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.