Three Weeks On: How the Ghomeshi Decision Both Unites and Divides Us

It’s been three weeks now since, along with many of you, I followed the live Twitter feeds coming out of the Toronto courtroom where Mr Justice Horkins read his decision in the Ghomeshi case.

What we expected

Of course we were expecting acquittals. We knew that the failure to disclose information about subsequent contact between the complainants and Ghomeshi – as well as direct contact between two of the complainants – was going to bring the prosecution down, given the intense focus of our present criminal justice system on forensic detail – perfect recall, 100% consistency of information regardless of relevancy, and a requirement of full disclosure of anything at all that could possibly have such (legal) “relevance”.

(Do we ask someone whose house blew up 10 years ago what color socks they were wearing that day? And if they get the color wrong, do we say that this undermines their claim that their house blew up? Please.)

What we did not expect

But perhaps like you, what I was not expecting – and was shocked and upset by – was the extent to which Justice Horkins’ decision publicly disparaged and humiliated each of the three women complainants. Horkins J.’s unnecessary and offensive at-length personal commentary about the women crassly reinforces stereotypes of women as “hysterical and unbelievable” when they speak out about sexual violence.

This has been really hard

Let me say openly here that the three weeks since the decision came down have been incredibly hard – and I am sure for many of you reading this also. Continue reading

The Ghomeshi Verdict -Picking Ourselves Up and Carrying On

This is a very hard day for thousands and thousands of sexual assault survivors, and for thousands more decent and fair people across Canada who believe in the justice system (at least until now).

Today’s Ghomeshi verdict from Mr Justice William Horkins goes so much further than simply acquitting him (which we all expected). It disparages the women complainants over and over again, and massively reinforces the most primitive myths about sexual violence – about the nature of traumatic memories and subsequent decisions (over contact, over reporting). It will of course ramp up still further the fear that already surrounds stepping forward and making a complaint. Continue reading

Emerging from the Cave of Shame: Speaking Out about Sexual Violence and Moving Towards Personal Closure

Two years ago on Sexual Assault Awareness Day I disclosed my history of sexual abuse and violence to a large and very supportive audience at Windsor Law.

My speech that evening was the culmination of many years of introspection over how to share my experience in a way that would be liberating for me, and empowering for others. I had known for a long, long time that I wanted to speak out in the law school in order to “normalize” these horrible experiences which I know are shared by many in the student body (and other groups).

I had become convinced, increasingly, of the power of breaking the silence on topics that we feel shame and anguish over, and so hide – from ourselves, from each other. As we do so, we drive our misery yet deeper and ramp up our sense of isolation.

On our own, hiding in the cave of shame – where I cowered for decades – we are extremely powerless.

Continue reading

The Importance of Sexual Assault Education (or: A Love Letter to the Bystander Initiative)

*Trigger warning this post discusses the author’s sexual assault. Please practice self-care and visit our Resources page as needed.

In the last 12 months I’ve had more conversations about sexual assault than I’ve ever had in my entire life. Educational conversations during Bystander Initiative sessions, emotional conversations with friends in kitchens, intellectual conversations with fellow students at bars, you name it. And even though these conversations have been difficult and awkward, for the first time in my life they are possible.

I’m also a survivor of sexual violence. My rape was a textbook case. I knew the guy well; he was my boyfriend’s roommate. I was between the ages of 18 and 22. We were under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.

After it happened, I was too ashamed to tell my boyfriend. I just stopped talking to him. When I did tell some of my “friends,” they accused me of cheating on my boyfriend and lying about the rape to cover it up. This response made me not want to tell my real friends. It would be too much if they also didn’t believe me. I stayed silent.

Continue reading

Why Law Students Won’t Report Sexual Assault

I recently got into a heated argument with a friend about sexual assault in law schools (future lawyers arguing, shocking I know). We argued about the usual things – what exactly constitutes sexual assault, who has the onus to prevent the kind of situations where sexual assault presents itself, and what should be done about it.

Throughout our discussion, I informed him that the legal definition of sexual assault is quite simple: unwanted touching of a sexual nature. He responded with a comment, remarking that if that was the case, he had been sexually assaulted 5 times at our last themed bar night, as people had touched his backside on multiple occasions. I replied yes, that’s true – if you didn’t consent, it would legally constitute sexual assault. I surmised that that’s why sexual assault reporting statistics are so low; a lot of people are sexually assaulted, but few report. Continue reading

The Perfect Victim is the One Who Stays Silent

With the Take Back the Night rally just in our rear-view, now seems just as good a time as any to shed light on how we – the general public – perceive sexual assault victims and what impact this has on their future sense of self-worth.

It’s no secret that perceptions of victims are often victim-blaming in nature. It has gotten to a point where women feel the need to organize such events as Slut Walk because it’s okay to rationalize and excuse sexual assault by referring to any aspect of a woman’s appearance or demeanour as the source of the problem. Continue reading

Silent No More

Trigger warning: There are general references to my personal experiences throughout the piece.

When I saw the #breakthesilence campaign last year, I immediately wanted to contribute. I was excited to spread awareness. I thought about what angle my contribution would take and how I would relay my story in a way that would get my point across.

But I ran into roadblocks. Many roadblocks. The three major reasons I did not contribute last year are: (1) I wasn’t sure if I qualified as a sexual assault victim, (2) I didn’t want people to judge me or look at me differently, and (3) I had to relive what had happened while reflecting on what to write and that would put me in a bad place. I found myself trapped and unable to contribute. I found myself unable to break my own silence.

So this year, my final year of law school, I’ve decided to stop letting those things keep me from being part of the discussion. To me, this cause is too important. Below, I’ve explained each of the three reasons why I originally did not participate and why it was a roadblock. Continue reading

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