Woman appeals order to pay $24K to her alleged attacker

A Niagara woman who says she was sexually assaulted is appealing a judge's ruling she has to pay $24,000 in damages to her alleged attacker, saying it is based on 'inappropriate sexual stereotypes.'

She says the order is based on 'inappropriate sexual stereotypes.'

A Welland woman says her ex-boyfriend sexually assaulted her while they were dating. He successfully sued her for about $24,000 last year to cover his expenses. Now she's appealing. (Shutterstock)

A Niagara woman who says she was sexually assaulted is appealing a judge's ruling she has to pay $24,000 in damages to her alleged attacker, arguing the decision was based on "inappropriate sexual stereotypes."

A way bigger deal is why aren't survivors comfortable telling police.- Erin Crickett, SACHA

The sexual assault allegations were never proven, and Niagara prosecutors dropped the charges before trial.

The man sued and it was last fall when deputy judge David Black ruled that the woman lied when she said her ex-boyfriend sexually assaulted her while they were dating.

The woman made the claim because she thought the man was cheating on her, Black said, and she was jealous and emotional.

Her appeal of the monetary award will be heard in Welland superior court Sept. 8. 

That ruling, the woman argues in a court document, relied on "myths and stereotypes" — specifically that of a scorned, unstable woman. She also maintains that she was sexually assaulted.

"These errors undermined (her) right to a fair trial," says the appeal document, filed by Ottawa lawyer Jonathan Collings.

Law professor Elizabeth Sheehy says the fear of having to pay damages is yet another element that deters victims from reporting their sexual assaults to police. (University of Ottawa)

It's not particularly rare for someone who accuses another of sexual assault to have to pay damages. But that doesn't mean it's not a deterrent for victims. 

In 2013, for example, a judge ordered two sisters from Ancaster to pay their uncle $125,000 in libel damages for accusing him of sexually assaulting them in a rural farmhouse when they were children in the early 1980s.

In August 2006, the girls confronted their uncle about the allegations, which he denied. A day later, the older sister gave input as the younger sister drafted and sent an email to various family members and "other individuals" outlining the allegations.

My life is only worth a jam stain on a duvet.- Ex-boyfriend awarded $24,000 in damages

In his decision, Justice Andrew Goodman said the man was shunned by some family and community members, and "had to profess his innocence to his children." 

Damage award is 'a further blow'

For victims, judgments like the Welland one are problematic in a few ways, says Elizabeth Sheehy, a University of Ottawa law professor who wrote Defending Battered Women on Trial: Lessons from the Transcripts

For one, she said, the woman is named in the civil suit, so she lost her anonymity. And women who have experienced sexual violence often struggle to be economically viable. "A damage award against them will be a further blow."

Sheehy says potential lawsuits add to an already stacked deck.  Sometimes, Sheehy said, that even includes "seeing the man acquitted and … being sued yourself."

The Welland case stems back to March 27, 2011, when the woman and her boyfriend of eight months argued over what she says was a peach lipstick stain on his comforter. He says it was a jam stain.

There was sexual contact, which he says was consensual and she says was forced.

Doctor didn't order rape kit

The woman went to her doctor for a pre-arranged check up the next day. The doctor, Dr. Ibtisam Kelada-Sedra, noticed some redness in her vaginal area.

As she dressed, the woman told her doctor that she'd had "unconsented sex." The doctor testified last year that she didn't order a rape kit or refer her to counseling or a hospital, and didn't believe a rape had occurred.

The woman reported the alleged assault to Niagara Regional Police, who charged the boyfriend. The Crown withdrew the charges in 2013 after a judicial pre-trial.

Then last year, the man sued her, saying the charge "humiliated and degraded" him, and that he lost his job over it.

"The anxiety, stress, sadness and depression has been unbearable," he said in a court filing.

'Emotionally upset and angry'

Black ruled in the boyfriend's favour, awarding him $23,842. In his decision, Black pointed to texts exchanged after the alleged assault where the woman called her ex a liar, cheater and abuser.

"It is clear to me from the tone of those texts that (she) was emotionally upset and angry toward (him) for what she was saw as a betrayal on his part," he wrote.

Wrongful accusations happen, said Erin Crickett, public education co-ordinator with the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton (SACHA). They account for two to eight per cent of reported sexual assault cases. But they're far less widespread than the number of cases where abusers walk, she said.

'My life has been destroyed'

As for the ex-boyfriend, his court response focused on inconsistencies in the woman's testimony, and said he's suffered mental, financial and social distress. "My life has been destroyed and will never be the same," he wrote.

"My life is only worth a jam stain on a duvet." 

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC