In the Blog
The ‘No’ Comment: TRCC-MWAR Comments to the Media about the Jian Ghomeshi Trial
Illustration by Erin McPhee
Its only been a week and I have been asked ‘What is rape culture?’, ‘How does trauma affect memory?’ and ‘Why believe survivors?’ like a ga-gillion times.
Okay not that many – but, the media at large is not so dynamic in their reporting around sexual violence and the rape culture they perpetuate when reporting on these stories.
Even NOW magazine, which I love, called it the sexual assault trial of the century! I mean, maybe. But, since sexual assault happens so frequently, and the perpetrators are not usually so famous (in Canada) and hardly any of them go to trial (or jail), then I guess we chould call this the trial of the century seeing that I don’t believe there will be more convictions of rapists due to this trial no matter what the outcome (see diagram below).
I applaud the media who try and report with a feminist lens but this view is few and far between. And, there are some that are not interested AT ALL, in the diverse and plentiful perspectives outside the legal remedies to sexual assault. And, not one reporter so far has asked me my opinion on how we can end sexual violence, although one did ask what are better ways to prosecute the crime.
The following is the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape’s media statements.
While the Jian Ghomeshi case sparks lots of controversial questions about sexual assault, consent and survivor’s disclosures, one thing remains true when we talk about sexual violence. The concept of ‘consensual sex’ doesn’t really exist.
‘CONSENSUAL’ SEX IS JUST CALLED SEX AND UNCONSENSUAL SEX IS CALLED RAPE.
“Proof that we live in a rape culture? In western society, it is more likely there will be repercussions socially and legally, if you steal a digital device of some kind, than if you sexually assault someone.”
-Deb Singh, Counselor, TRCCMWAR
Survivors reap deeply negative repercussions when they report sexual violence, socially, politically and legally; so it makes sense that survivors may take long periods of time to report, if at all.
We can also see the ‘danger’ in reporting when we know that the legal system allows for survivors to be counter charged with assault or defamation after the initial report of sexual assault. There are few other crimes that counter charges become laid after a violent crime has been reported, as is the case with the Bill Cosby sexual assault and defamation cases.
The court of public opinion is all too real for survivors. While it is likely that perpetrators will continue their careers, albeit out from under the spotlight, survivors who bravely disclose their identities will always be questioned about whether or not the ‘claim’ was true. Further, the survivor will be penalized in various ways for having gone public; perhaps it’s not getting a job, or it’s their reputation being minimized to ‘accuser of rape’, or impacts on their social and romantic lives, etc.
The Criminal court still has a way to go in restructuring how evidence is collected in order to prove a sexual assault has happened, and this stretches further to our work around believing survivors. Proving consent was given is oxymoronic when the survivor is claiming sexual assault and there are often no witnesses and no evidence to prove consent was/was not given.
The attrition of sexual assault charges, via The Toronto Star, based on data from Statistics Canada and complied by Holly Johnson
If we know that only 2-8% of all sexual assault accusations are false, (compared to 10% of false claims of car thefts and other felony offenses) then it is in the best interest of the legal system to believe women, from a cultural, social and legal standpoint. But because we live in a culture of rape in where women and trans people are oppressed by sexism, patriarchy and rape culture – the legal system powered predominantly by men benefits from not believing survivors even if they are telling the truth 98% of the time.
“So what’s the answer? Do women lie about rape? According to Joanne Archambault, a former sex crimes unit supervisor, the answer is fairly simple: “[False reports] are not a problem. They happen, but they’re not a problem.” Research has shown that only roughly 2 to 8 percent of rape reports are untrue, (for car thefts, another felony offense, that number is about 10 percent). Two to 8 percent is a pretty small number to justify the climate of fear around false rape reports.” - Ms. Magazine
Using the legal system, as a tool to decrease sexual assault has not worked. If there were more successful outcomes within the legal system perhaps this would motivate survivors to come forward. However it is left to police, lawyers and judges to decide the legal recourse when survivors report, effectively leaving them out of the process and generating results that do not speak to the rape culture we live in or deter future offenders from assaulting women.