How would you feel if you are a victim and survivor of a vile crime perpetrated by an individual who sought to degrade you?
How do you feel if, as such a victim, you summon up your courage and determination to report the crime to the police, and subject yourself to invasive medical procedures and examinations?
How do you feel if, as such a victim, you put your faith and trust (which must feel eroded) in the criminal justice system, seeking justice for the attack against your being, only to find that the trial humiliates you, and implies you are responsible for the crime?
I want to tell you all about a case, a judge, and several hideous statements. I can recall the case from a year ago, but it has developed since then and now I find myself writing about it. I suppose I just find it sickening that an institution, a system, which seeks to uphold the law and bring justice to victims of crime could let down a victim so badly.
This is the case of one Canadian federal court judge Mr Justice Robin Camp.
Mr Justice Camp was presiding over a sexual assault trial in 2014 when he displayed sexism, a lack of empathy, tactlessness, and a terrible subjective view of sexual assault.
A 19-year-old homeless woman alleged she had been raped over a bathroom sink at a house party. The case was duly brought to court. At various points during the initial trial, Judge Camp, then still a Calgary provincial court judge, asked the complainant: “Why didn’t you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn’t penetrate you?” and, even more damningly, “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”
Of course. The onus of prevention, and de facto onus of proving the attack occurred, fell upon the woman. The alleged victim must be responsible for the attack, since she clearly did not strive to do enough to prevent her own rape.
The Calgary Herald reported that because the complainant said she had asked her alleged attacker if he had a condom, Judge Camp told the court that it was “an inescapable conclusion (that) if you have one I’m happy to have sex with you”.
Of course. Since the woman, probably terrified of the situation and consequences of the assault (pregnancy, the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection), had asked about the use of contraception, she must have been resigning herself to the sexual assault. Surely, by enquiring if her attacker had a condom, she must have been consenting. It was ‘inescapable’. I mean, if I ask a stranger threatening me on the street if he is going to hurt me, I must be happy enough to be hit.
This also seemingly suggests that should someone enquire about contraception, it is a way of implying consent for any sexual act. If a judge interprets the law so, then good grief, those of us who argue that consent must be clear and can be withdrawn at any point are clearly in the wrong. The learned judge has spoken.
It is acceptable to reach an ‘inescapable conclusion’ that should one ask about an object- “Hey, do you have an iPhone charger? – there is the chance this will be followed up with a request for said object – “Can I borrow it please?”. But in a situation where you are being attacked, you are terrified, you are vulnerable, I doubt any questioning of the situation implies consent or acceptance.
He also said during the trial that the complainant had not explained “why she allowed the sex to happen if she didn’t want it?” Well, I don’t know. Maybe she was stunned, frozen in fear, and was physically unable to fend off the alleged attacker? Fellow women, take note: if we do not fight obviously enough, if we do not shout or scream loudly enough, if we do not say “no” enough, we must be permitting the attacker to proceed. It is merely one of those inescapable conclusions to be drawn, after all.
Justice Camp, when not informing the alleged victim that “sex and pain sometimes go together…that’s not necessarily a bad thing”, referred to her as “the accused” during the trial proceedings. I suppose such a mistake of title-brandishing made sense to him: after all, she did not close her knees together and she had asked about condoms, so she must have been the one on trial for assisting in her own alleged rape.
On the subject of sex in general he said, “Young wom[e]n want to have sex, particularly if they’re drunk.” I must applaud the learned judge for his astute comments and incredible insight into the minds of all young women. When young women are drunk, they must be responsible for their actions. Or rather inaction, in case they do not say “no” loudly and struggle in the event of being preyed upon. When young women are drunk, they are not vulnerable – they are simply seeking a sexual partner for the night.
I shall desist with the angry sarcasm. How could the judge think like this? How dare he make such comments, and suggest that the alleged victim did not do enough? How dare he insinuate that her attack was her fault? His comments are humiliating and hurtful to the victim, but dangerous when read by others. They are a twisted combination of victim blaming and rape culture, suggesting excuses for the alleged attacker and casting disbelief upon the victim.
When oh when will people understand that rape is never the fault of a victim. It does not matter what they were wearing. It does not matter what they were drinking. It does not matter how they were acting, what they were saying or whether they were dancing and flirting. No one asks for rape.
Can it really be so difficult to comprehend that sex must be consensual? That the lack of consent should be a sign to cease pursuing the activity? In this day and age, are we really still demanding proof that a victim struggled and fought and shouted before we determine rape was committed?
The judge acquitted Alexander Scott of sexual assault in September 2014. This decision however was later overturned by Alberta Court of Appeal. There will be a retrial this November.
Following understandable outrage and a barrage of complaints, Mr Justice Robin Camp was informed he was now subject to a disciplinary hearing, with his conduct being reviewed by the Canadian Judical Council. It is understood that during the review of his comments, the Federal Court is not assigning him any cases involving sexual conduct or similar issues.
Since then, he has offered his apologies, saying that:
“My sincere apology goes out, in the first place, to the young woman who was the complainant in the matter.
“I also apologise to the women who experience feelings of anger, frustration and despair at hearing of these events. I am deeply troubled that things that I said would hurt the innocent.”
Oh, and whilst defending his position as a judge, he volunteered to have gender sensitivity counselling. (So that’s all right then.)
During the hearing before the Canadian Judicial Council, the alleged victim said his comments “made me hate myself” and led her to consider suicide:
“He made me hate myself and he made me feel like I should have done something … that I was some kind of slut…
“I’m so disappointed and sad about the system. My biggest worry is the victims who will never come forward because of what they read in the newspaper about Justice Camp’s words.”
I refer you to the introduction of this post. How would a victim feel if, having summoned up the courage to appear in court, and face their attacker in the pursuit of justice, they are subjected to humiliation? The alleged victim in this case has answered my questions: disappointment in the system, and the fear that victims will not report their attacks.
Women’s rights campaigners have said this case is a prime example of why women fear to report cases of sexual abuse. I agree with them. It is a horribly perfect example of why victims do not come forward: feeling as though they are the ones on trial, as though they are the ones who must prove their innocence, as though they are the ones who are responsible for the attack.
The criminal justice system should be there to empower, protect and bring some measure of peace to victims. It should not subject them to stereotypes, biased thinking, or further hurt and pain. It is telling that the Council considering Mr Camp’s role said the judge “engaged in stereotypical or biased thinking in relation to a sexual assault complainant.”
Mr Justice Camp testified before a review committee last week. This review committee will make recommendations to the Council, who will then decide if he should remain in his role as a federal judge.
During his testimony, Mr Camp said at the time of the trial he was not familiar with Canadian criminal law, as had previously spent two decades practising law in South Africa. I would submit that perhaps he was not at ease with the Canadian Criminal Code, but the lack of understanding about the relevant law cannot excuse his lack of empathy for an alleged victim, or his ignorant and stereotypical questions.
I respectfully suggest that perhaps the learned judge could follow his own advice, and learn to keep his mouth closed together. Or I would question him, and ask why did he allow his questions to happen, if he did not want to cause “hurt to the innocent”?