Monday 27 October 2014

Why Women Do Not Talk About Sexual Assault, A First-Hand Perspective.

By now, I'm sure you've seen the news about the allegations levelled at Jian Ghomeshi. I'm also sure you've seen his preemptive response posted on Facebook.

I am not shocked by the allegations. I am not shocked at the PR statement Ghomeshi released with the help of Navigator. I am shocked that we still have to explain why victims of sexual assault do not come forward, and that their silence does NOT indicate falsity.

In this whole scenario what I've been most captivated by, are the comments from the public. Here are a few, from my very own Facebook friends:

...and a gem from a user named "SewnVagina" on Reddit discussion:

I can tell you some of the reasons victims don't come forward, and I can tell you with absolutely certainty because:

I was sexually assaulted.

There. I said it. I've written it, for the first time, and I'm here, in the safety of my blog, writing on a computer, and just typing those words makes my heart race. I'm already afraid of the inevitable comments and aggression I'll receive, of the insinuation of me deserving it, of the unbridled anger that so many women face when they are honest about what happened.

I was 18. I was in Paris. It was Bastille Day, and I wanted to see the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. I walked from my hostel near Notre Dame all the way to the Eiffel Tower, I got there early to get a good seat on the grass. It was a beautiful day.

On the course of my walk, a truckload of Parisian police officers catcalled me. I was wearing a tshirt and jeans. I did not respond. That was not the assault, but it was a big part of why I said nothing, for the last 11 years.

As night fell, I was sitting on the grass, the sunset was beautiful, I was thrilled...and then two men sat down behind me. Two men in a sea of thousands. Two men who, to this day, probably think they did nothing wrong.

One of them asked me a question in French, I explained, in broken French, that I did not speak French. This began a conversation:

"Oh, where are you from?"
"Ah, Canadian and American girls are beautiful!"
"How do you like Paris?"
"It's wonderful!"
"Would you give my friend a kiss?"
"Haha, just kidding!"

I should have moved. I should have left, but goddamn it, I walked here and found this spot, I have the right to sit in a park, I shouldn't have to move...and besides, they weren't really doing anything, and the conversation swung so rapidly between normal conversation and uncomfortable-requests-feigned-as-jokes I didn't really feel I stayed.

Planes flew by overhead. It was a beautiful day.

One of the men moved closer, suddenly he was hugging me, I pushed him away. He laughed, "Just kidding! Just a hug!" I stayed.

They asked me about the sites I had seen, I told them. Suddenly one of the men was sitting behind me, with his legs on either side of me, he hugged me again. I pushed him away, I said no. He laughed and said sorry. I looked around, no one seemed to notice I stayed.

The crowd was so thick...where could I move?

Suddenly his hands slid under my shirt, moved upwards, I pushed them away. He laughed, "Just joking!" I looked around, thousands of eyes and no one saw. He was bigger than me, I didn't speak French... "how do you say help in French?" I wondered to myself, "Maybe shouting 'help' is a little overboard?" I stayed.

I tried moving forward, out of reach, he grabbed me. Hard. Pulled me back, a couple turned and looked at me, we made eye contact, and I shouted "help help!"...with my eyes. They looked I stayed.

The fireworks were beautiful. The forgot about me briefly. I moved forward. I was afraid to run.

I did not want to insult them, make them angry. Right now they were laughing and joking, still asking about my stay in Paris. "Probably better to be mildly uncomfortable than cause a scene..." I told myself. He kept kissing me on the cheek, but when I tried to move away he pulled me closer...I stayed.

The fireworks ended, they hadn't tried to grab me again. The crowd began moving, it was thick, and I was alone in a foreign city. One of the men grabbed my hand and led me to a Metro station, the one who hadn't grabbed me before. I decided I liked him. I tell myself "This is Stockholm Syndrome."...I stayed.

The subway car was beyond full, people were crying, pressed against the glass. The man-who-hadn't grabbed-me made a pocket in the subway car, blocked people from squishing I stayed.

We reached my stop, I got off the train. The two men waved goodbye, they smiled, "What a pleasant evening!" the thought to themselves...or so I imagine.

I started walking to my hostel. I could smell his cologne, in my clothes, in my hair. I walked faster. A man started walking beside me. Asked me if I wanted to get a drink with him.

"FUCK YOU" my brain said. "Um, no thanks, my friends are, uh, waiting..." I muttered.

I reached my hostel, slamming the door before the random man could step inside, making sure the outer door had locked properly. I went to my room, got changed, and went to bed.

I couldn't sleep. The smell of cologne was choking me, smothering me. I got in the shower. I refused to cry. I punched the walls.

I was the tough girl. The smart girl. The well-travelled girl. This wasn't supposed to happen. I knew how to fight, I wasn't afraid of speaking my mind, how did I let this happen?

My mind was churning.

  • Should I tell the police? The ones who catcalled me? Ha. Not likely.
  • My over-protective parents? Not if I wanted their respect.
  • My friends? To what end?

What would I tell them?

I didn't run away.
I didn't protest enough.
I didn't yell for help.
I didn't fight back.

...And what would I even say? That I was assaulted?...I could already hear the response "What assault? You weren't raped!"

So I stayed silent.

It had been roughly 10 years...I thought about talking about what happened. Admitting to myself that it was an assault. Surely, a decade later society is more advanced, more supportive... and then I saw the backlash to the reporting on the sexual assaults in Little Italy in 2012.

...and I heard the same old cries from the public (including one from Mayoral candidate Doug Ford's despicable daughter):

"What sexual assault? He only followed women at night and grabbed their asses! He didn't rape them! It is irresponsible to call it assault!"
So I ignored it. Pushed it away. Pretended it never happened...and then in June, 2013, XOJane published an article about a Canadian radio personality that MANY suspected was Jian Ghomeshi...and I identified with it. Terribly. Embarrassingly so:
"Desperately. Running down the stairs had given me a taste of the freedom that could so easily be mine if I just ran outside and never looked back. But I didn’t want to be rude, and I thought it best to leave on good terms.
(This is the part where I really want to go back in time and shake myself.)"
What the fuck? Why don't we shout and scream and walk away?  Why is it easier to suffer a thousand small indignities than run the risk of being rude...? No wonder the constant criticism of sexual assault victims is "Why didn't you say anything? Do anything? Why didn't you go to the police?"

The thing is...when you are threatened there is an instinctual response to survive. Now, if someone runs at you with a weapon, screaming and yelling chances are you will experience an immediate fight or flight response, because the threat is clear, unquestionable...that guy is attacking me.

But, when you are in public, surrounded by people, and your attacker is smiling and joking...the threat is...indistinct. You doubt yourself. Are you over-reacting? Is he actually a threat? If you make a scene, if you are rude, will he get angry?

By the time it is all over, you are often left with:
  • No witnesses
  • No evidence
So why would you go to the police? What would you show them?

So let's get back to Jian Ghomeshi and the 5 women who have accused him of sexual assault... I want to preface this with the acknowledgement that there is very little information and that drawing conclusions about guilt or innocence is foolish at best, and dangerous at worst.

...That being said, that's five, not one ¨jilted lover¨, but 3 claiming violent assault, 1 claiming workplace harassment, and 1 from last year's XOJane article.

The big question every doubting, obnoxious internet commenter is asking is ¨Why didn't they go to the police?¨

Knowing that (according to Stats Can) only 6% of cases are reported because:
  • belief that the police could do nothing about it (50% of women gave this reason); 
  • concern about the attitude of both police and the courts toward sexual assault (44%); 
  • fear of another assault by the offender (33%); 
  • fear and shame (64%). 
...Imagine you were dating the person who assaulted you. Imagine you sent them an explicit text message, or a series of messages. Imagine you did not tell your friends, family, employer, or the police because you were afraid of not being believed, or of repercussions to your career, your safety. 

Now, imagine you lived in a world where you had to look at every friend, lover, or co-worker as a potential abuser, where any show of sexuality would be a reason you deserved it. Where the absence of photo-documentation of every sexual encounter is deemed as an oversight (god help you if you do have erotic images, you whore). 

...Imagine a world where:

  • FIVE woman come forward and claim they have been abused 
  • The national broadcaster investigates and decides the case is valid enough to fire one of their long-time hosts
  • ...and all it takes to cast all of that into angry, abusive doubt is a Press Release disguised as a Facebook posting

...What a world.

If the Canadian public will not listen to five adult women, who have not asked for money, fame or fortune (four of whom still refuse to release their names for fear of the backlash experienced by the 5th...) when a single man of minor celebrity status refutes their claims... why do you fucking think we don't talk about sexual assault?

Well, it could have just been shadow puppets, do
you have a series of witness and signed affidavits?

I'm not asking you to believe everything you hear, far from it. I'm asking you to think critically when you encounter information that you find hard to process, or confusing. That means not dismissing 5 human beings because you read a finely-crafted Facebook post. That means considering that perhaps the Facebook post might have been written by Canada's leading high-stakes public strategy and communications firm, and is NOT a heartfelt plea. 

On July 14th, 2004, I was sexually assaulted. I didn't tell anyone, I don't have pictures, but it happened.

The first step is speaking up. I can do that. The second step is listening,

...that's up to you.