“Sexual assault is a complex issue and one that needs a complex solution,” said Natalie Clark, an instructor from UBC’s School of Social Work, at the Sexual Assault on Trial: Ghomeshi, Survivors, Media & the Law event on June 15. More than 350 people attended Alumni UBC and Equity and Inclusion Office sponsored event at the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre. Funding for the event was also provided by the AMS Student Society of UBC Vancouver Sexual Assault Initiative Fund.
Margot Young, a professor at the Allard School of Law, moderated the discussion about sexual assault trials with three panelists including Clark, Jennifer Koshan, professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary, and Lucia M. Lorenzi from UBC’s Department of English.
The panelists were given ten minutes to comment on the recent Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault case and related issues including the impact these trials have on survivors, media coverage, and the details of the current law.
Audience members were encouraged to join the conversation by submitting questions from their smart phones via the Conference IO online user interface platform. During the Q&A period Young posed some of these questions to the panelists. Audience members were encouraged to comment online with #SAontrial.
- A podcast of the event was recorded but due to technical difficulties it includes only the Q&A portion near the end of the event. Listen to the podcast .
- Read what was said on social media during the event on Storify.
The first panelist, Jennifer Koshan, shared the legal aspects of the Ghomeshi case and outlined some of the key terms used in the trial. Jennifer shared her experience as a Crown prosecutor in the Northwest Territories and detailed the steps taken to prepare a sexual assault survivor for trial.
In relation to the Ghomeshi trial Koshan spoke about how the survivors were questioned for continuing contact with the accused after an assault had happened. “Every incident of sexual contact – whether it be consensual or an instance of sexual assault – between two people should be considered separately because otherwise how can we stand up for sexual assault in spousal relationships that – as they often do – continue after an instance of sexual assault.”
During the Q&A Koshan elaborated on what a separate sexual assault court could look like. Koshan said “A sexual assault court would be part of our justice system to give support and resources for survivors. This court would have special protocols of sentencing.” Koshan encouraged the audience to visit her blog from the University of Calgary for more information on her experience dealing working with survivors of sexual assault as well as suggested resources.
Panelist Lucia M. Lorenzi, a Department of English Research Assistant in the TRaCE project at UBC, encouraged the audience to start a conversation about how we can respond to and help victims of sexual assault. Lorenzi’s advocacy and activism focuses on sexual assault, especially within the context of campus sexual violence. With respect to the Ghomeshi case, Lorenzi believes “this is one case in the conversation of sexual assault, not a watershed moment.”
Lorenzi raised questions for the audience to think about such as the following:
- What counts? What stories (of sexual assault instances) do we tell?
- How many people have to tell their story for us to learn a lesson?
- What do we do with these stories?
- What’s our responsibility as listeners of these stories?
In turn, the audience asked Lorenzi “Are there lessons from the Ghomeshi case that can be applied to making UBC a safer campus, institution, and community?” Lucia responded, “Social media gives us more examples of perpetrator voices, such as the example of Ghomeshi’s Facebook post; that shows us how people rationalize and shows how people justify their own behavior.”
The final panelist to speak was Natalie Clark who has worked for 20 years in the social work field, especially with children coping with trauma and violence related to sexual exploitation.
Clark spoke about survivors and how “Stories (of sexual assault) that have been sensationalized through self-harm, disordered eating etc. should not be seen as something wrong with the victim.” “Body truth-telling” as Clark described it is an example of the survivor reliving or re-experiencing the trauma. In relation to sexual assault survivors Clark said “We need to challenge new ways of thinking and be good witnesses by considering to ourselves: even when I think I’m doing good, am I doing harm?”
Clark responded to a popular question from the audience “How do we get more men involved in the conversation?”
Clark replied, “It is important that we challenge the gender binary and invite a conversation on the idea of a binary. There are issues of stereotyping who is an offender – such as the idea that it would be a male, or a student– and we need to challenge those stereotypical assumptions and ideas as a whole.”
Sexual Assault Policy at UBC
Read about UBC’s Sexual Assault Policy & Process Development.
UBC sexual assault support and prevention resources