Slew of recent headlines sparks rally for sex assault survivors

·2 min read

Shauna-Lynn Williams was the first to stand up and tell her own story of sexual assault.

"It took me months to wrap my head around what he did," she said, speaking to more than one hundred people outside Confederation Building in the province's capital on Tuesday.

The crowd had convened for a rally, but weren't chanting or crying slogans. Instead, they stood quietly, listening.

For Williams, her ordeal didn't end in an arrest or a verdict, despite reporting her experience to the police.

"I had proof of my assault and I received absolutely no justice," she said.

"I had recorded evidence of my attacker admitting that he assaulted me ... I was told there was a line of consent that he did not cross, and no charges were laid."

High-profile sex assault cases have dominated headlines and airwaves in recent weeks in Newfoundland and Labrador, including the re-trial of Doug Snelgrove, which ended without resolution last month, and the arrest of Stephen Hopkins, a known sex offender who allegedly broke into a St. John's home two weeks ago and assaulted a minor.

Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

The publicity, reaching a boiling point, led to a smattering of protests at Supreme Court in the last two weeks, and struck Williams as an opportune moment to gather survivors and allies in one place to call for changes to the justice system.

"I lived in fear for a very, very long time," Williams said.

"I was afraid of what he would do because I went to the police. I was afraid to walk around my neighbourhood because he lived nearby."

Since planning the rally, she's heard from other survivors, some of whom anonymously submitted their own stories, which Williams read out loud.

Rachel Moss, 17, skipped math class to attend Tuesday's rally.

Malone Mullin/CBC
Malone Mullin/CBC

"I felt it was more important to come and speak up for the rights of women," Moss said.

"I just wouldn't feel right sitting and solving math equations when I know that so many women are out here dealing with so much injustice."

Moss held an optimistic view of social action.

"I hope that internalized and systemic misogyny is ... one day completely eliminated, but I want to see some direct change," she said.

Malone Mullin/CBC
Malone Mullin/CBC

Williams called for more dignity for survivors interacting with the justice system, which critics have called demoralizing and inflexible for complainants who may be experiencing trauma.

She also wanted to see stricter measures for those arrested or convicted of sexual crimes, and widespread training for police officers, lawyers and judges dealing with victims.

"I feel that victims are not believed," she said. "I hope that our government listens ... we are not standing by and allowing this injustice to occur."

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