People of Georgian: Sexual assault survivor changes federal legislation on publication bans  

Saturday, Nov. 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Marked around the world, the day also kicks off 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.

We spoke with Brandy Mullen, a sexual assault survivor and professor in Georgian’s Health, Wellness and Sciences department, about her experience with Canada’s legal system and how she helped change federal legislation related to publication bans.

People of Georgian: Meet Brandy Mullen

I recently helped change federal legislation with a group of other sexual assault survivors across Canada.

On Oct. 26, Bill S-12 received royal assent and is now law. Within that bill, there’s a section on publication bans. Now, no longer can a victim or complainant be prosecuted for breaching their own publication ban.

A publication ban is a court order that prevents anyone from publishing or sending any information that could identify a victim, witness or other person who participates in a specific criminal justice system case.

Two people and a dog stand together for a selfie in front of a river in the woods.
Brandy with her partner, Tom, and dog, Dublin.

Survivor charged $2,600 for breaking own publication ban

An example of why it was important to change this is from 2019, when a woman whose ex-husband was convicted of sexually assaulting her shared the news with some people in private Facebook messages. Her ex-husband found out about it, and she was charged with breaking her own publication ban.

She was convicted and paid a $2,600 fine. The maximum fine for breaking a publication ban was $5,000 and two years less a day in prison.

If she had asked the court to remove the publication ban, the process at the time would have been to notify her ex-husband and allow him say in court whether she should be able to share her own name or talk about her case. That’s another layer of trauma for survivors.

Sexual assault is one of the least reported crimes in Canada, and so this woman’s publication ban, which was meant to be a shield for her, was turned into a sword and used against her.

They ended up dropping the charges only on a technicality, not because it makes absolutely no sense to charge a victim with breaking their own publication ban, and she was refunded.

Eight people stand or sit together for a smiling selfie.
Brandy, top right, with some members of Our Voice, Our Choice: Jacob, Kelly Farvo, Jessica Gaertner, Jade Neilson, Carrie Low, Morrell Andrews, and Elinor McNamee.

Helping survivors not feel alone

So, our group – a grassroots organization called My Voice, My Choice – was able to change the law so you can’t be prosecuted for breaching your own publication ban unless it compromises the privacy of another victim.

I wanted to share my story to help other survivors not feel alone.

Going through a trial in the Canadian legal system was a whole other layer of trauma that, even though I knew it was going to be bad, I don’t think I really understood how traumatizing and horrific it was going to be.

I struggled to get out of bed, but I wanted to release the shame I had carried since childhood. I had done nothing wrong; I don’t own that shame.

After my trial, I felt like I needed to do something. I put it out to the universe that I would find people to help, and that’s when I connected with My Voice, My Choice.

We’re done now as a group since the legislation passed, but I would love to do a documentary about our journey. It would be an eye-opening and interesting piece.

A person wearing a turqouise, feathery outfit stands outside in the snow against a tree and smiles.
Brandy says she released shame from childhood sexual assault once she was able to publicly share her story. Photo by Kristin Taylor.

‘Magical gift’ of time

Funnily enough, I just finished a year of professional development leave with a focus on mental health support for students. This meant I was practicing a lot of mindfulness, which aligned well with this legislative work.

It was a magical gift to have that time off that I couldn’t have foreseen. I’m very grateful.

Brandy Mullen, professor in Georgian’s Health, Wellness and Sciences department and an alumna of the college’s Embark on a rewarding career supporting individuals with addiction – Georgian College (class of 2001).

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