Ghomeshi Verdict

Well, turns out that, no matter what else I was thinking of talking about today, there is now only one subject that’s worth my voice. Yet I am so angered and ashamed and sitting here in frustrated, impotent disbelief that I can’t even think of words. So bear with me.

Back in 1988 (nearly 30 years ago now) powerful film called The Accused was released. Starring my love, Jodie Foster, it told the tale of a woman who had been publicly gang raped, and the struggle she went through in both the court of law, and the court of public opinion, to bring her attackers to justice. It was a very tough but very necessary watch.

Today, we’ve been shown that our justice system – and indeed much of our society as a whole – have not come nearly as far as we pretend we have in those 30 years. I want to say today’s verdict hurts my heart (which it does), and that I’d hoped for a different outcome but am not surprised by the actual one (because that’s also true). I also want to say again how angry and disheartened and frustrated I am by the result – because I do feel all of those things.

But mostly what I want to try and express is the very physical effect it’s having on my body now. I feel sick. I can’t focus on my work. I am shaking and every muscle in my body is tense like a wire pulled too tight. I am damn near crippled by it, and I don’t even know any of the people involved personally. Yet there are no words for the effect this verdict has had on me, and from what I can tell, that’s a large part of the problem in situations like this as a whole. There aren’t words to express it. There are just emotional, mental and physical reactions, all happening on the inside, out of sight (except for all the trouble I am having typing this…the amount of backspacing and correcting I have to do is obscene). In cases where there is physical evidence, it’s much easier to prove a point to an outsider. In cases where the loss of a loved one is involved, it’s easier for someone else to have some sort of sense of what that means, having also lost loved ones themselves, but to varying degrees.

But in cases of rape and sexual assault – you just can’t. If you’ve had no personal experience with it at all, you just can’t imagine. And to those who can imagine, there are no fucking words. None that come close to expressing their experience, nor the effect it has had on them forever. Forever, guys. It’s not something you get over, or forget, or have any control over. You can go years without thinking about it, and then something random happens and you’re right back there in it again, experiencing it all again, on the inside, just like you did the first time. It’s a wound that never truly heals. It’s cut that does not scar. It just breaks open again from time to time. For the rest of your life.

And whether it happened yesterday, or 30 years ago, some details you never forget. Everything that happened during the assault remains fresh as a daisy (whatever that means – never mind – it stays crystal fucking clear). Yet everything before and after is gone. A blur at best. Your body and mind don’t consider those details to be important, so they are let go, and 100% of your focus is on what happened to you. Maybe you have even thought before about what you would do should you ever find yourself in such a situation, but guess what? You almost never do what you think you’d do. You can’t plan a reaction to something like that. When it happens, some other subconscious part of you takes over. Self preservation – of your whole self, not just your body – takes over, and when all is said and done, the very first person to judge you is you. You go over it and over it in your head, and imagine other outcomes, and things you could have done or should have done – you envision every possible scenario, including whether or not someone else could have helped, or something you might have said instead that would give your attacker pause.

Because most of the time, it’s someone you know. Maybe even someone you love. Someone you trust. Someone you wojuldn’t have suspected was even capable of such a thing. Someone in a position of power or authority. An employer. A healer. Every single time, it’s someone who should have known better. And then when they treat you like nothing happened, like they did nothing wrong, and that you should know better than to think them capable of such a thing, that’s when the fun self-doubt game sets in! You can’t remember what led up to the assault, so maybe you did do something to encourage it. Maybe it was a huge misunderstanding. He did say he likes it rough (though to my mind, that means he likes rough stuff done to him, not the other way around), and you consented, so maybe you just were too embarrassingly naïve to understand what he meant. He’s just so logical and likeable and no one will believe you when you’re not even sure you believe yourself. So yeah, forget it…you misunderstood and blew everything way out of proportion. Give him another chance, and you’ll see how wrong you were about him. Or he’s your husband…for better or for worse, right? You promised him that. Or you’ve slept together before and this was maybe just a one time thing…just a mood, or whatever (though even a one time thing is one time too many…I tell myself and then don’t listen when it pertains to me). Or you work together and still have to see each other at a time. No sense in rocking the boat over a simple misunderstanding. Be nice. You weren’t raised to be rude, and you’d like to keep your job, so just forget it and move on already.

These women – “the complaintants” (dumbest name ever for what they actually are – heroes, champions, survivors, not-taking-any-bullshit-igans) – they stood up. They gave a voice to the only words they were able to find along the way. They spoke out, for themselves, and for everyone else who has suffered through a similar life-altering event. They said no, I will not let you do this to anyone else. Not one more.

Because one was one too many.

And their reward for taking that impossibly difficult step? To be put on trial themselves, instead. To be the most recent victims of an ancient system of “justice” that still favours the perpetrator. The accused didn’t even have to take the stand in his own defence. He didn’t even really say he didn’t do what he was accused of – he simply said it was consensual. Which…isn’t that speaking FOR the women? However. His actions were never really put on trial. The actions of the women were, instead. Oh, they didn’t tell the whole truth in their original statements? Maybe because they weren’t the ones on trial. Maybe because their actions before and after the assaults had zero to do with his actions during the assault.

Then, to add insult to injury (and more insult), the judge basically accuses the women of lying under oath, says we have to put a stop to women submitting false claims of assault (because apparently that happens all the time, even though the vast majority of such crimes go un-fucking-reported), and then throws out some statement about how his verdict isn’t the same as saying that the events didn’t happen, just that there’s reasonable doubt that they didn’t happen.

Um, Judge Super-Genius, sir? That’s actually exactly what you’re saying.

He’s not only dismissed the women’s claims as invalid, but he’s also sent a very clear message out to anyone else who suffers a similar fate and has dillusions about stepping forward to accuse their attacker. This verdict has basically silenced every other survivor – not just in this city, but everywhere. Canada’s women lie about being raped. And if the oh-so-polite Canadians can do it, then surely every other country’s women are liars, too.

Does anyone even know what a struggle it is to come to terms with the notion that what happened to you is assault? That it’s a crime? Just to get your own self to understand it is a huge inner battle, and you are your own worst critic. Guaranteed, every single thing said to those women during the trial has already been gone over by them themselves. They have already torn themselves apart and then pulled themselves back together enough to take the enormous step of speaking up. At the risk of not being believed, of not getting justice, of not getting some sort of closure.

And thanks Canadian Justice System! That’s exactly what’s happened today.

You know Ghomeshi is going to get laid again. And you know it’s only a matter of time before some woman gives him the benefit of the doubt and it happens again to someone else. Will that woman step forward? Or will she think about herself what so many others will think – that she was warned, and that she should have known better. That it would in fact be her own stupid fault.

To that woman – or women – whoever you are, and to the women who left the courthouse after the battle of their lives today, I will say right now that I believe you. I stand by you. And I will vent my impotent yet righteous rage online for all the world to see or not see because I believe you. I believe in you.

And it’s not your fault.

Advertisements

Addendum to For Michelle Nolden Post

In conversation with a friend regarding some parts of yesterday’s post, I had a couple of thoughts to add:

It’s so freaking frustrating, isn’t it?

 Even when you’re kind of prepared, like, if the jogger hadn’t have been just a jogger, I’m not sure I would have done any better.  I just couldn’t stand not knowing what was coming for even a second longer.  I’d frozen before that night, and I have frozen since.  I’m also always am a little unsure as to whether or not I’d played a part in whatever happened.

For example, my first actual girlfriend was a huge alcoholic.  The kind that gets super drunk really fast, completely changes personalities (in her case, violent as hell), and then forgets everything (on purpose or not, I never knew for sure) by the next morning.  I never knew who was coming home at the end of the day.  She’d either make me dinner or toss me around.  One time we were screaming at each other, and I remember she asked what was wrong with ME.

 I said I didn’t know.  Totally took what little wind I’d had out of my sails.

 I used to wonder, though, if I knew what she was like when she drank, did I ever, like, push the envelope?  Did I ever say or do anything that might have brought on her rage?  And if I did, was it then my fault instead of hers?

 If it’s happening to someone else, I am so completely logical about the situation and able to react in a more protective way.  I see fault and proclaim judgement all over the place. 

When it happens to me, though, suddenly I’m not sure what’s right and wrong or deserved or not.  Things are never as clear when it’s me.

 

Ironically, another thing that happened when I was away at school is something I’ve only told one person.  That very same first girlfriend.  And she has since passed away from cancer, I hear.

I wonder if it’s a thing with women in general, where we feel less certain of our own rights or place In the world, so we don’t defend ourselves as much.  Some totally do – bitches be out there not taking any crap from anyone!  But the vast majority…I feel like we try to smooth things over and…what’s the word?  Placate?  Especially when it’s someone we know and trust, and/or someone in a position of power.  I feel like we maybe try to take too much of the responsibility, and the guys/people doing stuff aren’t taking enough. 

I guess it’s our society, really, though.  It’s much easier and often safer to just work it out ourselves, rather than try to prove wrongdoing to someone else who may or may not be sympathetic.  Most rape cases appear to put the victim on trial more than the perpetrator.  What the hell is THAT about?  How is it any kind of justice to force someone to face their attacker and, if they can’t remember stuff, or didn’t act the way they were supposed to after, use that to decide the attacker’s guilt or innocence?  The one on trial should be treated like they are the one on trial.  Not the other way around.


 

For Michelle Nolden

Michelle Nolden is one of those actresses who turns up in things all the time (because she’s so talented), but that you keep thinking of her as “that girl” until a role comes along wherein her performance is so strong that her name is finally retained in your brain, and she ceases to be “that girl”.

For me, with her, that role is of Dr. Dawn Bell on CTV’s Saving Hope.

It’s funny, too, because in the beginning, I hated Dawn. She was Charlie’s (Michael Shanks) ex-wife, she pulled the plug on him when he was in a coma (but he lived, luckily for all), and she was a thorn in the show’s main love story’s side for quite awhile. Always cropping up to cause trouble for Charlie and Alex (the impossibly gorgeous Erica Durance). To boot, she became everyone’s boss as Chief of Surgery, and she ran a tight ship. It was annoying.

Over time, however, something changed, and Dawn slowly became one of my favourite recurring characters on the show. When I saw Michelle Nolden’s name in the opening credits (because by then I totally knew her name), I was certain viewers were in for a treat.

Like, more than usual, because I freaking love this show.

Anyway, once I got to that point, I reached out to her agent to see if it would be possible for her to join The Mind Reels at any point over our Guinness World Record-breaking weekend. It turned out that she had to work a long, emotional day on set, but that she would try to stop by if she could. I was ecstatic, and said we’d definitely make time for her if she was able to be there at all.

Much to my joy – and, if I’m being honest, surprise – she DID make it, after all! I saw her come into the hotel lobby that first night and completely forgot I was interviewing someone. I said, “Michelle is here! Yay!” and flagged my team down to make sure they knew to sneak her in between guests. I wasn’t feeling well already that night, so I barely remember what we talked about, but I know there was some discussion of the evolution and growth of Dawn’s character arc, and I gave her condolences for what happened to Dawn’s little sweater-wearing guinea pig that she didn’t even want but then fell in love with.

Since then, we’ve been wanting to bring Michelle into the studio for a better/longer chat, but there hasn’t been time or opportunity – yet. I’ll keep checking in with her agent until we make it happen, though!

However, turns out Ms Michelle Nolden won a Canadian Screen Award last night, and Tim and I made sure we were there to congratulate her on the red carpet in the press area after she left the stage!

You see, this season in particular has been insane for Dawn, and while there wasn’t time for chit chat, I do have a few things I wanted to tell Michelle about how her performance has affected me, and how much I feel it comes from a place of truth.

So I’ll do that here, instead.

There’s an episode – and anyone who’s seen it will know exactly what I’m talking about – wherein Dawn is raped – violently – by her colleague/boyfriend (Shaun Benson)…in her office. It was so powerfully filmed and performed by both actors that I can’t even remember anything else that happened in the episode. Just that, and the immediate aftermath. The rape scene was violent and disturbing without being graphic – a tight shot on Michelle’s horrified eyes with Shaun’s voice whispering in her ear. Gah!

To be clear, I know and adore Shaun Benson. I think he’s a fantastic talent. But part of me wished he wasn’t THAT fantastic as I watched that scene, because it was like watching a nightmare, and it’s stayed with me ever since. Damn you, Shaun!

There were red flags, of course; little warning signs that viewers and Dawn could pick up on, and then promptly ignore because he’s just so damn charming, and in a position of power, to boot. I still don’t think I expected what eventually happened to be as powerful and real as it was, though. In her office?! With windows everywhere, the space that she’s made her own. Her refuge from the trials and stress from running a hospital. And all the power she had job-wise didn’t make a lick of difference in the face of her attacker. Not only was it someone she trusted, but it was also done in such a way that everything Dawn had believed about her world was torn apart and demolished. Everything. She had nothing left to hold on to.

Well, almost nothing.

The next time we see Dawn it’s at the end of the episode, and she is alone again in her office. She is bruised, and in tears, her sensible work skirt ripped almost completely off. Her sanctuary looks much the same as always, but it no longer feels safe. Not to Dawn, and not to any viewer who’d just witnessed what transpired there.

In my mind, I wanted to hug her and get the police and all the big guys she works with and go beat the shit out of Shaun…’s character (haha He really is that good). I wanted to scream from the rooftops about the crime that had been committed, and go get the bad guy once and for all. I wanted him to lose everything, just as he’d taken everything from her.

Instead, I watched the scene play out as it was written, and was thunderstruck by how absolutely right it was. Dawn frantically searched in her desk drawers for something, and when she finally located it, she sat on the top of her desk, composed her features, and began to sew her skirt back together.

I lost it.

It hit me like a truck…how appearances inform our interiors sometimes…the attempt at retrieving a semblance of normalcy and some sense of control over something. Over anything, even if it’s something as simple as mending a ripped skirt. It wasn’t about pride nor humiliation. Not even fear, or anger at what had just happened to her. Dawn’s facial expression changed and her concentration was total. In that moment, that skirt was all she had.

When I was in University…I want to say third year? I decided to walk the few short blocks to McDonald’s (as you do) and grab myself some dinner. It was around this time of year, so even though it was only 7pm-ish, it was already dark. It was also unseasonably warm, though, so I was feeling pretty giddy with the touch of spring in the evening air.

I passed a young guy about my age, standing under a streetlight by one of the houses lining that portion of the street. Once I got by him, however, I could hear his footsteps on the sidewalk behind me. Warning bells went off in my mind, but I shoved them aside, because paranoia can be a dangerous thing, and usually when we think something is cause for concern, it ends up being nothing, and then we feel dumb.

Like, can’t a guy walk down the same street as me? Who the heck do I think I am?

I got near McDonald’s, and turned to go up a little grassy hill that led to the drive-thru and parking lot. As soon as I’d stepped off the sidewalk, though, I was banged into from behind, and felt two powerful-ish arms pin my arms to my sides. Well, my hands were in my pockets, so they got pinned there.

It all happened so fast, I was still thinking that it was someone I knew, just being a jerk. The force of him slamming into me actually pushed me further up the little hill, and he didn’t have his balance enough to lock his hands, so I ended up a step or two in front of him for a second. I turned to look at him, expecting a friend, and saw a stranger instead. He wasn’t looking at me, but rather past me, to where the cars were lined up in the drive-thru. I think at that point he realized we could both be seen, so he turned and jogged away. Or walked away. I don’t really remember. Just that it all seemed so normal, and wouldn’t draw attention to him either way.

And what did I do, you ask? Now that I was momentarily safe and had just basically been assaulted (see I can’t even call it anything specific because it still sits as a possibly jerky but innocent boys will be boys act), but it could have been way worse but now I was in full view of lots of people in a public place?

I went inside and ordered a Big Mac combo.

Yep. I didn’t make a sound. I didn’t try to confront him, or call for help. I simply composed myself enough to order the dinner I’d been looking forward to, and then sat down at a table by myself.

I tried to eat, but got nauseous, so I threw most of it away. Kept the fountain Coke, though.

I wasn’t sure what to do at that point. Had I been targeted? Or was being a female alone on a busy street enough to warrant what he’d tried to do. What had he tried to do? Rob me? Beat me up? Kill me? Rape me? Where had he gone? Was he still out there, watching me through the windows of the restaurant and waiting for me to come out? How would I get home? Could I stay in McDonald’s until morning?

So many questions.

I couldn’t figure out how I felt, nor how I should feel. I wasn’t sure of his intentions, and wasn’t sure I had a right to be angry or afraid or upset. I had no idea what to do.

I sat and thought and waited and finally decided to take a chance on crossing the parking lot to the phone booth on the corner. It still didn’t occur to me to ask for help, because I felt like…not that I’d deserved what happened, but more that nothing much had happened. I didn’t feel I had a right to expect anyone to come to my aid. My brain kept coming up with excuses for the guy, even. Maybe he’d just stumbled and lost his balance. Maybe he’d thought I was someone else and left when he realized his mistake. All kinds of crap went through my mind.

And because I’m old now, there were no cell phones. I had to get to the phone booth on the corner. At least it was lit up, and there were lots of cars nearby. Cars he could also be hiding behind, but maybe he wouldn’t know I would try for the phone. I didn’t know.

So I finally got my courage up (or stupidity…tough to tell sometimes) and speed-walked to the phone booth. I’d gotten a quarter out and had it in my hand to save time. I called the home of friends who lived down the street. I’d actually passed their place on the way.

Thankfully, they rocked.

They came to get me, en masse, and while I’m pretty sure Izzy in particular would have rather tracked the guy down and beat the tar out of him with her bare hands, they all convinced me to call the police. That the guy had done wrong, and that a crime had been committed, and that it was worth reporting.

They walked me back home, and stayed with me while I made the call, and together we waited for a police officer to arrive. Even though I was going through a myriad of emotions by then (including wishing I’d beat the tar out of him myself and humiliated him and perhaps ruined any chance he’d had of procreating), one thing that kept nagging at me was that maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’d misread what had happened and misunderstood the whole thing.

Maybe I was wrong.

I worried that the cop wouldn’t believe me, or brush it off as the non-incident I feared it was, or that he would believe me but the guy would never be found and how would any of it ever be proven, anyway? I thought at most it would end up on the back-burner and eventually forgotten.

The policeman arrived, and even though he was kind of cute and had a kind face, I wondered briefly about the decision to send a male officer over to talk to a female who’d just encountered a less-kind male. He was, however, pretty great. Took us all for a ride in his police car (I got to ride in the front, though), so I could show him where everything happened.

The problem, of course, is that a lot of it was murky in my mind. I could not remember exactly which house he’d been standing by. I couldn’t remember the colour of his clothes, or his hair, or even if he’d been wearing a hat. I could see him in my mind, but I couldn’t see him at the same time. There were no details. Unfortunately, even when there are warning bells and red flags, I don’t go into super spy mode and memorize every detail possible. Stuff happens, and I apparently can’t quite recall the main points to any helpful degree. The chance of catching him was getting slimmer. It was a University town, after all. Maybe he was just visiting, and didn’t go to school there at all. Who knew?

Definitely not me.

My lack of recall, coupled with my inability to completely agree that the guy had done anything really all that wrong was crippling, and as a result, my case got more flimsy by the moment.

The police officer, however, was on top of it. Less than two weeks later, he called me and wanted to come over with a photo line-up for me to look at. Apparently some other poor girl had been sexually assaulted in the same area, with the same basic desciption of her attacker.

(Insert guilt forever that I wasn’t able to stop him from going after other girls)

I looked through a book of mug shots and more candid photos, all of guys who were roughly the same age and description as my guy. The officer told me to take my time, and even pick out a few photos, if any of them had certain qualities that reminded me of the guy. He said I didn’t have to be certain; that I could kind of pick parts of some of them to give a better idea of what little I recalled about the dude. He said the guy may or may not even be in the line-up. It was just to get a better idea.

I chose 3 different photos, two of them were on the same page. One was mostly based on angle, because when I’d turned to look at him, he was no longer facing me directly. It was more of a profile view. I can’t really remember what drew me to the second photo. But the third, there was just something about the third. I couldn’t shake it. I kept going through more photos and always came back to that one. Finally I just pointed it out and said that it maybe wasn’t exactly as I remembered (vaguely remembered), but that it was the closest one. I wasn’t confident enough to proclaim, “THAT’S THE GUY!”, but it was the only one which felt close enough to be accurate in the light of day.

The officer wrote everything down, and then collected his things. He told me he wasn’t allowed to confirm or deny if the one I’d pointed out was the same guy they’d arrested in the other attack. I said I understood.

And then he winked at me.

We had our “man”.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone over that night – and a few other incidents which have occurred over the years – and re-written it all in my mind. I change how I reacted, I…sometimes become kind of violent, and I always, always stand up for me and mine.

My reality, for whatever reason, has always been very different. I freeze, I shrink, I keep walking, I put my head down, I stay quiet and still, I ignore the signs, I make excuses for the perpetrator, I wonder if there was something I’d done to cause it in the first place. After the fact, I am all indignant righteous rage. But during? I just have never figured out how to go against my very instincts and react differently.

The following year I was walking home from an evening class, and heard footsteps behind me, running up the sidewalk. I flashed back to that other time I’d felt the warning bells, and in a moment of pure terror, I spun around at the last second to at least greet my inevitable end head on.

But the jogger went right on by.

I see something like this portrayed so realistically – and intimately – on screen, and I’m all, “I would have done THIS!” But at the same time, I know from repeated experience that I would not. I only wish I would have.

That is what struck me the most about that episode of Saving Hope. Sometimes there are no heroes rushing in to save you. Sometimes you don’t suddenly know street fighting. Sometimes you don’t keep weapons on hand and aren’t afraid to use them.

Sometimes you don’t do what you “should” do, or even what you think you’d do.

Sometimes, all you can do in the moment is order a Big Mac, or mend your torn skirt.

Everything Nice

The movie Room was easily one of my favourite films of 2015.  The range of emotions that it puts the viewer through, and the way it’s filmed almost completely from young Jack’s point-of-view.  The whole thing is just so well done, it’s the kind of film that stays with you long after the final credits roll.

There was a line in it which suggested that the character of Ma was in the predicament she’s in at the start of the movie was because she’d been raised to “be nice”.  That perhaps she might have protected herself better if she’d been less concerned with how she might be viewed by others.

In the moment the line was uttered, my first reaction was of how mean and hurtful it was.  My second reaction, right on its tail, was that it felt true.

It’s kind of a contradictory message we send, especially to girls and women.  Despite the fact that there have always been predators waiting in the shadows to exploit it, we are raised to be nice.  To be polite.  To not be combative.  To be agreeable and not make a scene.

Yet it’s pretty much impossible to protect yourself without appearing rude.

On top of that, we are made to feel guilty if we don’t trust someone enough to assume they won’t take advantage of that trust.  We get accused of not understanding that someone is a “nice guy”.  We have to provide evidence for why we don’t trust, as opposed to them having to provide evidence of why we should.  But it only takes one time – one lapse of judgement, one wrong choice of throwing caution to the wind – to potentially ruin or end your life.

And usually if a guy has to insist that he’s nice – he’s not.  Just sayin’.

Conventions of society, of a civilized world, teachnus that girls and women are either kind, malleable and easy to manipulate, or they are loud, abrasive, headstrong bitches who will never know love.  That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially if you think the only way to earn affection and acceptance in the world is to be the behavioural equivalent of sugar, spice and everything nice.

Everything nice.

That doesn’t describe someone who would cause a scene, who would say no, who would fight back, or keep walking if approached by a stranger asking for help.

I mean, until quite recently (and still now if we’re being honest), a husband could not be said to have raped or assaulted his wife.  She married him, and apparently marriage means consent at any time forever.  What kind of shrew would withold sex from her husband?

It’s completely ridiculous to say, or type, and yet it’s still there, even now, in our public consciousness.  The way women – any woman – who does step forward to accuse her attacker is treated and viewed is…abhorrent.  It’s a wonder anyone speaks up at all.

When I was little people used to like to pin me down and tickle me sometimes.  It made me laugh, but I hated it.  I even had at least one nightmare wherein I saw someone else getting tickled and knew I was next so I tried to run but I could hear the footsteps in pursuit, right behind me.  I learned that the easiest way to stop the tickling was to not react.  To freeze and wait for whoever was doing it to stop because my non-reaction was boring.  It wasn’t the laughter they were looking for.

That’s my first instinct to this day – avoid conflict, freeze, don’t react, wait for it to stop.  And try not to draw attention to yourself in the first place, if it can be helped.  Not because I’d deserve what I got, but because it’s way easier than fighting back.

Because after all, it’s impossible to fight back and protect yourself while still being nice.

 

Note:  I have more to say in this vein but I need to go to sleep.  To be continued some other time perhaps!