The Current

Ghomeshi trial sparks debate about treatment of sexual assault complainants

It's a legal tactic referred to as "whacking", the aggressive cross-examination of an alleged victim of sexual assault in pursuit of inconsistent testimony. Critics say it plays to gender stereotypes and can traumatize a witness. Others say it's a legitimate tool when the stakes are so high.
The legal term whacking came from a defense lawyer in the early '90s, and it's a specific tactic used in cases of sexual assault. The Supreme Court of Canada has said it's unacceptable but it still happens. (Beth Cortez-Neavel/Flickr cc)

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The courtroom testimony in the sexual assault trial of former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi has been front page news across the country. 

Ghomeshi's defence lawyer, Marie Henein, has a reputation for tough cross-examinations. Her dogged focus on seeming inconsistencies in one of the complainant's testimony has given rise to conversations outside the courtroom.

Anne Kingston, a senior writer for Macleans magazine following the trial from inside the courtroom, says the defence's strategy so far has been "pretty extraneous but just poked holes in issues that should have nothing to do with the charges at hand." 

Kingston explains that a defence technique known in legal slang as "whacking" is an approach used in sexual assault trials. The cross-examination involves "very personal questions that should have been outlawed by rape shield provisions that have come into the criminal code over the last generation."

The Current convened a panel to continue the conversation about the tactics used by criminal defence lawyers in sexual assault trials, including the controversial strategy known as "whacking." 

Guests in this segment:

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins, Taylor Simmons and Kinsey Clarke.