The recent flood of sexual harassment and abuse allegations against powerful men in politics, entertainment, the media and other areas is abhorrent. Each day brings more complaints — many suppressed over long, agonizing months or years.
You’re left to wonder, when will the next bombshell drop?
When a man can brag about assaulting women and weeks later is elected president of the United States, what message does that send? Is it possible for women to get justice, have their voices heard or be believed?
When well-known actresses are only able to tell their story years afterwards, why do we raise questions when the average woman or vulnerable teenager chooses to remain silent? Women know all too well the obstacles they face. Often, the victims face scrutiny and challenges so painful, is it any wonder they are reluctant to come forward? Their tormentors count on this.
You might think things are different in Canada, but they’re not. A Globe and Mail investigation earlier this year suggested 90 per cent of sexual assaults are never reported. Police files indicate 20 per cent of complaints were dismissed as unfounded because they didn’t simply believe the women. As a result of the newspaper’s revelations, police forces across the nation have re-opened more than 10,000 sexual assault cases. These women might finally get justice.
More help is finally coming to women in Atlantic Canada. Pilot projects have launched in two provinces providing free, independent legal advice to survivors of sexual assault. It’s long overdue and the service needs to expand throughout the region.
The federal-provincial pilot announced in Nova Scotia last week promises to clear obstacles and eliminate the stigma attached to these kinds of complaints. A similar program started in Newfoundland and Labrador in April. Both are based on a 2016 Ontario plan aimed at combatting sexual violence and harassment.
Sexual assault victims in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia will have access to up to four hours of free legal advice to help them consider their options after an assault. While the service doesn’t extend into the courtroom, it does give women a better understanding of how the criminal justice system works and helps them make an informed decision about whether to report the matter to police or pursue civil action.
The RCMP, meanwhile, is exploring ways to expand a program that exists in British Columbia and Yukon, which allows victims to report allegations of sexual assault — and get the help they need — without actually having to go to the police and face their fear of not being believed. It’s third party reporting that could be implemented in RCMP jurisdictions. Women can report details to a victim-assistance program or a sexual assault centre, which then shares the information anonymously with police.
Women are silent no more, and society will be better because of it.