Why I Didn't Report
There has been some recent controversy in the US news cycle about a Supreme Court nominee who allegedly sexually assaulted a now doctor when they were at a party in high school 36-some-odd years ago. The aspect of this story that disturbed me the most is what seems to be on everyone’s minds including the current president: “If it was assault why did she wait so long to come forward, why didn’t she report?” As a survivor of four sexual assaults between the ages of six and 27 I think I can understand why Dr. Christine Blasey Ford kept silent.
Sexual assault is the most violating, physically painful and traumatic event a woman can go through and it has happened to so many of us. When I was six years old a friend of my father’s molested me. At the time I was too young to understand the ramifications of what was happening to me, too young to even understand that what was happening to me was wrong and not normal affection from a family friend. I buried the incident deep inside my psyche and the memories only reared its ugly head in my early thirties. By this time my family had already lost contact with the man and it was rumoured that he went to jail for molesting a little boy so there is some justice in the world.
When I was gang raped at the age of 14 by five guys in my high school one of which I was dating, I felt dirty, ashamed and scared. I came home after the incident and took multiple hot showers washing away any evidence of what had just occurred. I crawled under my covers and hid for a week barely eating or sleeping because of persistent nightmares. I didn’t want to think about it but my mind raced with the memories. When I got back to school my rapist cornered me, threatened that he would do it again if I told. I tried to compartmentalize what had happened telling myself it wasn’t that bad, convincing myself that I had made a big deal out of nothing. My fear eventually made me convince myself the whole incident was made up in my over-active imagination, it was the only way I could move forward, the only way I could survive.
When I was 18-years-old I was raped by my boyfriend who claimed he loved me and wanted to show me how much. As he entered my body without my permission I went numb, I could hear myself repeating the word ‘no’ like a mantra he wasn’t listening to. In that moment I felt powerless, my whole world had spun on its axis once again and I had no idea how to right it. I couldn’t understand how the guy that claimed to love me could violate me in such a fundamental way. In my mind this was just payback for months of leading him on and I deserved it.
When I was 27 years old I was drugged and raped after a night of excessive drinking and partying. The man who raped me was a complete stranger whose name I don’t remember. He laced a joint with cocaine and by the time I realized the high was different he was already taking off my clothes, positioning himself on top of me and holding my hands to retrain me as he entered my body without my permission. I was so drunk and drugged out of my mind I couldn’t fight back but I remember begging him to stop, pleading with him to let me go. When it was over he gave me $20 cab fare to get back to my car. I felt the shame of that moment to my core. I never wanted anyone to know what had happened that night and I would rack my brain for years trying to figure out how I put myself in that position.
Let me be clear regardless of your condition no man has the right to put his hands on a woman without their express permission no matter how intoxicated they are or how short their skirt. Currently in Ontario courts are allowing the defence of extreme intoxication for sexual assault cases and men are getting acquitted based on this defence. There has been a shift in rape culture where women are speaking out about their experiences with sexual assault. The #MeToo movement sparked a conversation that needed to be had regarding what women will not tolerate from their male counterparts.
Even with all this new light being shed upon sexual assault I think the justice system is still failing us. I never reported any of my assaults because the deck was stacked against me legally. The burden of proof in these he-said-she-said crimes is on the victim and if she has a challenging time putting her thoughts, feelings and emotions into words after the trauma how then is she supposed to express herself in open court with no more proof than her words?
Rape kits get lost regularly or back logged, men use intoxication or “rough sex” as an excuse and the court lets them off with a light sentence or probation, a punishment that doesn’t nearly fit the crime. So how can women win in a system that doesn’t protect their interests?
Those are only some of the reasons why we don’t report. But the bigger issue for me is looking inside myself and knowing that in at least some of these cases I held some responsibility. I put myself in harm’s way and the guilt and shame of knowing that is lifelong. My greatest advice to women who have not gone through this trauma is to be careful, watch your back, don’t drink to the point of blacking out, don’t go for a jog in a dark park because dangers are everywhere.
There are predators out there just waiting for any opportunity and if sexual assault does occur—and I pray for all my sisters out there that it doesn’t—then report, fight, stand up for your right to be a woman safe in this world. Have the courage to do what I only wished I did years ago. As I said the system is far from perfect but the more we shine a light on this issue the more opportunity there will be for change.