Added: March 7, 2015 – Last updated: November 7, 2015


Speaker: Constance Backhouse

Title: Sexually Abused Children as Witnesses

Subtitle: Lessons from History

Conference: Joint Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association and the Research Committee on Sociology of Law: Law and Society in the 21st Century: Transformations, Resistances, Futures (July 25-28, 2007)

Session: Comparative and Historical Perspectives on Witness Testimony and Witnessing

Place: Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Date: July 26, 2007

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 20th Century | American History: Canadian History | Cases: Offenders / Ovila Soulière; Cases: Victims / Marie Tremblay; Offenders: Women; Types: Child Sexual Abuse, Same-Sex Rape; Victims: Girls


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Speaker: Constance Backhouse, Faculty of Law - Common Law Section, University of OttawaSpeaker's Personal Website, ResearchGate Wikipedia

Abstract: »Many modern-day commentators believe that the criminal prosecution of child sexual assault is a relatively recent phenomenon. A review of cases across Canada from 1900 to 1975 indicates that children as young as 3, 4 and 5 years of age regularly disclosed sexual abuse, and found themselves in front of judges and juries. Those who study sexual assault will not be startled to learn that so many of our most vulnerable were intrusively violated. What is more unexpected is how many children publicly disclosed the abuse, how many adults initially believed them, and how many prosecutions ensued in these early decades. This paper will examine one trial that occurred in Hull, Quebec in 1951, where five year old Marie Tremblay accused her mother's live-in paramour, Ovila Soulière, of sexual abuse. It will focus on the barriers that faced child witnesses, the presumptions of unreliability that attached to their testimony, and the nature of the research that purportedly justified such conclusions. It will critique the writings of historically eminent English and American jurists, treatise writers, and psychiatrists such as Hale, Wigmore, and Freud, as well as the Canadian-born Barbeau, who falsified sources and drew conclusions well beyond their evidence to condemn child testimony without any reliable basis for doing so. The paper will speak specifically to discrimination based on gender and age. It will also argue that we must understand the historical framework as we attempt to move forward into an egalitarian 21st century on issues such as child sexual abuse.« (Source: All Academic)

Publication: Backhouse, Constance. Carnal Crimes: Sexual Assault Law in Canada, 1900-1975. Toronto 2008: Chapter 7.

Wikipedia: History of the Americas: History of Canada / History of Canada (1945–60) | Types of rape: Child sexual abuse, Rape by gender