Sexual assault survivor fights to hold perpetrator accountable
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DECEMBER 6, 2022
SAINT JOHN, NEW BRUNSWICK: It has been more than 30 years since 14 women were murdered in Montreal in an act of violent misogyny and yet, today, women like Erin McDonough, have to fight to access the justice system to hold perpetrators of misogynistic violence accountable. In court documents, Erin McDonough describes being sexually assaulted by her co-worker who is also the vice-president of her union. Despite attending the hospital for a sexual assault examination and reporting the assault to the police, charges have yet to be laid and justice remains elusive.
McDonough, in an attempt to seek relief for the harms she suffered, has launched a lawsuit against her union and its vice-president. On December 6, the alleged perpetrator is asking to have this case dismissed without a determination of the merits of the allegations. He has asked the Court to find that the sexual assault be considered a “workplace dispute” and argues that this dispute is in the exclusive jurisdiction of a labour arbitrator.
Mike Dull, McDonough’s Counsel, articulates the primary issues that are at stake in this case: “The civil justice system is an important mechanism for survivors of sexual assault to hold their perpetrators to account. That is what Erin is trying to do. Instead of defending the allegations on their merits, her alleged assaulter is asking the court to dismiss her case simply because they were members of the same union. For the argument to be successful, the court would have to find that this sexual assault was a workplace dispute,” Dull said. “In my view, any suggestion that hotel room sexual assault is simply a workplace dispute is absurd. Such a finding would be unprecedented in Canadian law and be a huge step backward for the protection of women against sexual violence.”
On this important day, Survivors for Change and Empowerment (S4CE) will be standing in solidarity with Ms. McDonough. As Director Carrie Low states: “We support Erin as she courageously brings her fight for injustice to the awareness of the public of the violent ways in which the legal system can further harm victims seeking Justice. Currently, a perpetrator can rape a co-worker at a work function and can not be held accountable in the civil law courts. This is absolutely a huge injustice done onto survivors like Erin. These are the reasons why women don't report. It's absolutely egregious that there is no recourse for a survivor to access the civil law system to seek accountability and justice of the harm done onto them. Another way these laws were put into place to only protect the patriarchy. This is such a huge gap in the system, again, where the perpetrators have more rights than the victim and, once again, survivors are powerless in finding any justice”.
McDonough, herself, has been clear: “The actions of the perpetrator have destroyed my life—meanwhile, he has faced zero consequences: he is still employed at Lake Utopia Paper and has a Union supporting him throughout this matter. Today, 33 years after the murder of 14 female engineering students, it is clear that there is still no seat at the table for women in male-dominated industries.” On this day, dedicated to eliminating violence against women, it is important to ask if the justice system is truly interested in protecting women from harm and upholding their rights under the law.
Carrie Low, Director, S4CE: (902) 222-1798
Mike Dull, Valent Legal, Lawyer for the Plaintiff: (902) 223-5588
Emma Halpern, Executive Director, Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland NS, (902) 221-5851