(DE)CONSTRUCTING THE “PERFECT RAPE VICTIM”: AN ANALYSIS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND SURVIVOR DISCOURSES IN THE CANADIAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
thesisposted on 22.05.2021, 11:27 by Vanshika Dhawan, Marty Fink
The Canadian criminal justice system has seen many progressive changes to the way sexual assault cases are investigated and prosecuted over the past several decades. From the acknowledgement of spousal rape to the introduction of rape shield provisions, the law has seemingly changed to broaden the definition of what is considered a sexual assault. However, sexually-based offences are still vastly underreported and have the lowest attrition rates of indictable offences. Larger societal discourses around sexual assault and survivor-hood consist largely of rape myths, such as the idea that “real rape” only occurs when an “undeserving” woman is sexually assaulted by a “stranger in the dark.” These discourses permeate the Canadian criminal justice system, negatively influencing the experience of survivors who do not fit the narrow mould “real rape.” Drawing from Norman Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis and Stuart Hall’s Discursive Approach, this Major Research Paper traces the effects of these discourses on constructions of sexual assault and survivor-hood in the legal system. Through a theoretical analysis of existing literature on the experiences of sexual assault survivors, this paper also examines the ways in which the language we use to describe sexual assault serves to cement rape myths and invalidate survivor experiences in every stage of the Canadian criminal justice system.