Over the course of the 2017/2018 academic year, one PBSC UNB student will be working with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre (FSAC) to research, develop, deliver and evaluate a training initiative for criminal justice professionals. The project, Enhancing Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Violence in New Brunswick, was developed at an opportune moment given the recent complaints about judicial conduct in several sexual assault cases and the viral #MeToo campaign.
Jenn Goham, the supervisor at FSAC, told PBSC UNB:
Overwhelmingly the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre hears from victims of sexual violence that their experiences with the criminal justice system were often traumatic and even regretful — in hindsight they would not have reported, knowing how they would be treated throughout the process.
Karla O’Regan, the project’s lawyer supervisor, also noted that “‘I didn't think I'd be believed’ is one of the leading reasons why victims of sexual violence decide not to report the crime to police.” O’Regan stated further:
Projects like these, which bring trauma-informed research and best practices into conversation with key players in the criminal justice system, are integral components to addressing this problem. … Increased collaboration between police and victim advocacy groups allows for the development of mutual understanding and empathy that helps to improve both service delivery and victim reporting experiences.
PBSC UNB Program Coordinator, Natalie Feltrin, described how the project came to fruition. “I reached out to FSAC over the summer in the hopes of developing a project focused on helping survivors through the criminal justice system and discovered that FSAC was in need of assistance with legal research for a similar project they already had underway.”
During the project development phase, Feltrin knew that this project required a unique, empathetic and intelligent law student volunteer — which she found in Desiree Duplessis. A third year law student, Duplessis brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to the project. She stated that:
I was originally attracted to the project because I was interested in working with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre. The integration of law, sociology, and neurobiology further grabbed my attention as they are some of my primary areas of interest. Additionally, the issue of sexual assault victim advocacy is close to my heart as I and many of those close to me have experienced it.
Duplessis will work with representatives from the criminal justice system, victim services and FSAC to develop training that will address the unique concerns and issues faced by criminal justice professionals in cases of sexual violence. Gorham noted that:
A significant outcome of the Enhancing Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Violence in New Brunswick project would be supporting members of the criminal justice system in adopting trauma-informed and sexual violence-specific understandings to sexual violence cases with the goal of enhancing reporting and prosecution of sexual violence and intimate partner sexual violence cases. In doing so, this project offers a unique opportunity for New Brunswick to align itself with current best practices in criminal justice response to sexual violence.
Feltrin echoes Gorham’s hopes for the project. She believes the FSAC project will be incredibly beneficial because:
[I]t is focused on educating professionals in the criminal justice system about the often traumatic effect of the trial process on survivors. The unique approach of conducting interviews with judges and prosecutors will help FSAC understand the justice system's perspectives while also allowing FSAC to provide training materials to reduce the negative impact faced by complainants.
PBSC is proud to be partnering with FSAC and we applaud the work being done to improve criminal justice system responses to survivors of sexual assault and trauma. To learn more about the work of the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre visit http://fsacc.ca/en.
PBSC UNB students are collaborating with the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre to improve the judiciary’s response to victims of sexual assault and trauma.