'Discouraging and humiliating': Victim of sexual assault wants to improve criminal justice system

The woman, who was a victim of sexual assault and domestic violence, says 'the entire process was extremely isolating.'

'I am heartbroken,' says N.W.T. woman who has recommendations for the system

'You're just left completely on your own,' says N.W.T. woman who was a victim of sexual assault and domestic violence. She has made a list of recommendations to improve the criminal justice system. (Sunghwan Yoon/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

An N.W.T. woman who was a victim of sexual assault says she felt "lost" in the criminal justice system, and wrote eight recommendations last month to try and improve the treatment of victims in what she calls a "very inadequate" system.

The Status of Women Council of the NWT approached the woman, who cannot be named due to a publication ban, this year. It's meeting with the Federal Ombudsman for Victims and Crime — an independent office that provides resources to victims, and wanted to hear from her.

Mary, not her real name, was a victim of sexual assault and domestic violence and says "the entire process was extremely isolating."

"You're just left completely on your own," says Mary, who says there was a lack of support for her, despite "wonderful individuals" who tried to assist her.

While navigating through the justice system, Mary says friends she expected to be there for her couldn't handle the situation.

"Having people turn their back on you is so debilitating. I hardly survived that alone, the isolation."

Mary is now thinking of leaving her N.W.T. community.

"Not because of what he did to me, but of the lack of support that I have experienced from a number of people in the small community."

She paused. "I am heartbroken."

'Make a true change'

The Status of Women Council is compiling people's experiences and will send them to various government bodies or anyone that could "make a true change," says Samantha Thomas, its executive director.

"Just recently we've had a lot people coming to us, talking about their experiences with the criminal justice system," says Thomas.

"They felt they were either let down or not put in the loop."

Samantha Thomas is the executive director at the Status of Women Council of the NWT. (Submitted by Samantha Thomas)

The Council had a prior relationship with Mary and wanted to use her recommendations.

"Unfortunately [Mary's] situation is reflected in a lot of situations," says Thomas.

Mary says she felt "grateful and honoured" to give feedback but she doesn't believe that will mean a "change anytime soon."

Recommendations

To counteract the "heartbreaking roadblocks" she's faced, Mary's recommendations include more collaboration between the territorial and federal governments; tougher sentences for perpetrators so that victims won't be deterred to report assaults; and for the system to better protect the victim from the assaulter while waiting for trial.

One of Mary's main recommendations is to create an advocate position that can act as a guide or spokesperson during the whole process to defend the victim's interests, as she felt victim services "fell short."

Another recommendation is to provide psychological counselling for perpetrators in jail.

Otherwise perpetrators are "just pissed off ... [and] angered while they sit and wait in jail blaming the victim" for their incarceration, says Mary.

She says her experience was "discouraging and humiliating."

Support available in N.W.T.

In the N.W.T., $700,000 is dedicated every year to support 11 community-based victim services workers and to coordinate the program.

The workers are based in eight communities: Hay River, Fort Good Hope, Tulita, Inuvik, Fort Simpson, Behchoko, Fort Smith and Yellowknife. The federal government has also dedicated funding to the territory: $750,000 per year from 2016 to 2021.

The increased funding permits "assistance for increased travel to smaller communities," says Leanne Gardiner, director of the territory's community justice and policing department, in an email.

A full-time Canadian Victim Bill of Rights coordinator has also been staffed. They provide training and support to the victim services workers, says Gardiner.

Gardiner says she welcomes feedback from victims of crime, if they had a bad experience with the system.

In the N.W.T., victims of serious violent crime can also apply to the victims of crime emergency fund.

Between 2016 and 2017, 57 people accessed this fund for a total of $31,000.