Sexual assault clinics anticipate specialized prosecutors

Sexual violence centres hope victims will speak out more

The Avalon Sexual Assault Centre is located on Dresden Row.   Jennifer Lee

Job descriptions for the two prosecutors who will handle future sexual assault cases will not be revealed for another month, says Chris Hansen, director of communications for the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service.

The provincial government announced it will hire two specialized prosecutors to handle sexual assault cases, but it will take some time before they can lay down the law.

“Because these will be specialized positions, a specialized job description is in development,” said Hansen in an email. “Once that is approved, the recruitment and selection process will begin.”

Sexual assault centres hope the prosecutors will find justice for sexual assault survivors.

“I think having the special prosecutors will restore more trust in the legal process for victims,” said Jackie Stevens, executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre.

But Stevens said the addition of two prosecutors is not all the prosecution service needs.

“They also need the time and resources,” she said. “That’s been a challenge with them (Public Prosecution Service), they’re understaffed and don’t have the time or resources to address all the details of a case right away.”

The announcement about the new prosecutors came out on the same day the Public Prosecution Service announced it would appeal the acquittal of Bassam Al-Rawi.

Al-Rawi was a Halifax cab driver who was charged with sexually assaulting an intoxicated female passenger in his cab. He was found not guilty early this month. The ruling sparked provincial outcry and began a discussion surrounding the treatment of sexual assault cases.

According to Statistics Canada, 88 per cent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. Stevens hopes the presence of two specialized prosecutors will encourage more survivors to speak out and break stereotypes on sexual assault.

She added that survivors often have their cases questioned based on their previous sexual history, whether they knew the attacker or if they were drinking.

“When these cases are looked at sometimes these facts and perceptions lead to victims being questioned,” said Stevens. “They (the two prosecutors) would have the skills and knowledge and counter and minimize those stereotypes.”

Hiring these prosecutors isn’t the only step the province has taken to improve sexual assault resources.

In 2015, the provincial government invested $6 million into the province’s first sexual violence strategy. The three-year strategy aims to help victims of sexual assault receive faster support, and expand provincial resources and community outreach.

March 31 will mark the beginning of the strategy’s third year. The strategy says the province hopes to expand the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program and begin specialized training for staff on crisis phone lines.