Many years ago, when I was a j-school student, I got interviewed by the Globe and Mail, for an internship I didn’t get. At the time, it was cause for some chagrin: a plum big-city reporting job, missed! What made this rejection sting even more was the fact that the two suit-clad men interviewing me were snotty and patronizing. (For of course, they would be men, and they would be suits; the Grope and Flail, which styles itself our “national newspaper”, is nothing if not at least fifty years behind the rest of our country.) Oh, I’m sure they thought they were being subtle and clever, and concealing their classist barbs as genuine curiosity about what made openly leftist little old me tick. But my skin being a lot thinner than theirs, I felt the lash immediately. And being better mannered than they, I kept my breakfast down, and blocked all the pain until the inevitable form rejection letter landed in my cubbyhole.
Twenty-odd years later, I’m actually grateful to those two twits (whose names I have mercifully forgotten). Because they tipped their hand early and adroitly as jerks I didn’t want to be working under, yes. But also because they, in their establishmentarianism passing itself off as journalistic rectitude, inadvertently saved me. They saved me from getting sucked into the same system that made erudite imbeciles of them. And from having to maybe one day cook up the same kind of sloppy hash as Tabatha Southey, who I thought was so much better than this. I would hope it’s just a huge April Fool’s joke, but the punchline is missing.
Southey’s piece is headlined, cutely: “Upset about the Jian Ghomeshi verdict? Don’t get mad – get informed”. Sweet, eh? So nice of her to tell us that we’re only mad because we’re not “informed”. And she, as designated chill-girl spokeslady for the most establishmentarian paper in the land, is helpfully here to “inform” us. As though the trial itself were not “information” enough already, now we’re getting insult on top of injury. The injury was to our already shaky faith in the system, and to our hope that it might deliver some measure of justice to three women wronged by the same man; the insult is to our collective intelligence as Canadian women.
It may not have occurred to Tabatha Southey that we are angry not because we are uninformed about the way our hallowed legal system works, but because we know all too well. We know that it was designed by men for men; that it was designed to shield power from challenges to power; that it was designed to put an inordinate burden of proof on sexual-assault complainants — who are overwhelmingly female, and often under-age — ostensibly so that the defendant isn’t “unfairly” convicted. And so that even on the off chance that he is convicted fair and square, he doesn’t end up doing much time for it, and so missing valuable years out of his precious male life.
But guess what, Tabs? None of this is any great arcane secret. One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand how the system works. You haven’t told us anything we can’t all rattle off by heart, rolling our eyes as we go. Some of us even know it from personal experience. (I’ll get to that in a bit.)
We are also mad because we know that Canada has rape-shield laws in place to prevent precisely the kind of illegal, unethical complainant-whacking that Marie Henein engaged in, and that Judge Horkins illegally, unethically allowed. I’m not sure why Tabatha Southey isn’t; her own paper even printed an article by two law professors explaining it clear as day.
And yes, Tabatha, we know that Marie Henein — yawn — represented Bedford et al during their own legal clown-show, pro bono, because we all followed it. Bully for her! She was making so much that she could afford to forego her fee in this one case! But that’s not proof that she’s a great feminist. Terri-Jean Bedford is hardly what anyone who actually understands the word would call a feminist, either; no woman who employs other women to serve men’s sexual whims, in the absence of all desire of their own, can call herself that without a great deal of inadvertent irony. A pimp is a pimp, regardless of gender. Women who make their boodle in the service of rape culture — even if it’s a great deal of boodle — are not actually practicing feminism. Not even if they believe in feminism personally and preach it from the highest roof-peak of the federal courthouse. Sorry to have to tell you that, ladies.
And it’s really not feminist for any woman, even a respected columnist from a respected newspaper, to snobbishly patronize other women who are angry for good cause, either.
But to be fair, Tabatha Southey and her ilk — of whom there are plenty among our female journalists — don’t know me from Eve. So introductions are in order:
Hello, ladies of the establishmentarian Canadian press. And hello, too, to all the not-so-gentle men lurking behind those ladies’ skirts. My name is Sabina Becker, and I am a rape survivor.
Before I was raped, I was also sexually assaulted by someone else. And I have never reported any of these assaults to police, nor do I ever intend to.
It’s not that I don’t feel strongly that I have been wronged, or that these men don’t deserve to have their “good” names sullied. It simply boils down to this: I have no desire to face the criminal trial process. I already know full well what’s entailed, having sat through it at the side of a friend who was also raped. It was a grotty experience even at second hand, and I have no desire to replicate that humiliation for myself.
And before that, as a student volunteer at the Queen’s Women’s Centre, I learned some facts, damn facts, and statistics about the prevalence of sexual assault in Canada. And I also learned of the incredibly poor conviction rate that’s built right into our justice system, on the back of that high standard of proof that you all celebrated recently. I’ve published them here before, but since it appears that you “informed” people are not privy to that particular information, here is the chart again:
Maddening, isn’t it? But it tells you all you need to know about why I will never press charges against the man who raped me, or the others who assaulted me. With those odds stacked against me, I’d be a fucking fool to try.
It should also tell you why we “uninformed” women are so angry at the system for working so perfectly as designed. What’s the good of involving oneself in a process that will almost invariably dash all your hopes and leave you victimized all over again? We may be “uninformed”, but we are not masochists.
I realize that I’m not being a “good” victim. That since I’ve decided to stay out of criminal court, I should at least pretend to be more “virtuous” than I am. That if I’m not going to report, I probably shouldn’t be telling anyone this, because it might “damage” me in the eyes of the world. That under rape culture, I as a victim should be hiding my “shame”, for fear that worse and more of the same might befall me later. I’m well aware that if I don’t intend to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” before a learned (and usually male) judge, I should turn around and be a good little liar, to protect my abusers. And that I should hypocritically praise, and never once criticize, the system that failed me then and still continues to fail Canadian women and girls, all the time, by design.
But here’s why I don’t want to play along: I am not ashamed of what happened to me, because I am not the perpetrator in any of those assaults. I’m just the woman who happened to be there when the men in question decided they would exercise their normal social privilege in the grossest manner. If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else. Those guys may not have been rich and famous like Jian Ghomeshi, but like him, they knew exactly what they were doing. Of that I have no doubt, “reasonable” or otherwise. Their slickness and self-assurance bespeaks practice in the not-so-fine art of sexual abuse. So why feel guilty for being the victim of a sexual assault? And why be ashamed?
I am not “damaged”, because I am not “goods”; I am a person, and I am the same person I was before any of it happened. The only thing that they damaged was my trust.
No, I’m not a good victim. And if any man decides to try his luck with me later because he reads that I’ve already had an unwanted dick in my mouth, well — he’s going to find out the hard way that I have learned self-defence. I did that during j-school, when I lived in Toronto. I had to. Because if the law can’t and won’t protect me, I sure as hell can — and WILL.
I’ve had years to prepare for this statement. I knew I would have to make it at some point. And the benefit of another legal experience has taught me the importance of preparing every word I have to say.
You see, I was the infant plaintiff in a civil action. At 14, I got hit by a car, driven by a man who thought it would be clever to pass a stopping school bus and so shave a few seconds off his morning commute. What he got out of it was a deeply dented left headlight, and what I got was a badly broken pelvis.
At 16, I took him to court for it, and cleaned out his insurance to the tune of $15,000. Which was a good $1500 more than my excellent Toronto lawyer was asking on my behalf. I was advised that I might not see a cent of it if I did not present as a credible witness, so I learned how to answer questions firmly and describe all events just as they happened. No “I guess” or “maybe” or “I think” allowed. No room for doubt, reasonable or otherwise. My lawyer coached me to expect a certain amount of victim-blaming, and he did an excellent job. I stood firm. And I won my case.
What my lawyer taught me then, about speaking up, I still practice every time I sit down to write — be it fiction, poetry, an essay, or this blog entry. But aside from that, I also learned a valuable lesson on where to go for justice. Since the man who hit me with his car didn’t serve any jail time, I had to seek redress through civil justice, not its grimy criminal twin. I can even say, with some pride, that my case helped lead to a change in traffic law: All Ontario school buses are now required to have swing-out stop signs, and drivers who blast by a stopping bus are now subject to harsher penalties than the one who hit me was.
I can certainly see the value of a civil action against a sexual assailant, if one is sufficiently motivated to bring one. I’m not. I don’t recall enough boring-yet-crucial details of what was done to me, such as the exact spelling of the assailants’ names (yes, it counts), or the precise dates and times in question. I may be too scared (still!) to own a driver’s licence, but at least now I know how to throw a lethal punch, and how to navigate the legal system. And when not to bother.
Oh hell, I even know about the rather clannish ties between Marie Henein and Judge Horkins, which you complacent media mavens do not dare to touch. Even though, technically speaking, it is your JOB to touch that, and many other touchy issues besides. I’d ask you why, but I already know. Yours is a small industry, and it’s shrinking by the day. The cost of truth is too high for any one of you to bear; your job is directly dependent on you telling us not what we need to hear, but what your owners want you to tell us peons so we won’t revolt in the streets, like Venezuelans during the Caracazo. Your job isn’t to inform us, it’s to tamp us the fuck down. And your job, though you don’t want to admit it, is precarious.
You can spare me the condescending lectures about the day when I will need our legal system to blah-blah-blah for me. That day has been and is now long gone. I am a woman; I know what it’s like to be presumed guilty even when I can prove that I am innocent. I keep my head down from force of habit, and I’m poking it up now just long enough to tell you all to fuck the hell off with that shit.
Now if you’ll all excuse me, I feel a song coming on.