Looking at that picture, maybe you agree–we’ll get back to that. It’s been a busy week here in Canada. A high profile criminal sexual assault case, featuring a former beloved media personality, Jian Ghomeshi, finally had its verdict delivered: “Not Guilty.” Naturally, the #IBelieveSurvivors advocates, protesters and most everyone, really, were appalled by the ruling. Some went as far as to decry the judge as a misogynistic, woman-hating, rape-culture propagating idiot. I won’t comment on whether or not I feel that to be true, since I’d have to comb through the transcripts and know much more about the man himself to label him an anathema to women. I know that he was following the law, and that the letter of law when it comes to sexual assault is a broken language in dire need of repair. One of the issues with social media, is that people react online as they would in the privacy of their homes—with explosive, emotional outbursts—and that’s never good when trying to understand something as taboo and nuanced as sexual misconduct.
Personally, I believe the accusers in this case. The preponderance of evidence, even though entirely without “hard proof”—DNA, torn garments, etc.—points to Ghomeshi as being a top shelf pervert. Being a TSP, in itself, isn’t a bad thing; the problem arises when unwilling, unconsenting adults are involved in your play. If you’re going to rough someone up during sex, only a moron, or sociopath, doesn’t think of asking his/ her partner for consent (and usually he/ she would have conversations with their partner beforehand). Ghomeshi, who is well spoken and suave, doesn’t come off as a moron, which leaves us with the second option.
A great deal of heat and aspersions surrounded the testimony of the accusers. If we need to blame anyone for the debacle that was witness testimony, and the shitshow that became the cross-examination, I’d look to the Crown who had their thumbs so far up their asses that they could feel the peanuts. In cases with little physical evidence, burden of proof boils down to he said, she said. Even if there are three “shes” in this case, and they’re all saying (relatively) the same thing, any half-witted prosecuting attorney should have known that Henein (the defense attorney) would hinge her client’s defense upon the evisceration of these witnesses’ credibilities, and should, therefore, have prepared said witnesses for her legal bombardment. Is it unfair, to put alleged sexual assault victims under more duress? It has to be, since we must assume that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. I know that if I was an alleged offender—God, forbid—I would want the court to assume my innocence, too. Of course the waters are muddied here, because I suspect, as do many others, that Ghomeshi was/ is a TSP, and remains guilty of everything of which he stood accused.
With the butchered witness testimonies, and considering that the prosecution rate for sexual crimes is so abysmally low, it didn’t take the spirit-whispers of a Long Island Medium to foretell the verdict. I felt apathetic more than enraged. It’s impossible to deny that there isn’t a problem in that area of our justice system. Although, accusers face a catch 22. Does a survivor come forward? Do they say F-it to the justice system, the haranguing, fact-grilling and interviews, and seek to heal through other means? In the wake of this question, and by the urging of my partner, I’ll tell you what I did.
I survived. Calling oneself a victim is setting the mold for how you are to behave and feel about yourself in the aftermath of an assault. I write flinty heroines and heroes who endure the most horrid events, and I’d rather be like them, than some shrimplike being curled in the corner. I got help, which, sadly, wasn’t from the police, but from a therapist(s) many years later. When the incident occurred, I was in my early twenties, working as a model/go-go boy and high on Ecstasy at the time. I have no qualms about divulging this less-than-perfect truth: our past shapes, though does not wholly define us, and I am not that person now. Who I was then, was someone much less stable and predictable: a child who laughed and life because he hadn’t yet learned how to be humble or sad. In my youthful arrogance, it didn’t occur to me that there were predators in the world–at least not ones that I would ever face.
Then, one night, as I gyrated on stage, something was slipped into my water-bottle. I remember a salty taste, in retrospect, one of those fuzzy facts that came to me only weeks after the assault. I remember feeling ill, stumbling to the bathroom, and being attacked in a toilet stall. I was already mostly naked (boots and shorts, I think), so there wasn’t much for the attacker to do to make the assault “sexual”. I remember his smell, and strangely, his perfect teeth. Getting more of a statement from me, when I was queasy, struggling, and under the influence of two types of narcotics, would have made for a farce of a police report. I also don’t entirely remember what happened between my attacker and I, specifics: what was touched, for how long, and where. Flashes of body parts and my spinning, grappling session come to me like flickers of a horror movie I’m trying not to watch from behind my hand. Even if I remove the metaphorical hand, there persists no clear memory, no cast-in-stone sequence of events, other than the bruises with which I was left, and the fact that one of my friends eventually recalled having seen a man dash out of the bathroom before I was found in a miserable pile. (My friend who was also high, even though it was just E and nothing hallucinogenic, but no chance of unimpeachable corroborating testimony there.) Still, I know it was real, and that it happened. I know I did not ask for it. Sometimes that justice—the possession of a truth—might be all to which you can cling.
I would have been obliterated by a lawyer like Henein: portrayed as a floozy, drug using, rent-boy (I wasn’t, though the path of thought between modeling, go-go dancing, stripping and prostitution is commonly walked). I knew that at the time. Once reality hits you, it slams you hard. Once that darkness sets into your soul—of how vile and cruel people can be—you spend years scrubbing it to a less hideous gray. Rather than go to the police, I made a choice, a series of choices. I stopped working in clubs. I moved out of the Church Street area (Toronto’s gay neighborhood). It was a night/ day moment. I literally picked up and relocated to the opposite end of Toronto within the space of a week, losing contact with many of the people in my life (now you know why, and I’m sorry if it was cold). I spent the next six months going for regular STI screening and abstained from any relationships, since I didn’t trust men and I didn’t know if anything had been passed onto me. One miracle, is that I was, and to this day am, entirely healthy.
I no longer believe that I “invited it upon myself”, though I acknowledge that I placed myself into a number of stupid or dangerous situations. The incident and my poor judgement, are, however, mutually exclusive: being a sensual, provocative person is not an invitation for assault, though predators don’t care for or understand the complexities of sexuality–they are driven by violent need. In the last ten years, I haven’t touched a drug stronger than a pot brownie that made me fall into a near narcoleptic sleep. And that’s how long it’s been, longer actually: thirteen years this July.
I’m surprised in writing this that the emotional wound hasn’t been a raw, bloody thing. I tried writing about this last year and turned into a blubbering idiot—that draft you’ll never see, though some friends and family did. I don’t hate myself or what happened to me. I’ve drawn wisdom and strength from it. (On the latter point, that’s literal: I have about 30 pounds of muscle now that I’ll use to beat the stuffing out of anyone that lays an unwanted hand on me, or others, again.) I’ve changed my life for the better. So when I see these women from the trial, defeated and humiliated, and all this rage surrounding the system, and while I know that it has to change, I’ve also learned that as important as justice is the sense of moving on. That isn’t found in a courtroom. At least it wasn’t for me. It’s found in embracing your pain, in making it serve you rather than you becoming its slave. I make art with my pain–so have others.
Now that the Ghomeshi Circus is winding to a close (well, he has another charge pending in a few months), I hope that these women can start moving toward reclaiming their dignity. We never lose it, really, we just forget that it’s there when something happens to us that shakes everything we know. That’s my wish for them: dignity and healing. Ghomeshi, other TSPs, the system, the media, have no power over your ability to love yourself—only you hold that mercy, or sufferance.
All my love,
P.S. Sorry for the swearing, but I couldn’t get this out without a few cusses. Happy Easter, too xoxo