Jane Doe, the woman who succesfully sued Tornonto police for their investigation of her sexual assault and whose name is still under court-protected publication ban, says nothing has changed in the conversation about rape.
In the weeks since the Jian Ghomeshi news broke, she says the public has heard too much from lawyers and the media, and not enough from community experts who understand sexual assault.
Ryersonian reporter Ramna Shahzad spoke with Jane Doe following the former CBC host’s arrest in Toronto on Nov. 26. He is is facing charges of four counts of sexual assault and one count of “overcome resistance – choking.” None of the charges has been proven in the courts.
Jane Doe sued the police for negligence and gender discrimination in the investigation of her rape 11 years earlier and won in 1998.
Following her victory, Canadian law was amended to allow anyone to sue the police for their actions in the investigation of a crime.
Following her own legal case she has continued to use the pseudonym Jane Doe as a speaker and published author. She is also a teacher and activist.
What do you think of the reaction to the Jian Ghomeshi allegations?
Personally, I was shocked, I mean we all were. But it’s not a surprise to me. Certainly, Jian Ghomeshi is not the only journalist or the only media personality and definitely not the only man who has engaged in that type of behavior.
We need to not be so shocked and recoil so much. We need to understand this isn’t uncommon practice or behavior and understand what is going on here. We need to look at how masculinity is constructing men. Jian Ghomeshi certainly thought he had the right to do what he was doing and he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. He held a privileged position and used his power to do what he wanted to do.
All of a sudden I hear in the media, why aren’t women reporting? That’s not news. We’ve been talking, writing and lobbying around it for decades.
This has opened up a lot of conversations about consent, rape and sexual assaults. Isn’t that a good thing?
This could be the shift and the change we are looking for and I fear that it is not. There have been a few moments where everyone took a breath and took a step back and said — we should look at this. Unfortunately we are looking at it in the same way. It’s journalists talking to each other, on the radio or on air. They have not come forward and sought the experts and they know who we are. You’ve got lawyers talking about it. Lawyers don’t understand sexual assault. They uphold the law that criminalizes women when they enter the system.
Is a high-profile case like this one taking away attention from other cases and issues we should be looking at?
The media is controlling that message so we will see what media does with that. The media is going to tell us what is going to happen. That is my concern. It appears they are talking to each other and not taking the time to talk to experts and don’t really understand the nature of the bigger problem. We’ve been in this loop for a long time.
How difficult will the legal process be for Jian Ghomeshi’s accusers and what was your experience like?
That certainly remains to be seen. I think we must be watching and observing.
It’s quite possible it will never make it to trial. He may do a deal with the crown. That’s what I see happening and what happens a lot.
During trial, my past family, sexual, political histories were used against me and I had to appear before a psychiatrist, which is what happens and what all women have to do. The testimony against me diminished me as a human being. I would never have proceeded or gone through or accomplish what I accomplished without the protection of the publication ban.
It’s not just a feeling of being attacked. You are attacked. We err if we don’t understand that we err if we don’t tell women, “you will be attacked. And you are given no armour or weapons to defend yourself.”
Is the problem with the legal system?
It’s simply legal practice that lawyers and judges engage in. If anything is to change in the courtroom and the legal system and we must look at lawyers and judges and what they are and are not doing. They are the problem. They are the ones engaging in behaviour that keeps women away and that shames and stigmatizes and terrifies women who do enter the system none of which is illegal.
Is a case like Jian Ghomeshi’s that has opened up all these conversations triggering for you? On the one hand, it’s bringing attention to violence against women but is it difficult to constantly hear about it?
I think that unfortunately trauma is the only lens through which we observe those who have been sexually assaulted. And, in our understanding of trauma that means they have been rendered passive, helpless, unable to take any action, or make choices. We think the system, through the lawyers and judges and police, is going to take care of her because she is so traumatized that she can’t think, move forward or act.
I’m not diminishing for one moment, certainly it exists and I continue to live with the trauma of what happened to me but it is the only lens through which we are able to look at women who have been experienced that crime.We need to even step back and understand that it is not the only reaction when we hear these stories. It certainly is a reaction and it’s completely valid but that’s not all women are doing.
If every woman was traumatized or triggered by the sexual violence that has entered her life — society would stop functioning. We’ve managed to carry on and live good lives and become teachers, journalists, politicians, writers and move forward from what has happened to us.
We need to shift the focus off the women and whatever trauma she might be — legitimately — experiencing and onto the man. Rape and sexual assault is about the man and masculinity.
I am so f*cking tired of this notion that women of assault must come forward, that if we are going to stop the crime, women have to come forward
What kinds of voices are missing from the media’s coverage of this case and sexual assault in general?
Experts. And by experts I mean women primarily community oriented women who work in the area of rape and sexual assault who work with women who’ve been sex assaulted or experienced violence.
We’ve been talking about it for decades. All of a sudden I hear in the media, why aren’t women reporting? That’s not news. We’ve been talking, writing and lobbying around it for decades.
But the media is acting like it’s something new they have discovered.
Stop crafting solutions that do not work. The laws don’t work. But we carry on believing they do. Certainly the media does.
Myself, and the whole community of experts, and there are many of us, have been talking about the problems and what we need to do for decades. The media doesn’t listen. Our politicians don’t listen. Our legal system doesn’t listen.
What else is wrong about the way we view and talk about sexual assaults?
Shift the focus off women and put in on men, or really masculinity. Men aren’t’ born to commit sexualized violence. Masculinity socializes them to do that. Take the focus off women, our actions, stop telling us what to do and look at the perpetrators of the crime.
We don’t even have a language to speak the crime. Is it “rape” or is it “sexual assault”? The terminology use includes words like “victims” or “survivor.” Both of those words are problematic. They dismiss the woman involved they make her disappear. They are genderless. We think of a victim as someone who’s broken who can never recover which is very deliberate.
Is there anything else you that you feel is problematic?
I am so f*cking tired of this notion that women of assault must come forward, that if we are going to stop the crime, women have to come forward and if they don’t come forward, it’s going to happen to other women. And if they do come forward they’re going to save other women. That is such a problematic notion. It is not our job to fix things. That is the job of our institution and our state. Stop putting that kind of responsibility on the women involved.
It is not my job to report the crime so other women don’t get sexually assaulted. My job is to take care of myself, my job is to do the right thing, and my job is to report if I think that’s the right thing to do. It’s bullsh*t to suggest otherwise.