Friday, March 25, 2016

The Terrifying Ramifications of the Verdict

I can just barely read about Jian's acquittal on all charges. The Guardian has a telling interview with Lucy DeCoutere today. And of course some people, like Aaron Harnett, see it all as a "win" for Canadians because it safeguards us from accusations from anyone who has a remotely shaky memory of a traumatic event.

It was only 1983 that it became possible to charge a spouse with rape. That change to the law 33 years ago marked the courts finally understanding that sex isn't a duty of marriage, but also that it's possible for someone who loves us to harm us - that it can be very complicated. That nuanced understanding seems to have been lost in recent years, so, for our own safety, there are things women must do to ensure a sexual assault is convicted. Here are the important take-away lessons from this trial.

If you've been sexually assaulted...

  • Recover quickly enough to not allow any defence mechanisms to downplay the seriousness of the assault; don't be in denial of the events for even a moment; just don't.
  • Don't apologize or think it's your fault in a moment of baffled confusion regardless societal conditioning to the contrary.
  • Do not write or say anything remotely positive to the attacker or about the attacker ever, even if your life depends on playing the game of "Everything's actually okay," or your mental health depends on briefly pretending "It wasn't really that bad, was it?".
  • Keep the possibility of charging the person in the front of your mind forever, even if it's someone you love or someone who could help or harm your career significantly. If you ever need to come forward, your every thought, deed, and action - from the day of the assault onwards - must be consistently frightened and upset. There must be a clearly marked difference in tone in all correspondence before and after the event. Don't recover.
  • Do not soldier on, but overtly crumble until the day of the trial.
  • The words you use to describe the event must be identical every single time you describe it. Any wavering in the description means you're obviously lying about the whole thing. This is true even if the even happened many years ago. Your memory must be flawless. 
  • Don't wait to call the police or your testimony will be in question - even if calling the police makes it all too real to manage; even if calling the police puts a loved one's life in upheaval, and if nothing sticks this could put you in much greater danger in future. 
  • If the event is filmed, make sure your grimaces can't be confused with smiles.
  • Don't ever have a normal conversation or correspondence with the accused at any time after the event because it proves the event wasn't traumatic. 
  • Don't ever say or write that you like or appreciate anything about the accused at any time after the event because it proves you loved the abuse. Generally, don't treat the accused as a three-dimensional person with horrible bits yet also some lovely bits worthy of admiration. It's not enough to provide evidence that the accused assaulted you; the accused must be consistently seen in your eyes as pure evil. 
  • And, for god's sake, photocopy and save any correspondence you send - just in case it comes back at you later to prove how much you love to be abused.
Really, in order to convict, you must be manipulatively planning to convict from the event forward, ever monitoring every single word and action. If you're just a normal person trying to cope with a trauma, you'll never make it. Don't even bother.

This is a complex situation requiring a nuanced understanding of the way people cope. As a woman who was assaulted decades ago, I knew better than to even think of calling the cops. My assailant acted like nothing unusual had happened, and I got swept up in that version of the story for a while (because it was comforting to believe it) until it seemed like it was too late to do anything about it. Telling the authorities wouldn't have done anything but cause more problems for me for making waves. It's not that it was so traumatic that I've repressed it; but the contrary - it just seems like it's so commonplace that it's not worth a mention. Like Amy Schumer put out there, hasn't everyone been a little bit raped?

But it's not going to stop until we bring all the manifestations of this illegal behaviour to light. You'd think with many woman testifying against one man, and with many of that man's own friends commenting on his hurtful behaviour, that the reality of the heinousness of his behaviour would be far too clear for anything but a conviction.

But it was not nearly enough. And if that's not enough, what possibly could be? How can anyone possibly be convicted of sexual assault under our current legal system?

Be careful out there, kids. The law is not there to serve and protect. And now it's crystal clear that sexual assault can't really be convicted regardless the mountains of evidence that the assault occurred. You also need mountains of evidence that it was painful and traumatic from that moment forward. Saying so doesn't count for shit; there can't be a moment of questioning it or feeling like you deserved it, and don't even think of being remotely forgiving or understanding for a second. That will totally screw you over later.

It's also very clear to the courts that women want heaps and heaps of attention, and we will go so far as to make up degrading stories about ourselves to get it. We want our tales of sexual abuse in all the papers so people will notice us. We are that starved for attention.

Maybe our only solution is to band together on these events outside the law. Banging pots outside the abuser's home to bring attention to it. Our only compensation here is that Jian's life won't entirely go back to normal after this. I'm not hopeful that his June trial will be any different. But even though he's not been convicted, he's not entirely free either - not like he was.

ETA: The same tactics were used with the same judge to get a previous acquittal.


The Mound of Sound said...

Marie, I'm sorry, but I think you're misconstruing what occurred at trial. As in all criminal trials the defendant is presumed innocent. The Crown must then prove every element of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction.

There was relative evidence each of these witnesses failed to divulge to the Crown pertaining to each witnesses' post-assault relationship with this creep. Had that information been volunteered - as these complainants ought to have done - the prosecutors would have assessed their prospects of obtaining a conviction (that's their responsibility) and then, if they decided to proceed, sought expert opinion as to whether the post-assault conduct was explainable. Ghomeshi knew what happened, defence counsel knew what happened, the witnesses knew what happened. The Crown was left in the dark. That didn't have to happen. It shouldn't have happened.

Bear in mind that Ghomeshi didn't mount a defence. His counsel called no evidence, relying entirely on facts disclosed solely on cross-examination of the Crown witnesses, the complainants.

The judge had no choice but to acquit.

That's the way our criminal law works. Had these circumstances occurred in a murder trial or a fraud case or in any other criminal matter the outcome would have been the same. The criminal law is constructed that way and for good reason. It is why we have the presumption of innocence and the requirement for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge didn't invent anything in this case because of the nature of the offence, sexual assault, or the status of the defendant, male/ex-celebrity. There was no suggestion of that at all. None.

For Ghomeshi there is some justice. The one thing he treasured most, his celebrity, is gone for all time. He's still guilty as hell in the public eye, a perv. No media outlet will touch him again, The backlash would be unbearable, especially for advertisers. It's hard to imagine who would employ him.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry, I meant "relevant", not "relative."