Monday, March 28, 2016

A Reasonable Doubt?

A post wherein I get a little grumpy and swear-y about it all.

What does reasonable doubt look like? Is there really, REALLY, a reasonable doubt that Jian attacked the women who had their lives scrutinized on the stand? With sexual abuse cases, it all hinges on the credibility of the victims. But the problem with our system today is that the standards necessary to determine credibility are far too high. In far too many minds, credibility is questioned in a sexual abuse case if a woman continues to hang out with, have sex with, be attracted to, or even love their assailant. The legal system must acknowledge and contend with this insidious nature of abuse that places wounded women back in the arms of their abusers. It just is. There's no easy way to prevent that very human behaviour, so it must not be seen as an admission of prior deceit.

They had inconsistencies in a story about an even that happened over a decade ago, and they can't remember how long his hands were around their necks or the colour of a car. Our memory for details are sketchy over time, but our memory for a major event - not so much. Withholding e-mails can be understood, so plainly, as either forgetting about a note sent so long ago or, if intent to withhold can be proven, then a clear acknowledgement that in our fucked-up system, sex after an attack appears to nullify any claims of damage. That has to change. Immediately.

In a famous experiment, dogs were put in a compartment and trained to jump a barrier when given an electric shock. After one or two tries, the dogs jumped the barrier immediately after being put in the compartment even when no shock was given. BUT some dogs were restrained the first time and not able to jump the barrier. They had to tolerate the shock without being able to escape. When they were unharnessed, they still didn't jump the barrier, but just stayed there, tolerating the pain.

"Seligman found that it took many experiences (up to 200) of being forcibly dragged across from the shock compartment to the safe compartment for them to rediscover that responding could bring relief and thus to break out of the learned helplessness syndrome." 
Up to 200 times after just one inescapable experience! We are hard-wired to stay put, to hunker down and tolerate abuse after just one bad experience. That's how we survive. When dogs are beaten, they often follow their abuser around even if there are kinder family members to hang out with. We align ourselves with the strongest in the pack, and an abuser can fit the bill. These are basic animal behaviours that are difficult to overcome despite our big brains, even for the best and brightest among us.

It's clearly not entirely a matter of victims being too polite, but of a built-in animal nature to cope with pain rather than act on it if there's no clear escape. And there IS no clear escape if calling the cops ruins your own life and reputation and offers little hope for a conviction.

The parliament site, Hill Notes discusses rates of "unfounding":
"Among seven Ontario police forces, 2% to 34% of complaints of sexual assault were considered unfounded. No matter what the percentage, the rates were significantly higher for sexual assaults than for other crimes in the six forces for which comparative data were available. Studies have shown that victims may be seen as less credible in situations that do not reflect the stereotypical image of sexual assault as a violent act perpetrated by a stranger on a “virtuous” woman who vigorously resisted. . . . In some investigative manuals, for example, the criteria to be considered in detecting a false report include a request to speak to a female officer. . . . 
There are various factors at play [in the low conviction rate], including reliance on myths and stereotypes to discourage the complainant from testifying in court and to attack the credibility of the complainant. Such testimony is generally crucial for the prosecution of a sexual assault case, as there may be no witnesses and little other evidence."
Check that out again: just the act of asking to see a female officer is enough for your claims to be discredited in Ontario. That standard is ridiculously high. This is why people are posting signs saying "I believe survivors." I'm bracing myself for slippery slope arguments to the contrary now - that if we lower it a smidge, then women can get men convicted on bogus charges because maybe he didn't call back right away, and women will TAKE OVER THE WORLD.

Hold the phone. We can lower the standards to a REASONABLE place wherein women feel free to admit to a relationship after an assault without fear that it will not be believed WITHOUT lowering credibility standards to a point that women can charge men willy nilly. It is possible, but it will take some work to change the way we understand one another.

What should determine credibility?

Well, it shouldn't include victim's later behaviour, how they dress, or where they live or work (i.e. a prostitute must be believed as much as a nurse), or minor inconsistencies. If you're telling a story of an assault from years ago, and you sometimes say 'slapped' and other times 'hit', it shouldn't follow that you're lying about the entire thing. The standard I'd like to see is: "Did they say 'yes' to the behaviour and to every escalation of the behaviour?" It will always be complicated to convict, but in a case with many women testifying against one man, it seems clear that they're not jilted, spiteful girlfriends out to get a guy for ditching them. That might happen out there somewhere. I admit it's possible for a woman to be so angry that, twelve years later she's still willing to put her own life on trial to falsely accuse a man of a horrific assault, but it's highly unlikely. When there are numbers of women expressing similar fates, then the likelihood of them all fabricating the same story becomes astronomical, and they Must. Be. Believed.

 In a Facebook comment, Antonia Zerbisias had this to say about these women:
"With sexual assault -- and I don't mean a punch but full on penetration -- victims should know not to shower, brush their teeth, even though the compulsion to do so must be overwhelming. If they don't know that, then there should be posters in schools and universities and workplaces, and PSAs on all the channels. There was no DNA in this case. . . . 
As for strangulation marks or bruises, if there were any, I am amazed that nobody photographed them. But let's just say that the complainants were too traumatized to do so, or there were none, why would they have not shared their stories with their girlfriends or sisters? Or, right. Trauma, shame and I am victim-blaming. . . . . 
Now here we have three youngish women, who would have been in their 20s when these events happened and, for whatever reason had stars in their eyes with JG. . . . but, seriously, who could buy one of the stories: One of them claims he committed a violent act one day and then next day, she invites him over for a friendly handjob? . . . . Women must take some responsibility for their safety. . . . . If you have a creepy feeling, say you have a headache and Uber it home. . . .  
I often wondered why he never asked [my friends] out but now I know. They didn't need him or act like they needed him. Sure, they were starstruck but they had resources and spidey-senses and would have walked if he tried anything. Predators always go for the weak, the ones at the back of the herd. Frankly, I don't think these complainants were too bright. I know that's brutal but a smart woman would have shut up and not written things like we'll get the prick." 

Heres's the thing: It makes us feel safer if we can believe that it won't happen to us since we're smart and resourceful. But that's bullshit. Even smart women are sexually assaulted. Even you. There's lots more to unpack in that comment, but there's one thing I'd like to point out. Having DNA evidence of sexual contact AND having pictures of bruises will not further a case if the accused insists it was consensual BDSM. He didn't claim he didn't have sex with them, but that it was all consensual. All the DNA evidence in the world won't help. And even filming it doesn't seem to make a difference as he willingly showed filmed footage of rough sex to his employers earlier on. All the prosecutor has is the victims' statements. It will always come down to a matter of who we believe, and we must believe more survivors.

Teaching girls how to behave after an attack does fuck-all if rapists aren't convicted because the girls' credibility came in to question because they did that one wrong thing.

Antonia praises the almighty Section 11 of the Charter, and I assume she's referring to part d): "to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal." Many are celebrating that the law was impartial because it actually ignored the media and protestors. But I content it wasn't impartial because it did not ignore a very warped, patriarchal idea of what it looks like to be abused. Our current legal system doesn't recognize what's necessary to actually stop this illegal activity, and, as a result, rape continues more openly than I've ever seen before. We can watch teens rape girls at parties in videos shared openly. Some guys are not remotely ashamed of this kind of behaviour, and now they have yet another hero to applaud for proving his innocence. Yes, he's technically "not guilty" rather than innocent, but that's not how it will be seen to some, and how it is seen is what will affect future behaviours.

The effect of this trial is terrifying to me because it means abusers everywhere think they can get a pass even with multiple victims. Too many men feel untouchable, and they are all too often correct.

I flagged about twelve different posts and articles I planned to discuss in this post. I just started with Antonia's with the intention of commenting on others, but this is all so frustrating and exhausting and terribly sad. When people argue dispassionately that we must stand behind our legal system, they don't seem to understand that they're praising a system that will allow my daughters and my students and my friends and myself to be attacked with impunity if we can't guarantee being perfect witnesses on the stand. That's. Just. Fucking. Wrong.

And really scary.

I'll leave you with MP Charlie Angus' concern here:

ETA - And these words, dammit:  
"[People celebrating the verdict] are so fucking far from understanding the collective fire engulfing women at the moment, that your point is a moon of pluto. My point is the sun. My point is that since those 21 brave women came forward, our insides have been burning, we swallow nails every day, we question our existence. . . . We’re having a mass breakdown under the weight of a system that so evidently hates us, and you have no fucking idea of the reality of our lives."

We must find our collective way back from this. But it has to be the other side that sees the light on this one. It just has to. We can't live together comfortably if some people believe justice was served.  

ETA also interesting is that Canadian news focused on the problems with the victims, but the rest of the world focused on the problems with the judge and judgment. Curious. 


Kirbycairo said...

Thanks for this. You did a much better job than I at exposing the issues and problems here. The use of the Seligman experiment was something I overlooked and am so glad you reminded me of it. Like you, I am exhausted and depressed by this; and by how many men were ready to attack anyone who questioned the legal process. The struggle continues.

Marie Snyder said...

And by how many women are on the attack too - Zerbisias, Wente, Blatchford.... As I said above, I see that as a means of believing they're above the sort of behaviour that leads one to be assaulted as a means to feel safe from that heinous possibility. But that attitude harms us all. It's a defence mechanism that has to be blown wide open.

The Mound of Sound said...

I've finally realized that it's utter folly to get into this. Do it and you're going to church whether you want that or not. You're either with the saints or you're with the sinners. And if you dare point out any blemishes on a saint that's absolute proof that you're the first cousin of Satan himself.

Kirby is so steeped in his emotions that he can't grasp the fundamentals of criminal justice. I'm steering clear of Kirby too. Good luck to you both.