I’m trying really hard right now to make sense of today. I don’t see myself as overly naïve, or overly optimistic, but apparently I am. Because I thought that there would be consequences. I thought that when survivors spoke, it mattered. Today showed me that in the highest court in our country, I was wrong.
I spent a good deal of my day today choking on bile. Today, after the verdict in the Jian Ghomeshi trial was announced, I sat at my desk in my office, flexing my hands, trying to grab hold of this intangible rage that somehow culminated at the back of my throat. My gut impulse, after hearing that Ghomeshi was acquitted of not one, but all of his four charges of sexual assault was to call my mother. I wanted to hear, from an adult (i.e. someone older than twenty four) that this was not acceptable. I wanted to hear shock and dismay from an authority figure. I wanted someone who was tasting bile.
My mother, god love her, was not tasting bile. She was not shocked, in the way that I was. She told me in a resigned voice that she was very sad, but that she was not surprised. Which is a sentiment I’ve heard a lot of today, from many different corners: that we shouldn’t be surprised. That this was always going to happen- how could you expect anything different from our legal system?
And on some level, this makes sense to me- It would be so easy right now, to retreat into apathy. Everyone today was talking about how the judge was practicing “good law” and so we shouldn’t blame the judge or the court who are merely products of the broken system. Don’t blame the lawyers, don’t blame the court- this is all bigger than them. A lot of people are arguing that this was a matter of evidence, and about due process. That it is ridiculous and short-sighted to be outraged- counterproductive even.
I reject this. Outrage is the only sensible recourse. How else, in this situation, can we fuel change? Today we were told unequivocally, that there is such thing as a “good” victim and a bad one. Today we learned that even upper class white cis women (surely the most palatable and photo-ready of all possible survivors) can’t get justice. Today we learned that it is more important to be famous than it is to be honest. Today, in the midst of so much outrage and anger, it is not the anger that scares me. It’s the complacency. That this is the way the system is, so you might as well resign yourself to it.
As I read the words this morning, my mind automatically flashed back to three months ago, when a teenager confided in me that she’d been raped. This was a kid from a low income neighbourhood who was terrified to tell her mom because she knew her mom would blame her. From there I remembered the first time a friend ever asked me to come over, because she didn’t feel comfortable around her male friends. From there it was a cacophony of voices featuring every tear-filled phone call that I’ve ever had where I had to soothe a terrified person, telling them it wasn’t their fault.
So as I sit here, typing and retyping, struggling to make sense of today, this is what I’m left with: We, as Canadians, no longer have the benefit of ignorance. We cannot take pride in having a superior judicial system, when we just left three women out to dry, after dragging them through the mud. They tried to tell the truth, at great personal cost, and we betrayed them. We cannot say we did not know, or that this type of thing does not happen in Canada. If this trial has taught Canada anything, let it be that we now know exactly what a survivor is put through when we ask them to testify against their accuser. This trial has warned all survivors everywhere not to come forward because you won’t be believed anyway. The fact is that no one has to wonder if they know a survivor- we all do. The statistic is one and four. We are all culpable in a system that allows this to go on with no recourse.
So yes, outrage is the only option, as long as we don’t let it burn out. I would urge you, if you’re reading this, and feel the way I do, to let this anger in. Don’t block it out- feel it. Because the only way that change can happen is if we really feel it today. If we are appalled. If we remind those around us that speaking out against sexual assault (no matter WHO the perpetrator) is the most courageous of all actions. We created the system, the system did not create us. I stand with the survivors of all backgrounds and bodies who share their stories. We are here with you. We hear you. And we believe you.