If you ever wondered whether a so-called “independent judiciary” is really such a great thing as it’s cracked up to be, you might want to bear in mind how independent it really is not. And how it treats those of us with the least amount of political, social and economic clout. Case in point: Robin Camp, and an unnamed young woman he gratuitously told off from his bench:
An alleged rape victim asked by a judge why she did not close her knees for protection says the question made her hate herself.
“He made comments: Why didn’t I close my legs or knees or put my ass in the sink. What did he get out of asking those kinds of questions? What did he expect me to say to something like that,” the 24-year-old woman said, her voice breaking, to a hearing before a panel of the Canadian Judicial Council.
Well, in answer to her (probably rhetorical) questions, I have a fair idea of what he got out of asking those idiotic questions: He got a feeling of immense, self-righteous power over a helpless victim. Just like the man who raped her no doubt did. He got reinforcement of his droit du seigneur, so to speak. In other words: He got a big, fat, patriarchal boner. A shot in the arm of machismo.
As to what he expected her to say: Nothing. Nothing at all. Women are supposed to be seen and not heard, didn’t you know, Jane Doe? We’re supposed to be ornamental, not useful. The Sylvia Plath poem above is an extreme, poetically-imaged case, but nevertheless it’s accurate. We revolve in a sheath of impossibles, all right. We’re supposed to be virtuous, and if we are, we will not need to fight. A simple clapping-shut of knees will do! And since this particular woman is a Cree, and was just 19, homeless, and hooked on drugs at the time of the assault, she could not be more powerless in the eyes of Canadian law. His inane question was meant to do nothing but drive home to her the fact that she has no power except the feeble effort it takes to make herself “virtuous”. And men have it all, from the one who raped her literally in the sink to the one who raped her metaphorically from the bench.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh on Hizzoner? After all, the man has a daughter…
Justice Camp, 64, is a married father of three, including one daughter, Lauren-Lee Camp, who attended the hearing with her mother. In a letter of support heard on Tuesday, Ms. Camp said her father’s comments were “disgraceful” and wounded her deeply – because she herself was a rape victim. But in a letter to the panel, she said her father “tackled his disgrace directly” and “now speaks with a new kind of sensitivity and understanding.”
Ms. Camp, a published novelist, said her father is “the opposite of the insensitive, sexist brute caricatured in the media these past few months. … He is not an oaf, woman hater or a misogynist. He is staggered by the mistakes he made and is diligently examining his beliefs in an effort to improve his ability to be a judge.”
She said that she was raped several years ago in her home by someone she knew, but did not press charges – fearing the court process would be traumatic. “When I told Robin what had happened, he was gentle and helpful. He ensured I knew my options and empathized with me. He encouraged me to work with a psychologist to help me decide how I wanted to proceed. Although I’m sure he was disappointed with my decision to not press charges, I know he understood how traumatic it would have been for me to take the case to court.”
Well, that’s lovely. But having a daughter who was herself raped does not make a man a feminist. It does not unmake centuries of patriarchy and purdah overnight. It does nothing at all to deconstruct a system of power which is inherently sexist and violent, one which sexualizes violence, and violates sexuality, as a matter of obscene routine. It merely gives one man excuses to continue to exercise that unrightful power from the bench. And it’s especially awful when the excuses are being offered from the mouth of his own daughter. Because that’s what internalized patriarchy looks like.
“He made me hate myself and he made me feel like I was some kind of slut,” the complainant testified. “I felt ill and dizzy and I hoped I would faint just so he would stop. I was so confused during the trial.” She said she worries other victims who read about Justice Camp’s comments will not come forward.
She is right to worry. Other women who hear or read remarks like those DO not come forward, all the time. When I was raped, I did not come forward, because I already knew what I could expect to hear. Words maybe not exactly the same as those, but to the exact same face-slapping effect: You’re a slut. You should have known he would do this, because he’s a man and that’s his right. What did you expect? Respect? You don’t deserve any, girlie, because you’re just a female. And that’s why you have to work ten times as hard to earn it, and still should expect to have whatever you worked for yanked out from under you at any time. Whereas I, a learned judge, have the right to say whatever disrespectful shit I want, and even if I’m put under the microscope, I’ll still get to keep my job, because I know the right things to say and can even get my own daughter to say them for me. Because I’m a man, and that’s my right. I was appointed by men, to uphold laws written by men, for men. And I mean to keep doing so, and making it look like I’m being fair and unbiased even when I’m not.
And that is how systemic injustices get perpetuated, ad infinitum et ad nauseam. This is why judges — appointed by a male-dominated government — are so damn dangerous. This is why he must go. And why the system that churns out men like him must go, too.