Much of Canada is still talking about a verdict last week in which a famous man was acquitted of four counts of sexual assault and one of choking to overcome resistance. More than the question of whether or not Ghomeshi committed the crimes, people are talking about what this decision says about the system at large and what, if anything, to do about the fact that survivors are the ones on trial.
If you are triggered by explicit discussions of rape, and if the word Ghomeshi wasn't enough to deter you from reading, I would gently suggest you consider stopping now. If you have a lot of questions about why survivors respond the way they do following a sexual assault and you'd like to hear from someone with that lived experience, then I invite you to keep reading.
In 2011, I was raped. I was raped by a man with whom I'd had great consensual sex many times, and we were still lovers at the time I was raped. I told him, this one time, that I didn't want sex: a rarity with me. He had sex with me anyway. I was bruised afterwards. I didn't want the bruises there. In short, none of what happened was consensual.
Here's what I remember.
After he raped me, I yelled, "You just raped me!" I got up, grabbed all of his clothes and laptop bag off the floor and threw them out my front door. I pushed him out after them.
The laptop bag was blue.
The laptop bag was purple.
The laptop bag was black.
He wore jeans.
He wore khakis.
After he raped me, I stammered, "You just raped me." He looked horrified, and we had a long discussion about it.
After he raped me, I yelled, "You just raped me!" He said no he didn't, and we had a raging fight about it. He left and we didn't have sex again after that.
After he raped me, I yelled, "You just raped me!" He said no he didn't, and we had a raging fight about it. He left, and we didn't speak for three days. Then we talked about it and started having regular sex again a few days later.
After he raped me, I said nothing. We ate pizza in bed and watched Netflix.
After he raped me, I said nothing. We ate pizza in bed and streamed a show. From which site? I can't remember.
After he raped me, I said nothing. Later, we had sex.
After he raped me, I was bleeding.
After he raped me, I was not bleeding.
This is gruelling to read, I know. But I can't apologize or be any less blunt, because this is reality.
Any one of these things may have happened after I was raped. Or maybe none of them happened. I cannot remember, and I've never been able to remember. All I remember is the specific kind of pain I was in after, and the thoughts that went through my head during. That experience of incomplete memory is very common amongst survivors. As Dr. James Hopper and Dr. David Lisak wrote in Time after the infamous Rolling Stone rape story:
"Inevitably, at some point during a traumatic experience, fear kicks in. When it does, it is no longer the prefrontal cortex running the show, but the brain's fear circuitry—especially the amygdala. Once the fear circuitry takes over, it—not the prefrontal cortex—controls where attention goes."
Trauma affects memory. While I cannot remember what happened directly following this experience, I do remember why it never crossed my mind to report it to police. I had feelings for the man who raped me. I don't think he knew that what he did was rape. He didn't have the literacy to understand consent. And I was sure police wouldn't have done anything about it anyway, especially based on just how severely "uncredible" my claims would have seemed in court.
I chose to tell this story rather than write about Ghomeshi or the specifics of this case because, to me, this verdict is not about Ghomeshi or the specifics of this case. It is about the fact that survivors don't have a chance in hell of being believed by the so-called justice system. Within this system, men can do what they want to women and other survivors and expect to meet nothing in the way of consequences. Knowing what I know, I would never suggest that a person report their sexual assault to police. As Toronto's Jane Doe, who is covering the case for NOW magazine and who once sued police for negligence after catching her own serial rapist, said to me on the phone a few days before the verdict was announced: "Each time we support this system, we drive another nail through another woman's body."
What she means is we can encourage survivors to report to police, but what's likely to happen is they will be dragged through the system and humiliated, only to watch their abusers be let off because they are not "credible" or there's not enough evidence. The system isn't set up to recognize the reality of sex crimes.
I am the worst possible victim: I'm not quiet and I'm not ashamed and I'm an overtly sexual person and I have a horrible memory and I'm still friends with my rapist. I did not go to police. I did not go to police right away. I don't want him to be in jail. I don't cry about this incident all the time, and it didn't ruin my life. I am the worst possible victim.
But it doesn't mean I wasn't raped. I was raped in 2011.
Please believe me.
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