News / Halifax

Jian Ghomeshi trial could help put 'spotlight' on Nova Scotia's sexual assault stats

Only about 30 per cent of reported sexual assaults in Nova Scotia resulted in charges laid, according to the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre.

Jian Ghomeshi arrives at court during the first day of  his trail in Toronto on Monday.

Todd Korol/The Toronto Star

Jian Ghomeshi arrives at court during the first day of his trail in Toronto on Monday.

The executive director of a Halifax sexual assault centre believes the intense national media attention surrounding the Jian Ghomeshi trial could shed light on the issue of sexualized violence in Nova Scotia.

“Nova Scotia has one of the highest rates of sexualized violence per capita in the country,” Avalon Sexual Assault Centre executive director Jackie Stevens said Monday.  “And we have some of the lowest reporting, charge and conviction rates of sexual assault in the country.”

Although people are getting a better sense of the issues surrounding sexualized violence and its impacts, Stevens said, there’s still a lot of work to do.

“Oftentimes we get asked, is it really a problem?” she said. “I think up until the last couple of years here, particularly in the HRM and in Nova Scotia, people didn’t understand how big of an issue sexualized violence is.”

In Canada, 88 per cent of sexual assaults go unreported. One in three women are sexually assaulted or sexually abused in their lifetime, and it’s estimated that a sexual assault occurs every 17 minutes.

“If you think about that compared to 88 per cent of sexual assaults going unreported, it does give us a sense of how staggering this is,” Stevens said.

Stevens cautions that although the Ghomeshi trial is putting a much-needed spotlight on the issue of sexual assault, it could also have negative impacts.

“For some people there will be this validation of the fact that the issue of sexualized violence is being named and addressed and is taken seriously before the courts,” she said.

“But certainly, in terms of the information that might come out or how it may come out, that could be re-triggering for the individuals involved in the case, as well as for other people who have experienced sexualized violence.”

Elaine Craig, a law professor at Dalhousie University, said from a legal perspective, there are “modest steps” that can be taken to improve the trial experience for sexual assault victims.

“We could provide sexual assault complainants with state-supported lawyers to help prepare them for trial. We could impose ethical obligations on defence lawyers not to intentionally invoke outdated stereotypes,” Craig said Monday.  

“We could ensure that trial judges are properly supported by appellate courts when they do try to intervene to limit unnecessarily aggressive cross-examination of vulnerable sexual assault complainants.”

The sexual assault trial of Ghomeshi, former host of CBC Radio’s ‘Q,’ began in Toronto on Monday. He has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.

Nova Scotia's sexual assault stats

Statistics provided on the Avalon Centre’s website show that in 2007, only 30 per cent of reported sexual assaults in Nova Scotia resulted in charges laid. This was the lowest of all provinces and territories. The national average was 42 per cent.

A 2015 survey commissioned by the Canadian Women’s Foundation suggested that only one in three Canadians know what sexual consent means.