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Thirty years after Canada made far-reaching changes to sexual-assault laws, many in the field believe the situation is worse than ever. (ILLUSTRATION BY THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Thirty years after Canada made far-reaching changes to sexual-assault laws, many in the field believe the situation is worse than ever. (ILLUSTRATION BY THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Why campuses are too often the scene of sex crimes Add to ...

The persistent campus fiascos notwithstanding, she is optimistic that a series of high-profile rape cases abroad has rekindled a sense of outrage among young women – and a growing number of men.

Closer to home, she notes, parents who have had pornographic depictions of their children posted on the Internet have lobbied for better police investigations and legal changes; and many young women are rebelling against the way women are objectified in the mass media.

Resurgence of activism

In some cases, victims and their advocates are taking matters into their own hands.

“Most women who call us don’t want to use the police,” Ms. Bentham says. “So, we are coming up with other ways of getting accountability and action.”

Activists are tracking bars where women consistently report being administered date-rape drugs. They will also “out” suspected rapists with an Internet campaign or a neighbourhood posters that identify them.

“If you want to raise awareness of who a man is and who he is targeting,” such tactics “can be extremely effective and help mobilize a community,” Ms. Bentham says.

Such campaigns also can exert pressure on authorities to take allegations more seriously. One recently went after an aboriginal man who had been targeting young aboriginal girls.

“We started getting calls every time he showed up at a SkyTrain or was seen with a young girl,” Ms. Bentham says.

As a result, so many complainants have come forward that the man is facing 15 charges, including sexual assault, distributing child pornography and administering date-rape drugs.

Ms. Lakeman says the resurgence of activism reminds her of the push that led to the 1983 rape reforms, as well as the wave of protest after the massacre at Montreal’s École Polytechnique six years later.

“We are at a very important moment in history,” she contends. “I am actually hopeful that there is going to be a big shake-up.”

FOUR SWEEPING CHANGES TO THE LAW

Thirty years ago, the Criminal Code was changed to bring in new laws to replace the offences of rape and indecent assault. Here’s what was changed:

1. The legal term “rape” was replaced by three categories of sexual assault – a change that was meant to illustrate these offences are not just about sex, but acts of physical and psychological violence.

2. For the first time, the law extended to men and women – and husbands and wives. Previously, spouses and women could not be charged with rape.

3. The old rape law had a maximum penalty of life imprisonment (and five years and 10 years in prison for indecent assault against females and males, respectively). The new law features up to 10 years in prison for a simple sexual assault; a maximum of 14 years for a sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm; and up to life in prison for an “aggravated” sexual assault – wounding or endangering the victim’s life.

4. Corroboration of an adult victim’s account of an attack is no longer needed as a prerequisite for a conviction. Evidence about the victim’s previous sexual conduct was also restricted, and a new policy was introduced that third-party records cannot be obtained unless a judge vets them and decides they are directly relevant.

Kirk Makin is an award-winning Toronto writer who recently retired after covering the justice system for The Globe and Mail for three decades. He may be reached at kmakin34@gmail.com

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