Provincially funded, these boards compensate victims of crime financially, not just for what they experienced during their assaults, but also for long-term counselling.“This can help you heal in practical ways, which the criminal justice system unfortunately often doesn’t,” Mattoo said.
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Sexual assault victims in Canada are assigned Crown attorneys who represent the state, not them.
Many can’t afford legal advice that lays out all the options available to them.
Police in Canada deemed one of every five rape allegations as baseless, The Globe’s Robyn Doolittle found in a 20-month-long probe.
It is a number that is alarmingly higher than the rate at which it is thought sexual assaults are falsely reported – a figure that hovers between just 2 per cent and 8 per cent, according to “Reporting [to police] and the legal route are difficult in terms of outcomes and it’s also very retraumatizing.
The Ontario government attempted to change that last June with a $2.8-million pilot project that offers female, male and transgender victims of sexual assault and harassment up to four hours of free independent legal advice, in Toronto, Ottawa and Thunder Bay.
A first in Canada, the services are available in person or by phone at any point after an attack has occurred.“A formal process of sitting in front of a panel, talking about what happened and then being compensated – how much or how little it is – definitely gives women reprieve.Someone acknowledges what happened was wrong,” Mattoo said, adding, “Narration can be very therapeutic for women who have gone through sexual assault.”Applications to a compensation board do not preclude sexual assault victims from also launching criminal or civil action, though if a victim is successful in a civil suit, he or she may have to return the compensation received from a board. Here, courts assess financial damages based on the pain and suffering inflicted by a sexual assault, as well as specific damages, for example, for wages lost when a victim struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder couldn’t work.“A restorative approach can allow a survivor to express what healing, acknowledgment and recognition might look like for them,” said Emily Hill, interim legal advocacy director of Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto.Hill said restorative justice is most often deployed in communities where everyone knows both the victim and the offender, and where the two know each other as well.Perpetrators get to hear first-hand what damage their crimes did to their victims – not just in the moment, but in the days, months and years following.