CALGARY – Sexual abuse survivor Sheldon Kennedy has dedicated his life to helping other victims, but comments made by a Calgary judge during a 2014 sexual assault trial have him questioning the progress that’s been made since he was young.
“What this has taught me, is we have lot more to be done, and victim blaming is still alive and well,” Kennedy said. He was reacting to comments made by Justice Robin Camp to a sex assault complainant that included: “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”
“I don’t know all the details of the case, but what I heard in a position that this individual was in, is absurd—that’s all I know. And there’s no way that comment should have been coming from the bench.”
Court transcripts show Camp questioned the morals of the complainant and asked her: “Why didn’t you just sink your bottom down into the basin so he couldn’t penetrate you?” He also said her efforts to fight off an attack were ineffectual.
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Kennedy, a former NHL player, said he, too, faced victim blaming when he came forward against his attacker, former hockey coach Graham James.
“I was afraid nobody was going to believe me, people were going to blame me for bringing this on myself; I heard lots of comments that Sheldon Kennedy slept his way to the NHL.”
“Some people blamed me at the time but you know that was 18 years ago…I would have to think we are so much farther ahead than we were 18 years ago, but I guess after a comment like that—I guess I maybe question that.”
It’s attitudes like the one displayed by Camp that officials working at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre are working to end.
“All of the fears that she might have had leading into her disclosure came true—all of the above happened. Not only does it put her back but it empowers the perpetrator to keep doing what he’s doing and go out and hurt other people.”
Deb Tomlinson, the head of Alberta Sexual Assault Services, said unfortunately Camp’s comments are not an anomaly.
“It really was like a textbook of rape myths and stereotypes,” she said.
“It was a classic example of rape culture. I think rape culture is so insidiously embedded in our beliefs and our attitudes that most of us are not even aware of it.”
Kennedy said Camp needs to face consequences.
“How many other cases have come across that individual’s desk that have not been dealt with appropriately because of a biased view? I think being a judge, there’s a responsibility to uphold the law to the best of their ability and to be honest, I was quite taken back by hearing those comments coming out of a judge’s mouth.”