I was standing at my desk in the newsroom, drinking a cup of black coffee. It was 12:05 in the afternoon and we had just sent the Friday edition of our paper to press. My phone rang. I answered it.
It was the police. Specifically, it was the young officer who had been handling my sexual assault case for the last several months.
I listened carefully to what he was saying. It didn’t seem to make any sense and so I asked him to repeat himself.
The situation was this: after several months of filing oral and written accounts of my rape with police officers, all of whom were male, of having that story scrutinized, of having police botch simple details of my case resulting in weeks of delay, of asking, again and again, for a peace bond that the police failed to serve, after this minefield of bullshit the Crown had decided “not to pursue charges” in my case, on the grounds that they felt there were “inconsistencies” in my testimony and they therefore did not feel confident they could make a conviction.
I abruptly realized I was shouting at the officer on the other end of the phone. I don’t remember what I said. I hung up. My colleagues were politely trying to both not look at me and see if I was OK. I excused myself.
I went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet lid for a long time. My stomach hurt. Occasionally I retched into the toilet but nothing came up. I couldn’t cry. It was as if something in me had been severed and now nothing worked right anymore.
I left work and went to the liquor store. I bought two four-litre boxes of cheap red wine, a six pack and a bottle of Red Grouse. I got back in my car, tore a beer from the six pack, shot gunned it, threw the can in the back seat and and drove out of town to the cabin where I lived in alone. I lay down in bed and stayed there all weekend. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I just drank.
And drank and drank and drank.
A month later, the man the Crown said they would not press charges against would appear in the northern town in which I lived.
This episode would be the beginning of a severe nervous breakdown which would rob me of my physical and mental health. My ability to engage normally and to work was severely impaired, resulting in social isolation and a complete stall-out in my career as a writer. There were also financial repercussions, because the accused had racked up serious debt on my credit card, because I was unable to work at a normal capacity, and because I was a straight-dope barely-functional alcoholic struggling with a recent PTSD diagnosis, which is a seriously poor combination of things to be when attempting to make good choices for yourself.
This financial crisis manifested itself in chronic housing insecurity, a lack of basics, including food and clothing, and a complete loss of self-respect. I had always worked and, although I had never been wealthy, I had always made enough to support myself; suddenly I found myself calculating whether or not I could afford to buy a cup of coffee on my break.
My reaction to finding out that my case had been dropped might seem extreme to some people, but I had been on the breaking point for a very long time.
In the year and a half that had preceded my breakdown, I had gone through a lot. I had been in a serious car accident. A dog attack had left me with nerve damage. I had become the sole caretaker for my partner during her six-month recovery from a traumatic brain injury only to have her very-publically cheat on me and leave me as soon as she was well. My own dog had gotten critically sick. I had been in an abusive relationship that would eventually culminate in my being raped for the second time in my life. That so many calamities should befall a person in so short a span seems ridiculous, even to me.
That phone call, though, was the thing that finally broke me. Why has taken me some time to understand.
What I realized on that day was that I was not a person who was a woman. In the eyes of the law, our present culture and many men, I was a woman before I was a person, a fact which impacts on my value—and my safety—in society. I had lived my entire life up to that point as a second-class citizen without even realizing it.
Prior to that call, I had generally respected the police; I had believed they protected not only me but everyone. I now recognize this as a wildly privileged belief which I held mostly because I am white. In actual fact, the police do not serve you, nor does the Crown; they both serve the law, which is a form of social control based on several hundred years of decisions made almost exclusively by straight white males for whom patriarchy was a given and therefore ingrained belief. Police and prosecutors only care about what has been done to the law not what has been done to a woman, who, in some ways, is less protected, legally speaking, than property, because the onus is not on property to prove when it has been stolen or damaged or mishandled.
Case and point: It turned out one of the “inconsistencies,” in my testimony was that I had said the accused had “tried” to anally rape in a text message to the accused, and in my testimony I said that he “did” anally rape me. He got part-way in before I was able to make him stop. This is the equivalent of someone coming to your house, smashing a window, trying to crawl through and then being repelled by the dog inside, only to have the police decide not to pursue the matter because when you called them you said someone was “trying” to break into your house and then later said they “did.”
I’ve since come to appreciate the irony in quibbling over the legal definition of “fucked in the ass” with the Crown, given how often they do it to women who report. At the time, however, I did not see the humour in it.
The nervous breakdown I suffered was caused by equal parts my sexual assault and my negative experience reporting it. Exactly how much money, time and opportunity it has cost me is impossible to tabulate. I sometimes find myself very depressed over the question who would I be had I not been raped? I try not to think about it, because there is no answer, and even if there was I could not be given back the person I would have been.
I ended up having to leave my job at the paper—I was simply unable to work. Things did, slowly, get better; I moved to Montreal for a while, then to Salt Spring Island, where the travel and change of scenery allowed me the space I needed to work through some of the trauma. My recovery was not graceful; it was ugly, crawling, reeking of setbacks. I clawed my way out of depression like a rat coming up out of a toilet bowl. I am wildly lucky to have many good friends who were and continue to be extremely generous and brave; it takes both love and courage to hold a toilet-water drenched rat.
I’m in the middle of trying to, if not to repair my life, then at least start a new one. It’s a slow process. In many ways, much of what I have lost can never be returned, although only two things have been truly irreparably broken—my belief that women are, at this present moment, equal to men, and my last single fuck for male bullshit.
Everything else, I suppose, will just take time.
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