The Myth of the “Ideal Victim”: Combatting Misconceptions of Expected Demeanour in Sexual Assault Survivors
When a sexual assault survivor testifies in court, it is highly likely that their demeanour will be impacted by the trauma they suffered. Despite an array of research on how trauma can affect demeanour, legal professionals and juries often have misconceptions about how a sexual assault survivor “should” behave on the stand. As the standard of proof in criminal law is incredibly high, and often only the survivor and the accused have firsthand knowledge of what happened, the outcome of the case can hinge on the survivor’s credibility. If a misconception about demeanour impacts the assessment of their credibility, the accused may be wrongfully acquitted. This paper explores the research on trauma and demeanour and explains why it is critical that the legal profession appreciates its importance. The paper looks at many available yet underused options within the Canadian criminal justice system to mitigate the effects of trauma on demeanour and support survivors, and argues that their increased use would benefit survivors while maintaining the presumption of innocence that lies at the heart of a criminal trial.
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