False Sexual Assault Accusations and Defamation
Re: Vanderkooy v Vanderkooy
On August 15, 2013 Justice Goodman ordered sisters, Patricia and Sarah Vanderkooy, to pay their uncle, Jack Vanderkooy, $125,000.00 in damages for libel on account of alleging that he sexually abused them (http://canlii.ca/t/g04cb). This decision has far-reaching consequences and as such many parties are interested in pursuing a different outcome. While defamation is a serious matter, it is believed that this decision will have chilling consequences for sexual assault victims.
Sarah and Patricia confronted their uncle on August 12, 2006. The sisters, now in their 30s, explained that he had sexually assaulted them when they were 4 and 6 years old and that they wanted an apology. Mr. Vanderkooy denied the allegations. After the confrontation, the family became divided – with few people believing Sarah and Patricia’s allegations. Consequently, the sisters retracted the allegations and apologized to their uncle. However, after further consideration, the sisters renewed the allegations in early 2007.
Justice Goodman found that there was a case for defamation – as Sarah and Patricia notified family members of their accusation against Jack. Perhaps noteworthy is that Jack himself notified many family members of the accusation, sometimes before Sarah and Patricia. Justice Goodman further explains that Sarah and Patricia failed to prove either that the allegations were in fact true or that they were subject to any of the defences to defamation.
This is an issue of balancing the right of Jack against defamation with the right of Patricia and Sarah to pursue allegations of sexual assault without fear of being accused and charged with libel. On one hand, the court should not allow people to widely make false sexual assault accusations, but on the other hand, the court should protect sexual assault victims.
It is not easy for a sexual assault victim to come forward with allegations of abuse. There are many societal and procedural factors that produce a chilling effect on sexual abuse allegations. Some victims believe it is easier to stay silent rather than accuse their assailant. Now, with the added fear of having to pay the alleged aggressor damages, the chill factor grows.
Questions arise as to the effect of this decision. In the case at hand, Sarah and Patricia did not lay sexual assault charges against their uncle until after he began the libel action. But we can only speculate as to what will happen when victims start a civil or criminal action against their alleged aggressor and the court finds the defendant not guilty. It potentially has the effect of silencing sexual assault victims – preventing them from speaking to anyone about the abuse except a therapist or lawyer under confidentiality. These effects not only have emotional ramifications for victims but also practical ramifications regarding sexual assault trials.
Furthermore, this decision can reach beyond the sexual assault realm. This can potentially have a chilling effect towards allegations of every assault, and even of every crime.
The sisters have not yet decided whether to appeal Justice Goodman’s decision.
If you believe you have been a victim of False Sexual Assault Accusations and Defamation, or a sexual assault victim, the Criminal Lawyers at Devry Smith Frank LLP can assist you. Contact us today.