This week I sat in court in Vancouver and watched the man who raped me eight years ago get led away in handcuffs to prison for his attack on me. This is one thing in my life I can say with full confidence I never believed would happen until now.
Over the past year, specifically when I was in the thick of the brutal legal process of a rape trial, I at times felt utterly overwhelmed, and, over and over again, kept finding solace and strength in knowing that I was only one woman amongst hundreds and thousands of women fighting back against the men who have committed violence against them.
I’ve been following the Brett Kavanaugh hearings closely, and watching Christine Blasey Ford remain composed, dignified and strong in the face of such ugly male power, and the force of women rising up in in support of her is exhilarating and inspiring. What an incredible time to live as a woman in this world.
The women’s movement emboldened me and gave me a voice when I was in dire need of it, and the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter collective gave me a kinship with women that has continued to serve as a constant, vitalizing, life-affirming and loving force around me.
I’ve sat down so many times over the past year to try write something, anything, that captures my experience of rape and the ensuing years of the legal process that I have been undergoing. Allies, friends and family have stuck close and checked in on me over the lengthy process, and now that it’s over, I can finally talk about it freely. The farthest I got in writing was my victim impact statement, posted below, that I delivered in court at his sentencing.
Instead of focusing on how the rape physically and mentally affected me, I wrote about the legal process and what that was like to go through. I don’t want this to be a message to women not to report (although I know it’s a discouraging process) — I think we need to report now more than ever, and do it together. As women, we really f**king need each other. I couldn’t have done this alone and I didn’t. We need a few more wins these days and today was a victory in the midst of all this misogynist chaos.
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I never imagined that I would be here today. Being a victim of rape at all is something I never imagined for myself as a young girl. When I came to know the normalcy and prevalence of sexual assault as a teenager and young woman, I knew the chances of justice were much less likely to be something I would ever see. I never imagined I would be standing in this court room as a victim of rape and with one man being held accountable for his violence against women. This is a rare moment, and I know that.
Writing this victim impact statement has been hard for me to do because rape is something that is so difficult to articulate the effects of. I know that in this process my line of work and my political activism on the issue of violence against women has been raised as an issue as to why I may be invested in this case, but at the end of the day I am still just another woman who has been raped and that experience has been incredibly distressing to revisit and remember.
I spent much of the five years from 2010 to 2015 trying to block out the memory of him raping me. I was encouraged to talk about it by some incredible women I came to know and work with, and who helped me come to better terms with what I had experienced. I knew it was rape but I carried too much weight and responsibility in thinking that it was about me personally. I had to contend with painful internal questions about myself and my worth. How was it that a moment that changed my life forever, meant so little to him? So little that he may not have even remembered?
I was not that significant to this man but I was a woman and he had access to me and that’s why this happened to me.
I had made the decision long ago that I was not going to report my sexual assault to the authorities. I had convinced myself that it would go nowhere, that there was no point, that it would be a “he said, she said” case and they would believe him. I came to the conclusion that the most logical thing to do was to just forget about it and move on. I instead poured my time and labour into fighting other men’s violence — not his. I saw this as one way to come to terms with what had happened to me; it did, and helped me grow as a woman and as a feminist in ways I never knew possible.
When I saw his name in the rape crisis centre I worked at and knew there was another woman who had endured his violence as well, I was forced to re-evaluate my own decision to not report him. I felt deeply ashamed of what had happened to me and felt a sense of guilt that because I had not gone forward I had somehow contributed to his ability to continue assaulting women. I now understand that this logic is flawed but nonetheless I felt it. To this day, although that woman and I are still nameless and faceless to each other, it is because of her that I could be bold and she is the reason I decided to report him to the police.
Rape isolates women from one another. It is deeply stigmatized, and we are encouraged to believe that it is something we brought on ourselves and are somehow to blame for it. I believe the criminal justice system repeats this tactic by further expecting and pressuring women to stay isolated from one another. I understood from the years of anti-violence advocacy work I had done that women had to be very careful with their behaviour if they had reported a man for sexist violence. I knew that grouping or talking with other women could lead to accusations of colluding with each other, or wanting revenge, or outright lying to “take a man down,” all of which are of course just rape myths and sexist stereotypes about us.
I anticipated that the defence could use a myriad of sexist stereotypes against me to undermine my credibility, and, given that this was a sexual assault case, it was likely that they would.
I hardly spoke to Kaylee, who was my closest friend at the time of the rape and who was there when it happened, for three years to “protect the legal process.” I took fewer and fewer media opportunities on the issue of violence against women in my feminist collective in fear that my political work would be used against me, and I changed and privatized my social media profiles worrying that my online presence could be used to undermine the case.
Strategically, I didn’t have many women come to court so I didn’t look overly invested or “vindictive.” During the trial, I purposefully did not attend except for the days I was required to testify even though I desperately wanted to and of course, was invested in what was happening in the case. I tried to fit into the role of “perfect victim” to protect the legal process and to get this man held to account. I felt that by modifying my life and behaviour to fit this “perfect” image of a victim I lost the little agency I did have in the process to begin with.
I was questioned on my political stances on prostitution and was asked to offer my political position to the court on what constitutes consent. I don’t believe that they have any relevance on what happened to me and they had no place in the courtroom.
I found it alarming that I had to answer to whether I believed that if a woman drank so much that she blacked out she could give consent, when this is something already established in law as failing to reach the legal threshold of consent. I found it even more alarming that the theory of the physical impossibility of him raping me in a certain position was given so much time and attention and that I was required to entertain that argument.
In no other crime is so much weight put into the victim’s credibility as a witness.
This blog first appeared on HuffPost Canada, and can be read here