By Mandi Gray
This week I learned about Ben Johnson, a Windsor man convicted of sexually assaulting a sixteen year old woman at a nightclub. I am compelled to write about the case because I see others applauding the verdict and sentence in similar ways to the guilty verdict in R v Ururyar earlier this year.
I am writing to urge others to think about the process rather than the outcome when declaring findings of guilt in sexual assault cases as a demonstration of ‘justice’.
This matter has been in the courts for the last three years. The credibility of the victim has been viciously attacked by the defense counsel - she was questioned about her choice in clothing, whether she was wearing underwear, and about her sexual activity on a trip to Mexico. He questioned her on her mixing of anti-depressants and alcohol. These are blatant attempts at constructing her as the slut or the nut. Also referred to as “whacking the complainant”.
Is this actually what we want justice to look like? Is this really a victory for women?
In my experience, and maybe the victim/witness in this case feels differently - but the brutality of the legal system will never equate with ‘justice’, even when there is a finding of guilt.
Anne Jarvis from the Windsor Star writes in her column that despite the attempts of the defense counsel to discredit the complainant, “the judge had none of it”. But is this actually true? Did the Judge intervene and challenge these lines of questioning? Did the Crown object?
I challenge this statement because when I was testifying - there were numerous occasions that no one intervened during lines of questioning that directly violated that rape shield provisions. Sure, Justice Zuker challenged them in his decision - but my anger at the process remains regardless of whether or not he accepted it into evidence.
My lawyer, David Butt, had to write a letter to defense counsel Lisa Bristow to remind her about the ethics of the courtroom in sexual assault trials. Such reminders should not fall upon the victim.
I say this to remind people that just because the Judge rejected the evidence presented by the defense counsel - this does not mean that the conduct of the defense should be excused.
Sexual assault trials are a test of who has more resources. When men with social capital are charged with sexual assault, they are able to hire lawyers who are skilled at strategically drawing out the trial process as long as possible. Ideally she will be kept on the stand so long that she is no longer credible. She will be routinely depicted as angry, jealous, or vengeful. She will be constructed as having an agenda - for me, it was a political agenda. For this woman, it was money.
If he is found guilty, he will appeal. If the appeal is successful and a new trial is ordered, what is the likelihood she will take the stand again?
WHO WOULD WANT TO GO THROUGH THIS AGAIN?
The family of the victim state that they are relieved the trial is now “behind them” according to the Windsor Star. The reality is that the case is far from over. According to news reports, there is a pending appeal and ongoing civil litigation.
I don’t know the victim in this case but I wish I did. And if she ever reads this, I just want her to know that there are a lot of expectations about how you are supposed to feel when the man who raped you is found guilty. Since it is statistically so rare, those of us who testify and our abusers are found guilty we are often expected to be grateful. It is okay if you aren’t quite sure if this is what ‘justice’ should feel like.
Because I don’t know if a happy ending is possible in a rape trial.