Sexual Assault Law, Credibility, and 'Ideal Victims': Consent, Resistance, and Victim Blaming
Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, Vol. 22, p. 397, 2010
39 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2011
Date Written: January 16, 2011
The archetype of the ideal sexual assault victim still functions to disqualify many complainants' accounts of their sexual assault experiences. To this extent, the "ideal victim" myth continues to undermine the credibility of those women who are seen to deviate too far from stereotypical notions of "authentic" victims and too far from what are assumed to be predictable and "reasonable" victim responses. Credibility assessments, which are absolutely pivotal in sexual assault trials, remain deeply influenced by myths and stereotypes surrounding "ideal," "real," or "genuine" victims of sexual assault. Despite progressive Canadian sexual assault law reform with regard to consent, the onus of proof and credibility of consent in practice remains with the victim and plays out in often harmful and discriminatory ways. The persistence of the idea that "real" victims of sexual assault resist remains inextricably bound up with the myth that "ideal" or "real" victims can prove their victim status and establish the credibility of their rape claims by demonstrating that they resisted the assault and that their resistance took a socially expected form, by preferably vigorous physical fighting back. In this article, I assess some of the key problems that remain deeply in need of redress with regard to the law's response to sexual assault, analyzing the tenacity of distorted legal images of "ideal" or "real" sexual assault victims, the tendency still to blame sexual assault victims and "disappear" perpetrators, and the persistence of a kind of psychological illiteracy in law about the nature, complexities, and range of ways in which women cope with the violation and trauma of sexual assaults.
Keywords: sexual assault law, consent, credibility, ideal victims, resistance, criminal justice system
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