In February, we told you the story of Kenneth Rhodes, a Manitoba rapist who avoided prison time because the judge in his case said his victim was too scantily dressed and was basically “asking for it.” Instead of sending Rhodes to prison, the Judge called him a “clumsy Don Juan” and sentenced him to probation. He was also ordered to write an “apology letter” to his victim. And that was the extent of his punishment for rape.
The case sent ripples through the women’s rights communities in Canada and everywhere: blaming the victim for being raped because she was dressed provocatively makes about as much sense as blaming a car owner when his oh-so-tempting BMW is stolen.
And yet, just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it does. While the Crown was reviewing the case in an attempt to appeal the rapist’s sentence and have him committed to at least some jail time, they uncovered some disturbing news. The Crown has now revealed that the trial judge Justice Robert Dewar (who is still, by the way, on the bench despite being removed from sexual assault cases) did not properly review evidence on whether or not the rapist thought his victim might have consented to sex. According to the Crown, this legal error is serious enough to render the original conviction useless. On November 30, the case will be back in court. The options in front of the new judge? To set aside the original conviction and order a new trial — which is what the Crown is demanding — or to dismiss the charges entirely, which is what Kenneth Rhodes’ lawyers are demanding.
Having to review evidence as to whether a victim of rape actually said no is extraordinary. Do we have to review evidence that arson victims did not, in fact, ask to have their houses burned down?
This is so extraordinary, in fact, that a women’s legal group has asked for Status in the case.† The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) will ask an appeal judge for “Intervener” status today, in light of “systemic issues” that it says prejudice judges and juries against female survivors of sexual violence. They also said that victim-blaming is rampant in the Canadian justice system, and that the Judge’s Comments at time of sentencing “play on discredited legal norms that consent to sex can be implied from a woman’s dress, state of intoxication, or presence at a bar at closing time… (They send) the message to sexual assault complainants that it is their responsibility not to be sexually assaulted, as opposed to the responsibility of the offender not to commit sexual assault.”
If you feel that Kenneth Rhodes should face a new trial — and one where he will hopefully be given an appropriate sentence, once convicted — then please, sign our petition to let Manitoba know that victim blaming is NOT okay.
Photo Credit: SteakPinBall on Flickr.