Judicial council reviews judge's sex assault remark
Published Friday, February 25, 2011 9:23PM EST
The Canadian Judicial Council will be reviewing the comments of a Manitoba judge who suggested a woman's clothing and attitude may have contributed to her being sexually assaulted.
Queen's Bench Court Justice Robert Dewar made the comments Wednesday during a sentencing hearing. He handed a man a two-year conditional sentence instead of a jail term, which the prosecution had sought..
"There have been numerous media reports and public reaction to these comments," the council said in a news release Friday. "Council takes the review of all complaints seriously."
A few dozen people braved the cold in Winnipeg Friday to protest the remarks, carrying signs and chanting slogans.
Lorraine Parrington, who co-ordinates a sexual assault crisis program in Winnipeg, said the judge's remarks show that there needs to be more education about the treatment of sexual assault victims.
"This should never have happened in a courtroom," Parrington said.
"Here we have this woman who's been victimized and what we're focusing on is her behaviour, and it isn't what caused it."
Some protesters called for Dewar to be removed from his position, while most wanted an apology.
The sentence was much lighter than the three years in prison the Crown had requested for Kenneth Rhodes. He had been convicted of sexual assault for an incident that happened five years ago outside of Thompson, Man.
Dewar called Rhodes a "clumsy Don Juan" and said "sex was in the air" on the night the sex assault occurred. He also noted that the victim and her girlfriend were wearing tube tops without bras, high heels and lots of makeup.
"This is a different case than one where there is no perceived invitation," said Dewar. "This is a case of misunderstood signals and inconsiderate behaviour."
The 26-year-old victim, whose identity is protected, has criticized the comments and said they represent an extreme form of sexism, and that no woman invites sexual assault.
Karen Busby, a law professor at the University of Manitoba, suggested the comments blame the victim while partially exonerating her attacker.
"That goes back to suggesting that women are in a state of constant sexual readiness and that sexually active women will consent to sex with all comers," Busby said.
"We've got a victim who five years after the assault ... says she's still afraid to leave her home... It's inappropriate."
In 2006 Rhodes and a friend had met the victim and her friend outside a bar in what the judge called "inviting circumstances."
Later that night Rhodes forced the victim to have sex with him in the woods alongside a highway.
Rhodes pleaded not guilty during his trial and argued that he believed there was consent.
The judge rejected the suggestion that the victim had consented, but said he would consider some of Rhodes' points in sentencing.
The Crown has ordered a transcript of the sentencing hearing, but said it has not decided whether it will file an appeal.
In a separate incident just over a week earlier, a Toronto police officer found himself in hot water for suggesting that young women could avoid being sexually assaulted by not dressing like "sluts."
The officer made the comments during a campus safety meeting on Jan. 24 at York University. The officer reportedly sent a letter of apology after the meeting and was internally disciplined by the Toronto Police Service.
Busby said both sets of comments point to the fact there is a lingering, outdated notion among some that a sexual invitation could be implied, even when it isn't verbalized.