Nova Scotia

Court guide for N.S. sex assault survivors not 'sugar-coated'

With sexual assault cases in Nova Scotia attracting more attention, victims now have a booklet to guide them through the challenges in the criminal trial process and the supports available to them.

Public Prosecution Service has produced an 18-page guide offering information about process, supports

Denise Smith is the deputy director of the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, left, and Alicia Kennedy is a sexual assault Crown attorney. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

With sexual assault cases in Nova Scotia attracting more attention, victims now have a booklet to guide them through the challenges in the criminal trial process and the supports available to them.

Entitled "A Survivor's Guide to Sexual Assault Prosecution," the 18-page guide produced by the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service answers questions that "survivors told us they wanted," said deputy director Denise Smith.

There are explanations about who will be in court, what to expect when testifying and why cases are ended when there's no reasonable prospect of conviction.

"They didn't want us to pull any punches, they wanted honesty, but they didn't want anything to be sugar-coated," said Smith.

"You will see reference to 'This may be difficult, you may need a break when you're testifying, you may find this embarrassing.'"

Survivors provided input on everything from the colour, size and language in the booklet to ensuring it was written from a survivor's perspective. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

At the same time, Smith hoped it would arm survivors with information to make their own decisions about whether to participate in the court process.

Work on the booklet started in 2008, but it read like a legal document and was shelved.

Two years ago, when the #MeToo movement burst into public consciousness, the Public Prosecution Service received $40,000 in federal funding to pay for focus groups for the booklet and professional writing. Victims and the general public, with an emphasis on women under 35, were consulted. Police and advocacy groups also weighed in.

It's believed the focus groups with sexual assault survivors makes the booklet unique in Canada.

The document refers to survivors of sexual assault, which implies the accused is guilty. Smith said that isn't an issue because the document isn't intended for the general public or judges.

The guide is available online and is published in three languages with plans for more. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Sexual assault is an under-reported crime, in part, because survivors have complained that they can be re-victimized by participating in the trial process.

Alicia Kennedy, a sexual assault Crown attorney, hopes this booklet addresses that.

"I think it's acknowledged that that's a concern right now, that trials not inflict further harm on people that have already been the victim of serious harm," she said.

"The more that we can prepare someone for what they might expect, the more we can support them through the process and help them get to the other end," she said.

The document is available online and is published in English, French and Arabic. There are plans to produce it in Mi'kmaw.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.