It is well documented in the research literature that women and girls with mental disabilities are targeted for sexual violence at rates at least 2 to 3 times higher than other women. Yet there is nothing about these women that makes them inherently more rapeable. Rather, it is because perpetrators know that complainants are less likely to be believed when they do come forward, and because our criminal justice system creates barriers to access to justice for that small percentage of cases that get to trial. The criminal justice system is designed entirely around the able-bodied and intellectually able complainant with an intact memory who is able to withstand the pressures of what is often a brutal cross-examination. When the legal system does recognize the existence of disability, it does so by treating these complainants as being somehow “like children”. The testimonial accommodations for this group of witnesses, for example, were simply copied from those available to children without any analysis of whether these accommodations would serve their needs.
Professors Benedet and Grant have published extensively on sexual assault against women and girls with disabilities and have demonstrated how the infantilization of these women has contributed to barriers to access to justice. They returned to this area to complete a Knowledge Synthesis Report for SSHRC in the spring of 2023. In this presentation, they examine three (of many) areas where barriers to access to justice are significant for these women. First, they examine the disregard for the privacy rights of these complainants in the sexual history context. Second, experts are allowed to testify about every aspect of the complainant’s life even though this would never be allowed for other witnesses. Third, infantilization affects the assessment of capacity and consent.
Please contact Michelle Burchill if you would like the Zoom link. The link will be emailed no earlier than 11:45 am on the day of the lecture.
This lecture is co-sponsored by the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies at Allard School of Law.
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