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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

September-22-98

Canadian Court System Classified as Unsympathetic to Rape Victims

A study lead by Professor Edward Renner of Carleton University found that the excessive use of rape myths in Canadian courtrooms has made justice difficult to achieve for women and children sexual assault survivors.

Based on findings derived from five years of court transcripts and cases, Renner has pinpointed common prejudices against the victim as the major cause for light sentencing of sexual assault perpetrators in Canada. Researchers also found that the credibility of children was destroyed by prosecutors who frequently asked questions that the children were not mature enough to understand.

Renner and his team found that only 13% of those convicted of sexually assaulting a child and 30% of those convicted of sexually assaulting a woman received a jail sentence of two years or more. Two-thirds of convicted child sexual abusers received a sentence of one year or less. In contrast, 53% of convicted robbers in the study received a sentence of two years or more.

Brettel Dawson, chairwoman of the department of law at Carleton University, believes that laws are not the root of the problem, and that it is the attitudes of attorneys and judges that needs to change.

"Society doesn't want to accept that these things happen," stated Brenda Saxe, Clinical Director of the Centre for Treatment of Sexual Abuse and Childhood Trauma.

Renner and his team are trying to change that by using their data to start a national program with the assistance of advocacy groups. The program will focus on changing the attitudes of those who handle sexual assault cases in court.

Media Resources: The Canadian Press - September 18, 1998


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