Survivors deserve clear & accurate reporting

We should be able to trust the sources delivering our news

Brennan believes in journalistic accountability to support survivors.
Credit: 
Supplied by Eilish Brennan

This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.

On May 13,the Instagram account @raperelief shared a screenshot from a Global News article with their thousands of followers explaining a decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) involving section 33.1 of the Criminal Code.

As per the article, criminal defendants in cases involving assault, including sexual assault, can use a defense known as self-induced extreme intoxication. As quotes from the article explaining section 33.1 swept through social media, I felt angry and frustrated at the decision.

However, after doing more research, it became clear the Global News article was extremely misleading and the information reported was not entirely accurate. This has shown me that doing your own research is more important now than ever before—in an age of mass media consumption, misinformation can spread so easily.

For instance,the Global News article used the word “intoxication” without giving any legal context. Since the average person reading the article isn’t likely to know the legal implications of the word ‘intoxication,’ they’re likely to understand it differently than a legal scholar.

Contrary to popular belief, this new automatism defense cannot be used in situations where someone gets drunk and sexually assaults someone. Word choice in journalism and reporting is everything—the only reason I understand this law now is because I educated myself. The onus shouldn’t be on readers to fact-check the news, but it seems to be.

Learning the truth made me feel embarrassed for not doing my own research on the topic before sharing it with my 2000+ Instagram followers. It also made me think about how incredibly irresponsible it was for Global News to publish such a fear-mongering article.

Nonetheless, the entire situation still reveals a lot about the SCC and how little the justice system does to support victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

It also speaks volumes to how normalized and intertwined rape culture and sexual violence are on North American university and college campuses. We see reminders of this harsh reality here at Queen’s during big street parties on Homecoming or St. Patrick’s Day, where bed sheets hang from student houses with derogatory messages objectifying women that we’re expected to excuse as part of the so-called university experience.

With rape and sexual assault being so unfortunately prevalent across North American universities, individuals need access to accurate and reliable information so they can feel safe and able to seek justice if needed. This accuracy is especially important when the younger generation gets much of their news through the ease and speed of social media sharing.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where every media outlet has a political leaning. This unavoidable political influence is something we must all be mindful of so we can share the content we’re consuming with caution since not everything is accurately reported.

Sexual violence shouldn’t be political. We shouldn’t have to further investigate or question laws regarding domestic or sexual assault. It is frustrating that mass media outlets have made it so that everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

The information surrounding these laws should be made accessible and should be accurately reported so victims of sexual violence don't have second thoughts about whether their experiences were somehow not illegal.

Journalists and mass media corporations should be held accountable for their inaccurate reporting—personal opinions and interpretations of the law need to be left out of reporting, especially when it comes to laws surrounding domestic and sexual assault.

In the meantime, we’ll keep doing our own research.

Eilish Brennan is a fourth year Global Development student.

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