Sexual violence and human rights

Dr. Regine King (social work) presented her research on working with survivors of organized sexual violence. The presentation focused on wartime rape during the 1994 Rwandan genocide – the first rapes recognized as a weapon of war and crime against humanity. However, there have been few outcomes from this recognition. King argues that women have not found their testimonies resulted in charges or new programs to improve the lives of survivors. “Intervention for women (victims) is severely lacking,” King said. She has recorded stories from these women showing how they internalize their experiences differently, partly depending on whether they still live in the same community where they were raped. King spoke about conspiracies of silence that sometimes include other women who don’t admit they were also raped. King learned about the consequences of rape as a weapon of war both in “what these women say, and what they don’t say.”

Prof. Karen Busby (law) spoke about BDSM and sexual assault: Can courts tell the difference? BDSM stands for a range of sexual practices involving bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism.

The question of whether someone can consent to sex in advance came up in a case known as JA involving sex while the woman was unconscious. When the victim originally went to police, she stated that she had been strangled, but at trial she said instead that it was consensual erotic asphyxiation. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a participant must be of sound mind and conscious to consent to sex.

Busby’s research explored how stereotypes continue to impact judicial decision-making in spousal sexual assault cases. She said strangulation – a common precursor to murder – is not taken as seriously as it should be in these cases. There are almost no strangulation-related charges in Canada, even though 68 per cent of women who go to the hospital in the U.S. after a spousal assault report they were strangled. One way Busby said this could be rectified is to put in place a separate strangulation law.

The complainant’s past history of BDSM practices is used by defence lawyers to suggest she may have consented to strangulation, but the past sexual violence of offenders is not used to contextualize the relationships, Busby said.

A heightened risk of BDSM practitioners being prosecuted has been a particular concern for the queer media. However, Busby’s research found no indication of consensual BDSM practitioners being disproportionately targeted.

Questions:

Typically in sexual assault cases it is a male assaulting a female. Is it the same with BDSM?

Some of the most deadly cases have involved same-sex male partners, but all the cases Busby looked at were heterosexual couples with male offenders.

What needs to change to get the courts to accept strangulation as an aggravated assault?

Criminal justice personnel need to understand the dangers. They need to be educated. New laws could be put into place for strangulation offences. Strangulation being physically harmful shouldn’t need to be proven in court. It can have lasting health consequences. “Men strangle to show they can kill,” Busby said.

You talked about rapists not being formally charged in Rwanda. Why?

Once rape is defined as a weapon of war people could be charged under genocide laws. However, the individual perpetrators were not pursued under criminal laws.

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