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Survivor’s ally

Elaine Craig, associate professor of law, shines a light on sexual assault cases.

No other book in Canada has done what Professor Elaine Craig’s ground-breaking new book, Putting Trials on Trial: Sexual Assault and the Failure of the Legal Profession, has. The book documents what actually occurs in sexual assault trials in Canada today. Craig used interviews with senior lawyers and trial transcripts to provide empirical evidence to rebut the claim that women are no longer brutalized on the stand during sexual assault trials. She also gives recommendations for how lawyers and judges could improve the trial process for complainants without compromising the rights of the accused.

FOUNDATION: Sexual assault survivors often distrust and fear the criminal justice process, and for good reason. The legal profession unnecessarily—and sometimes unlawfully—contributes to the traumatization and re- victimization experienced by those who testify as sexual assault complainants. These women are regularly subjected to abusive, humiliating and discriminatory treatment when they turn to the law to respond to sexual violations.

INSPIRATION: The reality of the gap between Canada’s very progressive laws protecting sexual assault complainants and the lived reality of women who go through this process inspired Craig’s work.

IN HER WORDS: “This book is a hard read; it’s graphic and traumatic. I tried to write it in plain language to make it accessible—it isn’t only for academics and lawyers. Even if I can’t convince the legal profession that it needs to change, my hope is that it’ll be affirming for the women who go through this process.”

“There are things we as a profession can do to improve this experience that will treat sexual assault survivors more humanely.”

WHY IT MATTERS: Over 90 per cent of sexual assaults in Canada go unreported, and one of the main reasons many women don’t report is the fear of being re-victimized by the legal system. “Their fears are well founded,” says Craig. “If we want to have a just legal system, we have to improve where we can.”