How much does it cost to be a victim of sexual assault?
A York University PhD student who was sexually assaulted is planning to send a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to highlight the devastating financial costs of being attacked.
Mandi Gray, who was sexually assaulted in 2015 by a fellow PhD student at York, said she intends to send $7 million in invoices to Trudeau and Wynne to illustrate the costs associated with being a victim of sexual assault and the lack of support in the legal system.
“We don’t really have support — it’s an illusion that these supports exist,” Gray told AM640’s The Morning Show. “Because my case was dealt with both [York University] and the legal system, there were a lot of barriers with returning to campus and returning to work.”
Gray, who helped co-found the group Silence is Violence, created an online survey to collect information from survivors of sexual assault about the costs they incurred from being a victim of the crime. The survey generated 158 responses, from which the total added up to $7,086,137.00 in legal costs, lost tuition fees and mental health care costs.
“Until the state provides adequate funding for victims to access legal services, victims of sexual assault will continue to pay emotionally, physically, socially, and economically for actions they never consented to,” Gray said in a statement. “These costs are further exacerbated for people who are racialized, Indigenous, queer, trans, two-spirited, live with a disability, are sex workers, and/or criminalized.”
Gray spoke out about her case in front of the Toronto courthouse earlier this week where Mustafa Ururyar formally appealed his conviction and 18-month jail sentence for sexual assault in Ontario Superior Court. He also appealed an order to hand over $8,000 to Gray for part of her legal bills for a lawyer she hired to represent her in court.
Lawyers for Ururyar argued he deserves a new trial on seven grounds, including allegations that Justice Marvin Zuker’s reading on topics such as rape and domestic violence “clouded his objective view of the evidence.”
Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said Gray’s case reveals the hidden costs associated with violent crime like sexual assault.
“The impacts of crime on victims are potentially massive and obviously life-changing or even devastating,” said Perrin, author of the new book Victim Law: The Law of Victims of Crime in Canada.
Violent crimes in Canada come at a huge financial cost. The most recent study from Justice Canada shows that violent crimes — assault, criminal harassment, homicide, robbery, sexual assault and other sexual offences — have an yearly economic impact of $12.7 billion accounting for medical care and lost wages to court and social welfare costs.
The largest single cost — $4.8 billion — was attributed to sexual assault and other sex-based crimes, in which more than 90 per cent of victims were women.
Perrin said sexual assault survivors will continue to incur ongoing costs for treatment and counselling well after the crime is committed.
“There’s also the highly likelihood of the development of mental health issues — starting with depression and anxiety but potentially getting much more serious than that — can lead to, for some people, an inability to go to work or to continue on with their lives,” he said.
WATCH: Man accused of sexually assaulting York U student Mandi gray appeals his conviction
The results from the online survey showed being a victim of sex assault can be costly — 46 per cent of respondents said they incurred $13,916.58 in lost tuition fees and 71 per cent of respondents incurred an average of $7,956.45 in therapy fees.
Erin Ellis, a Toronto lawyer who represents sexual assault plaintiffs in civil court, said sexual assault cases are distinct from other criminal cases in terms of the blame and other faults directed at survivors.
She said it can be beneficial for victims to have their own lawyer, as the Crown attorney doesn’t represent them.
“If they want [a lawyer] there’s a very steep cost associated with that,” Ellis said. “The Crown isn’t their lawyer. There’s no confidentiality between a survivor and anything they say to the Crown. So the Crown may advocate for them in some respects, but it’s not a lawyer relationship.”
Ellis said Ontario Criminal Injuries Compensation Board can award victims of crime up to a maximum of $25,000, but costs of crime can well exceed that number and financial compensation is handed out on a comparative scale, meaning not all victims will be given the same amount. Alberta, for example, has a maximum compensation of $110,000, while Saskatchewan has a $100,000 maximum.
The Criminal Lawyers Association is acting as an intervenor in the Gray case and is arguing that Ururyar should not have to pay. The CLA says those who are accused and subsequently acquitted aren’t entitled to similar reimbursement and the decision in the Gray case could affect how people chose to defend themselves in court.
Kathryn Wells, Toronto director for the CLA, says there should be a more “narrow” interpretation of the section of the Criminal Code relating to restitution and defendants should not be required to cover the legal costs incurred by a victim.
“A victim of crime who has to testify in a case, their lawyer has no standing to appear before the court, to address the judge on the trial,” Wells said. “People may think they need counsel; they feel that they would benefit from it. And certainly that’s their prerogative, and I’m sure there are times when it’s helpful, but it shouldn’t be the only accused to pay for that.
“The Crown is there to represent the interests of the state and also… indirectly the complainant,” she said. “This is an unreasonable interpretation of the criminal code…where do you draw the line?”
Gray said in a statement the legal fees are “inconsequential” compared to the personal costs she has already incurred.
Ellis said the government needs to do more to help victims with the “invisible costs” of sexual offences, including increasing the maximum compensation for crimes and the expansion of Ontario’s Independent Legal Advice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Pilot Program, which currently provides four hours of free legal advice to victims.
A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General said it would it would be inappropriate to comment on the Gray case as it is before the court. The ministry pointed to the CICB and the Victim Quick Response Program (VQRP) as tools to help victims cover the costs of essential expenses.
The VQRP covers costs including up to $5,000 for families of homicide victims, $1,000 maximum for emergency costs and roughly $1,000 for counselling services.
— With files from the Canadian Press
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