Thursday, March 24, 2016

i stand with Lucy; i believe survivors

NB: If you don't know what my title refers to, you are likely not Canadian, or at least not a Canadian woman, or maybe you're a Canadian who works hard to avoid the news. Regardless, the title should stand as a trigger warning that this post addresses rape and sexual assault with more frankness and anger and disgust than I usually permit myself. If you read no further, read this: 

A summary for those who need it: The verdict was delivered today in a high-profile Canadian sexual assault case in which a Canadian celebrity (yes, that's a thing) was acquitted on multiple charges brought forward by three women. In fact, almost two dozen women came forward against the accused, but the Crown decided evidence was only strong enough to proceed with charges in three cases. Following a trial that demonstrated everything about the legal system that keeps women from accusing their sexual aggressors (victim blaming, unyielding media coverage, unequal legal support, etc.), today's verdict was a surprise to few and an affront to many. 

I have tried largely to stay offline today. Having seen the verdict when I first logged on this morning and stated my support for the courageous survivors in this case and my sadness for all the women who will be silenced by this verdict, I decided that going about my life would be healthier for my peace of mind. Habits being what they are, I checked back in later this afternoon and saw a mix of responses on social media, including some really nasty further victim blaming, and the accused's statement that he "thanks the Crown and police" and hopes that this will keep other women in the future from coming forward. He knows. He's clear the impact on other survivors of this verdict. It's nauseating. 

A friend had commented on my stated support for all survivors by asking if I had read the testimony in the case. I was ready to be defensive because I have tried (in vain) to avoid much of the detailed coverage, and I hate to have my ignorance highlighted. But the truth is there's a reason I have fought my interest in this case and it's worth addressing. So, here's my too-long-for-FB answer. 

No, I haven't read the testimony. I have seen the unavoidable highlights and headlines; I have listened to the women I know who know some of the survivors and the accused, and I have consciously chosen to limit my exposure. There are several reasons for my avoidance and for my unquestioning and unwavering support of all survivors - for which I am unapologetic. Mostly, I didn't follow the case closely because of my personal experience with the injustice of Canada's legal system when it comes to sexual assault.

I didn't need the reminder of when someone dear to me spent three nights in 1986 sleeping on the floor of my university dorm room because she'd been raped in her own home and didn't feel safe there. I remember how the police questioned why she invited the man into her house, how much she'd had to drink, why they should believe her over him.

I didn't need to relive my 2001 rape and being told by the sexual assault centre counsellor not to bother pressing charges since the police would wonder why I'd willingly gone to the rapist's house.

I don't need to have recreated for me the freezing terror and crippling PTSD of another loved one when she was attacked in 2013 and could find no help in her small town, either from the police or from the women's crisis centre she called.

I have retained enough stories from my time at The Cridge Centre as colleagues stood beside woman after woman who faced losing her children to her abuser because the judge questioned her motives, her "version" of the truth, her actions in the face of being broken by love and hate and manipulation that makes her question her own reality. I could go on, but why bother?

In short, I know that the truth is of little to no consequence when a woman says a man didn't have her permission, let alone her invitation, to do whatever he has done to her body. I don't need to read the testimony, because I believe no woman would expose herself to the disbelief of the police, the ridicule of the public, and the cynicism of the court and media for anything other than a naive hope she will find justice.

My best friend said today she better teach her daughter not to bother telling anyone when she's assaulted - to consider both the likelihood of that beloved girl's assault and the lack of justice she would face stops me in my tracks. I adore her. She's brilliant and hilarious and loving and fierce. Statistically, it's a reasonable fear for her mom to have. I would give anything to protect her, and have no idea how to do that. As I said more than a year ago, this case only matters if we can use it to build a Canada that is safer for women. Today's verdict is a huge huge setback in that aim. 
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