinks reported being targets; 79 per cent of low-status women did so. Lead author Kathryn Graham, a senior scientist emeritus at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, posits that intoxicated higher-status women are more likely to be protected by friends; lower-status women tend to be on the fringes and more easily targeted; they’re seen to be less likely to stand up for themselves. This fits with bullying literature, Graham told Maclean’s—“Bullies tend to target weaker victims.”

It’s a point to remember in light of Slate writer Will Saletan’s recent controversial tweet advising parents about sexual assault: “Teach your daughter to say ‘no’ firmly and mean it. Men sense women’s willingness to yield.” Clearly not all parents can instill such confidence (a better tweet: “Teach your son not to sexually assault woman, and that no means no—in any tone of voice”). Moreover, perception of “willingness to yield” can result from inequity, which is why addressing sexual assault must extend beyond police and courts to support for women (and men) in disadvantaged communities—those with the least work flexibility, child care assistance, access to transportation and legal support.

Meanwhile, in Alberta, everyone from the justice minister to Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht are speaking in lovely sound bites about the need to respect and protect victims. Better to listen to what the victim locked up at age 16 told the court about the after-effects of her sexual assault: “I feel embarrassed, vulnerable, violated and alone.” That’s what needs to be fixed.

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Jailing sexual assault victims shows we must rethink sexual violence

  1. It’s very telling when writers like Anne Kingston fail to balance their POV with the realities of the examples they use to illustrate their take on the subject at hand.
    When complainants are drug and alcohol abusers they often waste the time and resources of the justice system who are trying to prosecute dangerous offenders. In Edmonton and elsewhere there must be countless cases of assault victims revving up the wheels of justice only to disappear when they’re needed as witnesses.
    In the Ghomeshi example, Kingston studiously avoids mentioning that all 3 complainants lied and/or perjured themselves in court…torpedoing their own case.
    Bringing up the slimy and disgusting Bill Cosby as an example only serves to further demonize Ghomeshi, an innocent man and victim of injustice. Ghomeshi’s trial revealed just how careful, intelligent and fastidious he was about dealing with the perils of indulging in a kinky high risk, but legal, behavior. That’s why I still believe he definitely would have sought consent for his bdsm kink prior to engaging these women. It’s quite obvious that those who chose to go to police were still seeking reflected glory and were revenge motivated due to the fact Ghomeshi never had much interest in them. Most observers understand this while certain “feminists” ignore the obvious in order to milk a motherhood type issue in an attempt to appear relevant and vital.
    Just witness the Mandi Gray fiasco. While radical feminists are still attempting to literally spin a silk purse out of another narcissistic sow’s ear, Gray’s case is revealing the weak underbelly of feminism and it’s need for revenge at the expense of justice. Their aim is to eliminate due process so the “survivors” are always believed. Too bad for them that society is starting to grasp the concept that certain groups, given a public platform, feel that if they repeat lies often enough there will always be people willing to take the bait and swallow those lies whole.

    • Sexual Assault Statistics in Canada

      • Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
      • 1 – 2% of “date rape” sexual assaults are reported to the police
      • 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
      • 11% of women have physical injury resulting for sexual assault
      • Only 2 – 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports
      • 60% of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of 17
      • over 80% of sex crime victims are women
      • 80% of sexual assault incidents occur in the home
      • 17% of girls under 16 have experienced some form of incest
      • 83% of disabled women will be sexual assaulted during their lifetime
      • 15% of sexual assault victims are boys under 16
      • half of all sexual offenders are married or in long term relationships
      • 57% of aboriginal women have been sexually abused
      • 1/5th of all sexual assaults involve a weapon of some sort
      • 80% of assailants are friends and family of the victim

    • Boris Moris

      Revenge is when you are a news reporter and a man comes up and kisses you and you insist that the police become involved. And when she is black and he is white, we have to wonder what, exactly, is going through her little mind.

      Anne Kingston makes this comment:
      “… perception of “willingness to yield” can result from inequity, which is why addressing sexual assault must extend beyond police and courts to support for women (and men) in disadvantaged communities”.

      It’s too bad this thought was not given priority but I suppose the important cases – Ghomeshi, etc are the ones that get people reading. Too often, those without power are treated with disrespect, even if not every man will actually sexually harass or sexually assault these more vulnerable members of society. The man whose comment Kingston quoted, like many men and feminists, think it is all about choice, or appearing confident, and that simply saying No will get the male to desist, or in fact will lead him not to act with such impunity in the first place, placing a hand or a kiss where it was not wanted nor expected, or making lewd glances. What is not mentioned, and never is, is that men are a lot smarter for the most part nowadays. They have learned that some actions may be acceptable – but only once – as in making a sexual advance. If the subject does not respond favourably, the best move then for him is to back off. But what often happens is that even though no more sexual incidents occur, other, harassing behaviours can, and are implemented. When women don’t comply, they can be rejected – excluded – and even punished for their noncompliance to what many men still see as their right.

      • Yes, absolutely all true. Men are such evil beasts. Curse them and their roving eyes.
        Who is it exactly that women wear high heels, short skirts and plunging necklines for, again?

        • I don’t know, Boris. I can’t remember that far back. If I ever did.

  2. Because women always tell the truth…

  3. One woman is killed in Canada every 6 days by her intimate partner.

    It’s hard to fake that.

    • “One woman is killed in Canada every 6 days by her intimate partner.”

      So about 60 a year in a population of 35 million. That may well be one of the lowest rates on the planet.
      Canada does NOT have an epidemic of violence against women. They have a problem with a PM who uses his feminist crusader image as a smokescreen to cover up the fact he is exactly like every previous PM: He’s beholden to corporate interests especially in the resource extraction sector.

      • AHAHAHAHAHA

        • I suppose when one can’t come up with an intelligent response they can always make laughing noises.

          • You’re cute, but you’re not smart. LOL

      • Sexual Assault Statistics in Canada
        A Numerical Representation of the Truth
        • Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
        • 1 – 2% of “date rape” sexual assaults are reported to the police
        • 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
        • 11% of women have physical injury resulting for sexual assault
        • Only 2 – 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports
        • 60% of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of 17
        • over 80% of sex crime victims are women
        • 80% of sexual assault incidents occur in the home
        • 17% of girls under 16 have experienced some form of incest
        • 83% of disabled women will be sexual assaulted during their lifetime
        • 15% of sexual assault victims are boys under 16
        • half of all sexual offenders are married or in long term relationships
        • 57% of aboriginal women have been sexually abused
        • 1/5th of all sexual assaults involve a weapon of some sort
        • 80% of assailants are friends and family of the victim

    • Brought to you by the Bureau of Statistics Pulled Outta Emily’s Ass.
      Kinda like the one in four college girls, and the wage gap, and the Hillary won the vote…

    • They should choose less violent partners

  4. Sexual assault has been a social justice issue for quite some time. It is also, and even more fundamentally, an issue of natural justice. But we don’t believe in that ‘hocus-pocus’ stuff.

  5. Suddenly the title of this “opinion piece” has changed.
    Nice tactic. Deflect, project, deny.

  6. Anne your desperate attempt to remain relevant by fanning flames is tiresome. Had you read the transcripts regarding the women incarcerated you would know that the judge was extremely critical of her treatment. His comments are likely the most compelling reason for the investigation into her treatment. THAT is the real story. A mistake was made (with reasonably good intentions) and our courts and gov’t have recognized this and have taken steps to rectify it. Bravo. I look forward to a positive resolution to this terrible situation. Of course – as you pointed out – the assault victims who incarcerated had been deprived of family support (by their families of course) and had not availed themselves of the myriad of supports offered to people in Canada. They are both more vulnerable to perpetrators and less able to assist in their own, and societies, protection. Victims in these circumstances may not receive treatment that would be deemed appropriate for the average assault victim. I anticipate the solution will weigh both personal and societal rights in determining a solution.

    • I noticed that, too. Plus she was very articulate herself. The impression I had was that the system failed earlier in the process, with the prosecuting attorney (I think) making the request as though it was routine and then the guards/transport etc. piling it on by making inappropriate decisions. But it was Angela Cardinal who really brought the injustice to the judge’s attention. I’d rather take away the lesson that the wheels of justice grind slow than that it needs to be turfed entirely.

      It’s ironic that Anne Kingston is becoming suddenly aware of how social inequities impact sexual assault, when it’s the media that helps create the gap — Ghomeshi’s charges were treated like the trial of the century (she’s still flogging the dubious value of the whole incident), while something as horrific as Angela Cardinal’s experience, which is apparently not really unusual, isn’t noticed for years.