Posts Tagged ‘sexual assault’


FLF Co-chairs Carla and Eli, along with members Mary-Ellen and Leila attended this year’s Slutwalk march in downtown Winnipeg. While the crowd was a little smaller this year (as compared to last), the sentiment remained positive and empowering. A commonly held misconception about the Slutwalk movement is that, rather than conveying any particular message, it’s really just an over the top, outrageous display of exhibitionism.

Two years in, we’re happy to report that this is far from the case. Sure, people are welcome to wear anything they’d like (that is part of the idea), but most people don’t attend the event because they want an excuse to whip out their nipple tassels. To the contrary, the focus is far from what people are wearing. Rather, the event centres on making a powerful, united statement against victim blaming in all its forms.

A shorter march this year meant there was more time for speakers, and these were speakers worth listening to. Those who spoke at last year’s Slutwalk set a very high bar, and this year’s speakers met that challenge. Starting with Chandra Mayor (who spoke brilliantly last year as well; you can read her tremendous speech about the word ‘slut’ here), the tone was set for thoughtful reflection, incredibly brave personal story telling and accept-zero-bullshit activism and advocacy. Mayor was followed by several women who told their own stories with grace and grit.

There is something incredibly powerful about both the telling and the hearing of these stories; for those who have been lucky enough not to be touched by sexual assault, it lends a striking air of reality to a devastating issue. For those who have been assaulted, there is hopefully some comfort in knowing they are not alone. Perhaps the lasting contribution that Slutwalk will make will be to provide a safe, public forum for victims of sexual assault to stand up and declare, “This was not my fault,” and for other people to hear it.

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According to the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Police Department is considering a new set of guidelines that would instruct officers to prioritze sex workers’ safety over enforcing prostitution-related prohibitions. The propsed guidelines were written by Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke, and highlight the historic distrust of law enforcement by sex workers, and a need for officers to show them respect. “Sex work involving consenting adults is not an enforcement priority for the [Vancouver Police Department],” state the guidelines.

It’s interesting to note that the guidelines come in the wake of the Pickton Inquiry, which is investigating why the VPD failed to recognize the ongoing abduction and murder of sex workers by Robert Pickton. Evidence before the inquiry has shown the tendency among officers policing Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to not only disregard violent crime against sex workers, but also to personally harass, over-enforce and even to commit assault themselves against sex workers, up to and including the recent past. While the guidelines do seem progressive, considering them in context highlights the fact that they may be more in the realm of damage control than a sincere attempt to protect the phsycial safety and dignityof sex workers. That being said, sex work safety advocates seem to be excited by the prospect of the new guidelines, and it does seem possible that they could lead to positive change.

The guidelines will be considered before the Vancouver Police Board tomorrow, and we look forward to seeing if they are adopted. We’ll keep you posted!

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Earlier this week, the Supreme Court released its judgment in R v D.A.I. LEAF and the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN) jointly intervened in the case. In a majority ruling (the Court split 6 – 3 ), Justice McLachlin clarified that adults with mental disabilities need  not demonstrate an abstract understanding of the obligation to tell the truth to meet the test for testimonial competence.

D.A.I. involves a 23-year old complainant with intellectual disabilities such that her mental age was between 3 and 6 years old. The Crown is alleging that the complainant’s step-father repeatedly sexually assaulted her over a period of four years. The Crown sought to call the complainant to testify, but the trial judge held on a voir dire that the complainant had failed to show that she understood the duty to speak the truth. In a separate voir dire, the trial judge also excluded out-of-court statements made by the complainant to the police and her teacher, holding that the statements were unreliable. Despite the existence of other evidence that raised serious suspicions about the accused’s conduct, the case collapsed and the accused was acquitted. The Ontario Court of Appeal affirmed the acquittal.

The majority decision is a feminist victory that ensures the equality rights of all women. As Joanna Birenbaum, Legal Director of LEAF, stated in a press release on the day of the decision,  “In today’s Supreme Court of Canada decision, Chief Justice McLachlin writing for the majority described sexual assault as “an evil” and acknowledged that women with intellectual and other disabilities are targeted for this offence at alarming rates. The Court confirmed the importance of hearing the voices of women with mental disabilities in court. The Court acknowledged that the testimony of women with mental disabilities is essential to stopping sexual abuse and ensuring that sexual offenders are brought to justice.”

As an aside, the FLF seems to recall the Court splitting in the exact same way in R v J.A. Some interesting sexual assault jurisprudence trivia…

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A number of FLFers recently finished facilitating LEAF’s “No Means No” program at a local school. “No Means No” is a workshop series for grades 6 to 9 that teaches youth about their rights and responsibilities in the areas of consent and sexual assault, and includes workshoping concepts of power, violence, stereotypes and gender. Given that this workshop experience is fresh in our minds, this story from the Globe & Mail about Minnesota elementary students playing “Rape Tag” at recess is particularly poignant. The story tells us that “Rape Tag” is similar to freeze tag, except that the frozen player must be “humped” by another player in order to become unfrozen. Apparently, the name “Rape Tag” was used by the children themselves. Teachers realized what was happening and intervened, and the school sent letters home to parents about the incident. What is perhaps the most striking is the notion that some parents were angry at the school because the letters meant that they were “forced” to discuss rape with their children (grade 5 students). Given we offer No means No to grades 6 – 9, this is interesting.

When should we discussing issues of sexual assault with children? Obviously these kids knew the word, and understood enough about the concept to know that it involves “humping” another person. Are there age appropriate ways to broach this subject? Personally, I think it is probably a good idea to discuss inappropriate touching with children, to express that its a serious issue, and to brainstorm ideas about what a child can do if something happens to them, or if they hear about it happening to someone else. Perhaps these parents shouldn’t have been angry that they were “forced” to discuss rape with their children, but glad to have the opportunity to raise a serious and important issue with their children. There’s some feminist perspective on this over at Jezebel.


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R v Rhodes caused several media uproars and made national news. Better known as the “Justice Dewar case”, Rhodes encapsulates much of the systemic discrimination that remains in sexual assault law. You’ve heard about the case in the news, now you have the chance to learn more about the decision and the fall-out and to discuss your thoughts on the issues. Join the Feminist Legal Forum on Thursday December 1st from 12 -1 in room 308 for “Debriefing R v Rhodes“. Leading Manitoba feminist sexual assault law scholar Karen Busby will be facilitating the discussion.

For those who are interested, the Manitoba Court of Appeal will be hearing the Rhodes appeal on November 30th at 9:30. As the Crown and defence have agreed there should be a new trial, the appeal is likely to be quite short.

If you’d like to do a bit of thinking about the case in advance of the roundtable, we recommend you read Prof. Busby’s blog post, which includes links to the conviction and sentencing transcripts, media reports, and LEAF’s motion for leave to intervene. The blog post can be found here

Karen Busby worked with the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund on their motion to intervene in the Rhodes case. She has been with Robson Hall’s Faculty of Law since 1988. She researches in the area of sex, sexuality and violence.  She was an active participant in cases and other law reform efforts directed at the recognition of same-sex relationships and has worked on challenges to the bawdyhouse/indecency laws, reform of age of consent laws and gender identity issues. She has worked on numerous research projects on gendered violence including sexual assault, girls involved in prostitution, sexual expression, and the implementation of civil domestic violence legislation. She appeared as counsel in the Supreme Court of Canada in Little Sisters, a case about the discriminatory treatment of LGBT bookstores by Canada Customs. She teaches constitutional law, administrative law and gender and the law.

She has received numerous awards recognizing her human rights work including the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award (2007); Man. Bar Ass’n “Pro Bono” Award (2005); Can. Bar Ass’n’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference “Hero” Award (2004); LAMBDA Magic “Community Changer” Award (2002); UofM Community Outreach Award (1996). Prof. Busby was inducted into the Q (Queer) Hall of Fame in the summer of 2011.

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The Canadian Judicial Council has finished reviewing the extremely controversial remarks made by Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Dewar in his decision in R v Rhodes this past February. Those remarks sparked major protests and much discussion.

 Protesters in Winnipeg carry signs demanding Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Dewar's resignation on Feb. 25.

CBC Manitoba reported today that, as a result of the CJC’s review, Dewar will not face any penalty. However, he has issued an “unequivocal apology” to the victim in Rhodes, and also expressed “regret” for “trauma” caused to those who “have worked directly with past victims.”

In that decision, Dewar said or referred to the following: the complainant and the accused met in “inviting circumstances“; the accused was a “clumsy Don Juan“; he put emphasis on what the complainant was wearing on the night in question; and of course, perhaps his most infamous comment, that “sex was in the air.”

In his apology, he noted his “poor choice of words,” and the CJC found upon completing their review that his comments “were also seen as reflecting negative and outdated gender stereotypes, as casting blame on the victim and showing unacceptable gender bias against women.”

What do we think? Is this enough? Some members of the FLF have been talking, and it seems that a few of us are feeling a little conflicted.

On one hand, there’s the view that having Dewar removed from the bench altogether would have been too harsh of a punishment. On the other, there’s a pretty strong feeling among most of us that this apology, or even the notion of apologizing in general, seems trite. Dayna pointed out that, hopefully, as a result of this process, more judges will seek to educate themselves on gender equality issues.

We all feel good about that potential outcome. But it was also pointed out that it’s virtually impossible to conceive of Dewar as impartial at this point. And while some might argue that impariality itself is an indealized judicial standard that never actually exists, it does seem particularly problematic in this instance. It’s disturbing to remember that, despite any ‘senisitivity training’ he has now had, Dewar embraced these outmoded, sexist ideas and applied them to an actual case as recently as 9 months ago.

Finally, we’re troubled by the apology being presented as a “poor choice of words.” Certainly, the words chosen were unquestionably poor. But what matters more are the beliefs Dewar held that led him to choose those words. Can we take his apology to mean that, had he not used such explicitly sexist and offensive language, we wouldn’t have anything to be upset about? Dayna made the point that “Mainly I worry that when systemic discrimination against sexual assault complainants isn’t as blatant as it was in this case, it passes unacknowledged and women end up losing.”

We would really love to hear what you think about this. Was the apology sufficient? What alternative measures could or should be taken? Let us know!

And don’t forget: the topic of this month’s roundtable will be sexual assault law, and certain aspects of the Rhodes appeal. Stay tuned for more info!

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As we mentioned the other day, the Winnipeg Free Press took a step in the right direction by publishing Meghan’s letter to the editor.  The letter was a response to Miss Lonelyheart’s column from a few days before, which bore the brutal and offensive headline “He didn’t rape you; You were too lazy to say no.”

Well, yesterday (Oct 25), Miss Lonelyheart’s herself saw fit to publish a letter responding to the column. Perhaps unsuprisingly, however, the writer not only agrees with the previous column, but actually thanks Miss L emphatically for her insensitive and irresponsible response. See Below:


Dear Miss Lonelyhearts: You’ll probably take some flak for your response to Just Wondering, who had consensual sex with a man who begged her until he wore her down; but not from me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this plain-spoken, no-nonsense response! The fact that a woman has regrets afterwards doesn’t mean it was rape. The fact that a woman finds it difficult to live with the self-image of being the kind of person who has pity sex with losers doesn’t make it rape. IMHO, it isn’t rape unless she honestly, truly, had no choice in the matter. — Fairness and Clarity, Winnipeg

Dear Fairness: This young woman had a man begging her for sex. He didn’t force her. Rather than asking him to leave and showing him the door, she walked him down the hallway to her bedroom and had sex with him because she felt sorry for him. She called it charity sex. Afterwards, she wished she hadn’t. That is not rape. She should have picked up his jacket, told him in a firm and friendly way it was time to go home, and walked to the door and opened it.

A link to the column is here, but it will likely only be available for about a week.


Here at the FLF, it’s not our intention to sound like a broken record. That being said, we can’t over-state the importance of documenting and commenting on how prevalent and concerning these misconceptions about sexual assault really are.

We’d love to hear anything you have to say about this, and we’d also love to read more letters in the Free Press setting Miss Lonelyhearts straight!


A note from Eli: signing the letter “Fairness and Clarity” is not only nauseating; it reminds me of Fox News. Yuck.

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