Lucie Mathurin is a Crown prosecutor in Saint John, N.B.
One thing I’d like to change is the perception that court prosecutors and judges don’t care. There’s the old-school perception of lawyers that we’re malicious, pompous, maybe out of touch. But I think there’s a lot more sympathy than you can imagine—we do have hearts. I’m not upset when I lose a case because I lost the case to a defence lawyer, I’m upset that I didn’t do my job right, to get the victim prepared well enough to testify. That’s where I get disappointed.
I moved over to the Crown side, sometimes referred to as the “dark side,” after working in legal aid. I’d done a few sexual assault cases and I got to the point where I had a hard time representing this one individual because my gut feeling told me that he was guilty. I felt I was on the wrong side. Working for the Crown, we do a lot of sexual assault cases and we develop a connection with the victims—we have great sympathy for them and we get to understand them.
The hardest part is getting victims to believe in the justice system. It’s also difficult to convince victims to testify, to show them that it’s worth it, win or lose. I consider it a healing process for them: get it out, say it out loud. Even if he’s not convicted, it doesn’t mean the judge doesn’t believe you. But it’s such a low threshold to raise doubt for the accused, and sometimes it’s hard to explain to the victim why someone is going to get acquitted. You are raising a flag: If his name shows up ever again, people will know he’s been charged before.
I lose cases when people do not articulate themselves, when people can’t find the words they need. They are embarrassed, they are scared because they see the accused sitting there. You can’t blame them. So one of the most critical things that needs to change is having more support for victims services. In between the complaint, the examination done in the hospital and coming to us—that middle part—needs to be a better group or better system that gives victims a chance to get counselling, to get confident enough to get to the next step and to make them feel like they’re not alone.
If victims have support, they will follow through with prosecution. If they don’t have the support, you lose them. To take the stand is a huge thing. I’ve had so many positive reports from clients saying, “I’m happy I spoke out, hopefully this person is flagged even if he wasn’t convicted.” I’ve also had people get stage fright. But you have to commend them for even taking that step.
— As told to Rachel Browne. This interview has been condensed and edited.
This story is part of #Project97 — a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details on this collaborative project by Rogers-owned media outlets, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.