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The System Isn’t Broken, It Was Built This Way (Part 1)

April 17th, 2016     by deb singh     Comments

Illustration by Erin McPhee

Trigger Warning: Discussions of Rape Culture

The Law: Not Here for Survivors

When survivors go to report a sexual assault to the police, statistically speaking: the police do nothing.

It may be their job – at the very least – to listen to survivors by taking their statements but after that, on the most part, nothing more is done to validate the experience of the survivor.

YWCA Reporting

And why would anything be done? The system has proven time and time again that it’s not a mistake that these cases ‘fall through the cracks’. They are purposely investigated and ruled on in ways that perpetuate and enhance the rape culture we live in.

Police, lawyers and judges claim to just be ‘doing their job’ but it seems that their collective job is to protect rapists and uphold a system that repeatedly allows for people to sexually assault and not be held accountable for it.

But, if you are not new to thinking about anti-Black racism and survivor-led healing justice then you will know that the ‘system isn’t broken, it was built this way’.

Further it seems that those within the system: police, lawyers, judges believe that survivors should have prevented it by expecting that we should have ‘known better’ and other rape myths [Judge Robin Camp in Alberta, comments on a judgement in a sexual assault case] and victim-blaming [Judge Horkins verdict in the Ghomeshi trial, transcript. Comment 135 on page 24] out there. Based on some of these comments, those of us outside the system could infer these very men, who wield a tumultuous amount of power in the lives of survivors, that these men are abusers themselves since they are perpetrating systematic violence against survivors.

But I digress. This Ghomeshi thing is way out of hand.

On one side you have people who think reasonable doubt is an apt measure to evaluate evidence presented by the Crown Attorney; people who think that the verdict was a good one and that women and Trans people, lie about rape.

On another side you have activists, survivors and allies all rallying behind the #WeBelieveSurvivors movement (the anti-violence movement), survivors ourselves in outrage at the system and verdict all while supporting the leadership of black people in the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically the tent city that lasted 15 days with a climax of protesting at Queen’s Park and requesting a meeting with primier, Kathleen Wynne.

And there are probably many more of us in between.

How is anti-Black racism connected to sexual assault survivorship? Black women and trans people are at a higher risk for experiencing sexual violence as are Indigenous women. Black people are experiencing violence at the hands of police and dealing with more state violence compared to that of White people and other people of colour. Furthermore, when Black women and Trans folks experience violence, in general but also by the state (governments, police, etc.), it often includes acts of sexual violence, and always acts of sexism and racism.

Media: Another Tool to Perpetuate Rape Culture

Although I blog for the awesome media outlet called Shameless Magazine, not all media reports from an anti-hate, anti-oppressive, pro-self determination lens.

I have been asked a slew of questions since the Ghomeshi trial began on February 1, 2016:_ How do we measure guilt in sexual assault cases when the evidence is only based on he said/she said? What other ways can the courts do this? What do you think about survivor credibility? Why should we believe survivors? A man’s innocence is in the balance, how can we convict if there is reasonable doubt?_ And, my personal favourite, can a husband rape a wife?

All of these questions are grounded in the premise that it is fairly okay to commit violence against women and Trans people; that it’s more about the court system, reporting and the accused’s innocence than the act of violence itself. And, it is certainly not about accountability or stopping rape.

I have done about 15-20 media interviews since February 1st. Not one media outlet has asked me how can we stop sexual assault. Not even once.

Last week, I had a reporter from Canadian Living send me this follow up email to my phone interview:

Email Screencapture Provided by the Author

Needless to say this is the culture we live in - one where people drive by survivors like a car crash, staring to see if they can be amused and then keep on driving by. (In the end, Canadian Living refused to let me take a look at how they used my story and quotes prior to publishing and then pulled my part entirely, essentially taking away all power to share my story and insight the way I wanted as a survivor).

Dismantling the System that Keeps Us Oppressed

So, we have established ‘the system’ – including the legal system and media – all perpetuate a culture of rape, and that is why, in part, hundreds of men accused of sexual assault walk free every year, with most never being prosecuted in a courtroom and almost none being held accountable in any way.

At this point the system doesn’t even have to be about survivors and stopping gender based violence – it can openly defend perpetrators in the name of ‘innocent till proven guilty’ and so-called justice.

As a survivor, it’s been a triggering two weeks: I was triggered because I told my story to someone who wanted to know all the gory details and then act like it was no big deal. I was triggered because so much money, resources, time, effort and courage went into the Ghomeshi case that went ‘viral’ and ‘trending’ across the country and the verdict results were exactly as every single person I talked to predicted: another insult and dismissal of our experience as survivors.

It is important we keep the system accountable since in some sense, that’s the system we have. In another way, Audrey Lorde has always been wise in saying:

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” ― Audre Lorde

A New System?

Black Lives Matters occupied space at Toronto Police Services Headquarters for 15 days calling the Toronto Police Services, the City of Toronto and many others to be accountable to the Black community with the following demands:

Black Lives Matter Toronto

Our movements are linked because of sexism and anti-Black racism.

So, if we know systems like government, law and media are anti-survivor and racist, and holding them accountable is a tall order, what do we do in its place? How do we hold accountable cop killers and rapists alike?

The number one person to sexually assault a woman is her partner. The number one person to sexual assault a child is their father. These people are our partners and fathers; to jail them (which statistically has not decreased violence) would mean to jail community members, who are people that are often functional in many other parts of their life. They are not inherently evil, but people who did not care to ask for consent because they have been taught the value of women’s bodies as less than their own.

“Overall, men were responsible for 83% of police-reported violence committed against women. Most commonly, the accused was the woman’s intimate partner (includes both spousal and dating) (45%), followed by acquaintances or friends (27%), strangers (16%) and non-spousal family members (12%). This contrasts violent crimes against men, where intimate partners were among the least common perpetrators (12%).

It seems we need a new system. It seems we need to create spaces where our partners and fathers can unlearn the misguided notions that de-value women and trans peoples’ bodies as less than their own. We need allies who will do that teaching. It seems we need to build the kind of world we want to live in, all on our own.

How can we start?

Part 1 of 2. Look out for Part 2: What can Community Accountability and Transformative Justice look like?

Tags: black lives matter, gender, rape culture, violence