People enter the Law Courts in Winnipeg for the second degree murder trial of Raymond Cormier, Tina Fontaine’s alleged killer. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘Silenced’ in court, sex assault victim seeks voice for others

Suffering and distraught victim says court refused to give her a break to recover

A Saanich mother who was abused as a child is seeking a new policy that will empower sex assault victims in the courtroom.

Sarah, a mother of two, has filed suit with the government of Manitoba. Growing up in Winnipeg, Sarah was sexually abused beginning when she was four years old. It’s haunted her for years and the damage prevented her from experiencing life’s basic joys such as raising a family with a partner, and engaging in a career.

As the perpetrator was a minor at the time, no criminal chargers were ever laid.

In 2014, Sarah filed a civil claim in an attempt to seek resolution for the past. Early into her own law studies and representing herself, Sarah found herself fighting emotional collapse during the trial.

The subject material caused flashbacks, insecurity, emotional instability and countless tears. Despite her requests, there was no reprieve, she said.

She had her voice taken away in court and was unable to mount a strong case, she says.

“I had no voice because I’m a rape victim,” Sarah said. “I broke down and cried at hearing the subject matter of my past, and I couldn’t gather myself. There was no time to recover. I asked for recess, for a break to recover, but I was refused, the trial just rolled forward.”

In an appeal, a panel of judges accepted a letter from a UVic psychiatrist, but when Sarah asked for a break following an emotional breakdown the panel of judges turned her down.

At times, she couldn’t even wipe the tears from her face.

In the end she was awarded $100,000 from the original claim, a small percentage of the $5.6 million she sought.

In her newest claim, Sarah is seeking $3.6 million in damages from the province of Manitoba. It’s money she believes she should have won in an original claim made four years ago against the responsible party. In addition, Sarah hopes to create a change in courtroom policy that will empower victims.”

Ahead of her civil claim trial Sarah submitted a letter from a psychiatrist she saw at the University of Victoria, where she’s also a student, asking for breaks in court to permit her a chance to recover.

However, the appeal judge refused, Sarah said.

“I want a policy that gives a voice to rape victims in the courtroom, a voice for the victims of sexual abuse.”

Sarah now has a little more experience in the courtroom and, though she’s without the funds to hire a lawyer herself, she’s a full year into her law courses. Albeit it’s early in her studies, she is looking to write California’s baby bar this year.

Because of that, she served the government of Manitoba on March 2 with a new claim that the Manitoba judges have breached a professional standard of care which could have been avoided by having in place an adequate policy that accommodates victims within a courtroom setting.

In her mind, the policy framework would mandate breaks for victims of sexual assault within a courtroom setting.

Sarah is claiming that victims of sexual violence suffer in silence and that suffering is a direct result of being sexually abused.

“By saying no, the panel judges were negligent by ignoring the very mental state the victim suffers. Without her voice there is no story and there is no justice,” Sarah says.

The claim lists five breaches of duty, including within both the original trial and the appeal trial.

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