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Criminal

Why many sexual assault victims don’t pursue criminal charges

Many sexual assault victims don't go to police because they don’t want to be re-traumatized, Toronto criminal lawyer Annamaria Enenajor tells CBC News.

“Within that process, they are not seen as victims,” she says. “They are not seen as survivors."

“They are an element of evidence that the Crown is putting forward. Their version of events is an element of evidence. They are a witness and no more than a witness.”

Enenajor, a partner with Ruby Shiller & Enenajor, Barristers, says many people misunderstand the role of the Crown in such matters.

“So oftentimes survivors are scarred by their involvement in the criminal justice system because there is this misconception that the Crown represents their interests, that the Crown is their lawyer, and an advocate on their behalf — and that’s not the case,” she says. 

So many who have experienced sexual violence, rather than put themselves through that scrutiny, which in the context of the process means they are not able to protect their privacy, choose not to go to the authorities, Enenajor says.

They avoid putting themselves in the justice system and opening themselves up to "the kind of scrutiny that’s necessary in order to prevent wrongful convictions,” she says.

Enenajor also says the criminal justice system has its flaws, and notes there are still some “antiquated and quite misogynistic notions” of consent that play into the reasoning and inferences that are made in many sexual assault cases.

“Lingering misogyny and lingering sexist ideas of how women exercise sexual agency, things like slut-shaming, things like what constitutes consent that don’t necessarily take into account whether the person is actually consenting … have a huge role to play historically in how sex assaults have been prosecuted and the ineffectiveness of that prosecution.”

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