TORONTO — Two thirds of Canadians surveyed for an online poll conducted in the wake of the highly controversial Jian Ghomeshi trial believe that the majority of sexual assault claims are true.
It's a finding that's being heralded as "encouraging" by the Canadian Women's Foundation, which commissioned the survey that was released Monday.
Ghomeshi was found not guilty in late March by a Toronto judge who said he was unable to rely on the testimony from the three women whose sexual assault allegations stood at the core of the case.
The trial, and its outcome, sparked an emotional countrywide debate on how the justice system treats sexual assault complainants.
It also led the Canadian Women's Foundation to attempt to gauge just how much of an impact the case had on perceptions of complainants' credibility.
"I think it's encouraging that even though Jian Ghomeshi was not found guilty, we still have numbers like 67 per cent of Canadians believing that the majority of cases are true and valid."
"We wanted to think about and be able to reflect on whether the Ghomeshi case had any effect on Canadians in general — their feelings about or their thoughts about sexual assault cases," Anuradha Dugal, the foundation's director of violence prevention, told The Canadian Press.
"I think it's encouraging that even though Jian Ghomeshi was not found guilty, we still have numbers like 67 per cent of Canadians believing that the majority of cases are true and valid," she said. "I think that's an important message to be able to give."
The survey also found that seven per cent of respondents believe the claims are exaggerated, while one per cent believe they are false.
Twenty four per cent of respondents said they didn't know what to believe.
Women more likely to believe victims
When broken down by gender, 75 per cent of respondents who tend to believe the majority of sexual assault claims were women, while 59 per cent were men.
"There's a clear divide between women being more likely to believe the sexual assault cases are true versus men. I think there's maybe some work to do there," said Dugal.
"We can see that there's less victim-blaming than we might expect, and that's very encouraging."
The survey also asked respondents who they thought was usually to blame for sexual assault, with 73 per cent blaming the perpetrator. Only two per cent blamed the victim.
"We can see that there's less victim-blaming than we might expect, and that's very encouraging," Dugal noted. "Such large numbers very clearly do put the emphasis on the perpetrator."
According to Statistics Canada, less than one in ten sexual assaults committed each year are reported to police.
The online survey was conducted between April 13 to April 14 among 1,507 randomly selected adults who are part of the Angus Reid Forum — a 130,000-member panel of Canadians who participate in surveys and discussions and receive a small monetary incentive for completing each survey.
The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.
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