I really don’t like reactive pieces and I certainly didn’t ever think I’d go down the path of writing from a point of physical/emotional reaction rather than considered position. It took me weeks to sit down with the aftermath of the Ghomeshi trial. I needed to sit with what had happened, clarify my thoughts and write what I thought needed to be said rather than what I wanted to say. But I’ve bitten the bullet tonight. I’ve spent the last few days, like so many, in tears and utter disbelief at the reality that has been the rape and subsequent trial of Ms Doe. I’ve read (and cried over) her victim impact statement and I’ve read all about the sentencing, his fathers’ and friends defence and of course his statement. I’m choosing not to name him here; we all know who I’m talking about. His name and his all American yearbook photo is everywhere. He doesn’t need me to name him, he doesn’t care what women like me think. To him women like me are part of the problem that got him thrown in prison. Women like me are the ones who need his mansplaining – sorry education, that he begged the sentencing judge let him go forward with, as punishment for his crime.
What I felt the need to sit down and write has confused me. It’s not anger it’s not surprise its resignation; not something I desire but something that I feel is genuinely inevitable. Inevitable because it needs to be done and done now.
Rape is something that not only can happen to anyone but is something that can be done by anyone. But more often than not this message is not being heard. We see rapists as something of an other, a monster lurking in the darkness. A myth that has stood the test of time. It’s something that we use to place rape and rapists as something away from me. It makes us feel safer. I get that. No one wants to believe that the man I know can do something as abhorrent as rape. The man who raped Jane Doe is not a monster. While he was a stranger to his victim he was not a stranger to his family, his friends and his community. He is just like men I know – except for the fact that he chose to and was convicted of rape.
A lot has been written over the last few days, nothing I could put here can come close to the eloquent well constructive pieces that have been published so far. But I feel the need to contribute, after all I made this space to add myself into the conversations I feel relevant to how we think about and have sex. And, for me, rape culture is a part of this. One of the ways that rape culture and its assumptions, minimising and victim blaming, is central to this particular rape is through the character references offer up to the court as a means of supporting the rapist.
The character references offered by his father, grandparents, coaches, classmates and friend are not something out of the ordinary, as far as I’m aware (keeping in mind that I am not a lawyer) statements such as these and the content of them are normal. Just as victims of crime are entitled to place before the court accounts of the crime perpetrated upon them and the impact that the crime has had on themselves and their lives, so too can the convicted. The rights and wrongs of this are many and complex. Should we really be seeing those who have committed crimes away from what they have been convicted of? Should judges be able to consider them as influential in their sentencing decision? I just don’t know, and I don’t think it would do anything is I pretended that I did. There are others who are much more educated about the legitimacy and need of such character references, and I will leave it up to those to find these answers.
Let me be very clear here – the rape apologies, the minimisation, the excuses and the victim blaming are not, JUST NOT what I am talking about here. I can’t begin to get my head around this part of their statements. It’s frustrating and nauseating. The best I can come up with is “it’s just plan fucked up” which would neither do justice to the reality of these words nor offer anything new to the conversation.
This is not what I want to take away from these character references. It’s not actually the first thing that I noticed about them. Nor do I want to make a post about his lack of recognition or remorse in his own statement. I want to take the character references and remove the rape culture that has saturated them and reframe them in a way that I think (and I could be totally wrong here) could bring about some kind of change.
Character references are given to humanise those awaiting sentencing, to present a picture of the defendant not as the prosecution portrayed him as during trial, but that of a young man who, because of “20 minutes of action” has been irreversibly changed. These references are a collection of facts and opinions, they revolve around all of the everyday things; what we eat, how we walk, we live and work, our accomplishments and our dreams who come together to make us who we are as individual humans. He is a son, a swimmer, a classmate and a friend. We need to start recognise these facts in rapists, not to glorify them but to acknowledge that these parts of us, are part of what makes up a rapist too. Rapists are humans who make the choice to commit crimes.
The person who ate the steak – is a rapist.
The son who ate his dad’s snacks – is a rapist.
The budding swim star – is a rapist.
The man who had dreams and accomplishments – is a rapist.
The people who fall into this drinking culture – are rapists.
Men who have never been in trouble before – can rape.
Awkward teenagers trying to fit in – can rape.
People who are mild mannered – have raped women.
People who are happy drunks around friends, who keep control and act rationally – do rape.
Great kids – rape.
Teenagers, intelligent enough to be admitted to Stanford – can be rapists.
I absolutely understand the reaction to the release of these references. They, in context, are horrifying to read. I sat here on Monday reading the statement given by his father and it floored me. I asked my husband ‘what type of person thinks about steak when he’s writing what is a plea to the judge sentencing their son’? But neither of us could come up with an answer, is there one? I’ve read the words written by those that know this man and can only wonder what they think rape is.
But they gave me insight into who this man is. The man behind the rape. The man who chose to get drunk at a collage party and make the deliberate decision to take an unconscious woman away and out of sight and rape her. He is the person that is outlined in those character references AND he is a rapist.
We need to humanise these men. We need to see them as part of the swim team and kids who sit at the dinner table eating steak with their fathers. Because that is who they are. These men, these people who choose to commit sexual assaults are men who dream of being doctors, who look like the men we love and socialise with, the ones sitting next to us in class and who we see on the station platform on the way home from work. These are the men who rape and we need to start seeing them as such.
Dismantling rape culture can only be done by removing, one by one, the myths and erroneous assumptions about rape. Not just the myths and assumptions about rape victims but the ones that surround and create our myths and assumptions of rapists.
The confusion I am feeling having written this is uncomfortable. I feel as if every word I’ve just written is wrong and that the best thing I could do is hit delete and forget everything that I’ve thought over the last few days which has cumulated in this post. I feel like I’m ignoring one of the core elements of my feminism and my reasoning for this space. The centring of the needs and experiences of females. To take away from her and make it all about him feels counter to what I see is crucial to the advancement of a feminist rebellion. But there is this part of me that feels this is important and needs to be said. Humanising the rapist, taking him from the shadows, the dark alleyways, removing the stranger and putting him in our swim teams and classrooms putting a face in the picture can and will challenge some of the most prevailing and frustrating myths and assumptions about rape.
But I’m going to give the last word to Jane Doe. I want these words to, once these overwhelming emotions settle a bit, be the thing that I take away from her.
And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you.
To girls everywhere, I am with you.