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Justice for Women: Alternatives to Court

Rev. Frances Leigh Deverell

2 Barnaby Pvt., Ottawa, ON, K1K 4S4

Phone and fax – 613-747-7584

e-mail -

2016 02 11

The Hon. Yasir Naqvi

Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services,

18th Floor, George Drew Building, 25 Grosvernor St.

Toronto, ON. M7A 1A2

RE: Your Request for Ideas on Women Reporting Violence

Dear Minister Naqvi;

Thank you so much for sending us this invitation to reflect on how we can deal more effectively with this pervasive problem in our society. I agree with you that we need a broad public conversation on this topic. Fortunately, the trial of Jian Ghomeshi serves as a great starting point for this discussion. What we need to do now is broaden the scope in order to learn what to do.

What the Ghomeshi’s case demonstrates is that our current system of Justice is simply not equipped to handle this type of case, and as long as we continue to use it there is nothing you will be able to do to get women to willingly participate. Every once in a while a few brave souls try, and every time they are squashed for their effort and all the rest of us learn not to repeat that mistake.

So let us ask, why is our Justice system so unfair in this type of case. Sexual violence is not about sex. It is about power and control. The motivations to participate are very complex among both women and men. Furthermore, the action takes place in a context. Sometimes it is a family context. Sometimes it is a workplace context or a professional community. The people know each other and they know a lot of other people. Their personal reputations are involved. If the woman takes action to report she must consider the potential consequences in those communities. Also, clearly in this particular case, the women were attracted to the “God”, the “celebrity” who wielded such power, and as a result their feelings and their boundaries were confused. As in so many cases of family violence, they may have thought things would change if the relationship developed. There are so many complex studies on violence in relationships.

Specific to this case, if we assume that Ghomeshi traditionally practiced S&M sex, then I have to ask the question – how did he set the boundaries to ensure consent? It is my understanding that in the S&M community, there is often a specific place that the woman enters willingly. They establish signals when the violence is going to far and they want to stop. There is no evidence that Ghomeshi had any such practices. (Of course he didn’t have to present evidence.) Apparently his version of consent was to try it by surprise, and see if he could get away with it. If it succeeded, he would push further. First a slap. Then a bit of strangling. He enjoyed confusing the women and relied on his star power to get away with it. And he is mostly successful in that strategy. This is because, in our courts, he never has to expose himself to any type of cross-examination. If he can discredit the women, who have to present their cases first, he never has to speak or defend himself. He is considered innocent if they are not credible and that is always the strategy. The man never has to explain himself. The system thus results in the discrediting of women for no gain. And men learn that they don’t have to respect women.

I draw your attention to the case of Dalhousie University where the men and women involved in the violence decided to follow a restorative justice process instead of a win-lose court process. They sat in a circle together under the guidance of mediation professionals. Each side had its turn to speak, to express their feelings, and to explore possible solutions that would prevent such future situations. Restorative justice processes have the goal of prevention and of healing rather than retribution and putting someone in jail. Communities of women and men who actually want to like each other and have relationships with each other have a means of defining the boundaries and setting up relationships of respect. This would be a far more effective process in many situations than our win-lose court system to reduce the incidents of violence against women.

Not all cases can go this route. For restorative justice to work, all parties must agree to participate voluntarily and go through some preparation processes before they can participate in the circle. We still need to re-imagine our court system so that it doesn’t just result in a decimation of the female victim without the man ever having to speak and be cross-examined.

In addition, the new Ontario sex-education curriculum is very important and I hope it will focus at the teen level on what relationships of respect look like and a detailed understanding of the need for consent. It is such a tragedy that this public trial we have just experienced spent no time at all on the question of what it means to consent. The core issues were not even raised. What a missed opportunity!

I would be very happy to come and visit you and bring along others who are familiar with the concepts and practices of restorative justice if you are interested. I think it offers a real opportunity to change the dynamic and bring these situations to a better resolution.

In faith that things can be better,

Rev. Frances Deverell,

Retired Unitarian Minister serving in the community

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