US & Canada

Canadian funfair rape plaintiff 'victim blamed'

Stock image of a fairground

A Canadian organisation is changing its defence over the alleged sex assault of a teen on its grounds after being criticised for "victim blaming".

The woman, now in her 20s, is suing two organisations for failing to ensure her safety at a summer fair in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2008.

The woman says she was assaulted by an employee who plied her with alcohol.

Both organisations had said she showed negligence, including by drinking too much, in their statements of defence.

The woman's civil suit was filed earlier this year against the Edmonton Northlands, a not-for-profit which hosted the fair; North American Midway Entertainment, which produced the event; and the estate of the man alleged to have assaulted her. He died in 2016.

Why did the companies claim negligence?

In the statements of defence filed in an Alberta court, both organisations deny the plaintiff's claims.

They also said they are not liable if the incident did occur because the plaintiff, who was 13 years old at the time, was negligent by failing to take reasonable care of her own safety and for drinking excessively.

The Northlands' claim also said she was negligent for "agreeing to party" with a male stranger.

North American Midway Entertainment said she failed to seek assistance from security or other staff.

The alleged perpetrator was an employee of the Indiana-based company, which is the largest operator of mobile amusement parks in North America.

What are they saying now?

North American Midway Entertainment said it could not comment due to pending litigation.

But Northlands now says it will amend its statement of defence to remove any reference to the plaintiff's "contributory negligence". The organisation says it was unaware of the full content of the filing until it was reported by media.

It says it "believes the victims of sexual assault are never to be blamed and should be treated with respect and dignity".

In a statement released on Friday, the plaintiff said the reaction to the negligence claim "is a reminder that I am not alone in challenging the myths and mindsets that hold survivors responsible for sexual assaults rather than those who perpetrate and facilitate them".

What's the reaction?

Groups that provide support for survivors of sexual assault were fiercely critical of the legal defence put forward in the statements.

Shaun O'Brien, with the Toronto-based Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, told the BBC it was "consistent with a long line of reasoning and defences which blame victims for sexual assaults".

She said the fact the plaintiff was so young at the time of the alleged assault made it especially concerning.

Ms O'Brien also noted that women who are indigenous, like the plaintiff, face particularly high rates of sexual violence.

"To blame a young indigenous girl, after she was provided with alcohol and sexually assaulted, is offensive and dangerous," she said.

In her statement, the plaintiff says she and a friend were approached by an employee at the annual fair.

She says he bought vodka and brought the girls to a lorry in the staff area.

The man encouraged the girls to drink, and the plaintiff quickly felt light-headed.

She says she was sexually assaulted shortly before losing consciousness.

A hospital exam later found evidence of the alleged assault.

Police investigated at the time, but no charges were laid.

The plaintiff is seeking C$100,000 ($77,000; £58,000) in damages. None of the claims have been tested in court.

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