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Opinion: The Criminal Justice System is Failing Women

November 17, 2017

We, the women who work in rape-crisis centres, didn’t need the #MeToo campaign to know how common it is for women to experience sexual assault and rape. Being a girl and a woman in this world means we are likely to be sexually assaulted. If we are poor, or Indigenous, or women of colour, or women with cognitive or physical disabilities, we are even more likely to be sexually assaulted — it’s almost guaranteed.

The common sexism and diminishment of women in all aspects of our private and public lives teach men to see and treat us as “things” and not as full human beings. Pornography is a devastating and effective promotion and reinforcement of men’s sexualized violence against women. Prostitution is a devastating and effective promotion of the sexual commodification of women — using women as a commodity that can be bought and sold by men.

We often use the term “rape culture” to describe the acceptance, the collusion, the promotion of male violence against women. And men use rape culture to sustain rape structure; a structure that keeps men in domination and keeps us women, in submission. The accumulation and the impact of all the individual rapes that men commit against individual women, sustains all men’s power over all women.

Of course, we know it’s not all men. We know that not all men are wife-beaters or sex-buyers or rapists or pornographers. But for sure, many men are. We know that because of all the women who call our and other rape-crisis centres, and because of all the women who are living in our, and in other, transition houses. And now, anyone who pays attention knows it too, because of all the women who say #MeToo.
We believe men can change. We believe men can do better. We believe men can treat us better. But they’re not likely to change as long as they get permission and encouragement to violate our bodily integrity and autonomy.

The way to shake the pillars of the rape structure is by holding men who commit violence against women accountable. So far, the criminal justice system has been failing to do so.

Many sexual-assault complaints made to the police aren’t followed through with swift and thorough investigations; out of the “substantiated” cases the police will pass only a third to the Crown prosecutor with recommendations for charges. The Crown in its turn will prosecute less than a quarter of these cases. When it comes to wife assault (a.k.a. domestic violence), the police will pass most cases to the Crown, but the Crown will prosecute only half of them.
Additionally, it’s impossible to tell why judges acquit the accused because often judgments aren’t available to the public.

On the occasion of 100 days since the swearing-in of the new government, Premier John Horgan issued a statement asserting the intention of his government to be a government that works for people. Well, women are people, too. If the new government wants to work for women it needs to address our profound inequality, starting with our safety and security.

Any improvement, let alone transformation, of the criminal-justice system, must begin with transparency. The public must know how many reports each police detachment receives on sexual assault, wife-battering, sex-purchasing and pimping, how long the investigations have taken and if cases weren’t passed to the Crown, what the reasons are for it. The public must know how many cases the Crown has received, how many didn’t result in charges and the reason for each.
And last, all Provincial, Supreme and Court of Appeal judgments must be transcribed and posted on a website available for public scrutiny.

Exposing the criminal-justice system data will reveal all the points of its failure when it comes to male violence against women. It’s a first crucial step that has to happen if we want to see any change. And we must see change, and soon. We have been waiting far too long. We want our safety, our security, our equality and liberty, and we want them now.

The article was first published at the Vancouver Sun

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