Humber News spoke with lead spokesperson Deborah Singh from the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre about rape culture and what the women on the witness stand may be facing during the Jian Ghomeshi trial.
Q: What do people have to understand about violence against women in order to attempt to understand the women on trial?
A: From the get go, when you think about rape culture, I’ve been thinking about it in this way these days. If you went into a store like the Apple store or Best Buy or something. How easy would it be for you to steal an iPhone 6? Probably not that easy these days and even if you could pull it off what would happen? Immediately security would be called, alarms would go off, and if you pulled it off and you were charged with theft under $5,000 you would have to go to court. There would be all of these proceedings and it would affect your life in some way. This is not what happens to the average person who reports a sexual assault. What happens is the police decide on a couple of things whether or not the survivor is creditable and believable and whether or there is enough evidence to charge and arrest someone and whether or not it is arguable in a court of law and it’s more likely that a person will have punitive measures when they steal a digital device like an iPhone…that they’ll get charged and something will happen to them than if someone reports a sexual assault. That is a perfect example for me of rape culture of certain things especially when we’re talking about violence against women. Certain things are valued more in this world than women’s rights, autonomy and freedom to feel safe at all times in their lives.
Another example is simply women fear being sexually assaulted when they go on a date with someone whereas that doesn’t happen for men and men don’t fear for their bodily safety or whether or not somebody is going to put something in their drink in the same way as women do across every culture. So I think it’s really important to see where the survivors are coming from especially around this case and what it is bringing up for survivors statistically we know that one in three women in Canada are experiencing violence and young women, black women, and indigenous women are experiencing higher levels of violence. If we know what one in three women are experiencing violence and there’s one in three people out there all the time in any given space that are feeling triggered or having moments around the publicity this case is getting. I think there are so many things that we can do individually so that we can understand the rape culture that we live in.
Q: For someone who doesn’t understand rape culture, can you briefly describe what it is?
A: There are more punitive measures when someone steals a device than when somebody is accused of sexual assault. We also live in a culture, from a legal standpoint where less than 10% of survivors ever report their sexual assault and less than 0.2% are convicted of the crime. A super basic example of rape culture is that people blame the victims or the survivors of the sexual assault for the sexual assault. For example, we blame survivors for what they were wearing, whether or not they were drinking, why did they go to his apartment? And that’s across all sorts of communities and the dominant culture says that there is something that she could’ve done to prevent herself from experiencing violence which we know in every other kinds of crime that the victim is blamed for that crime happening to them. So there are crimes where people don’t blame the victim as much. It certainly becomes a social issue and a women’s issue, an issue of sexism where people are blamed for violence happening to them.”
Q: Why do these women who experience these traumas stay silent?
A: It’s pretty clear that if you live in an entire culture that says ‘violence against your body is permissible, normal and acceptable.’…when it happens there’s not going to be many punitive measures that even your parents will say to you that ‘it’s part of the course of being a woman.’ The other piece is having worked at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape for ten years, I’ve seen many survivor’s experiences with rape and sexual assaults and the police not lay charges even though they knew the name of the assailant, perhaps done a sexual assault evidence kit because of those same things I mentioned such as believability and creditability, whether or not this case will be viable and go to court. I’ve had survivors say to me that “I’d been drinking that night, so they won’t see me as a credible witness” or that they let the guy into their apartment and so it’s not going to be a case that is going to be able to be followed through by the crown. There’s a lot of reasons why women/survivors don’t report. And the other side, men don’t report because of sexism, people don’t believe them either for different reasons. How could a sexual assault happen to a male? That’s kind of a social aspect to it and other reasons why people don’t report is because inside of that culture, maybe they told someone like a family member or friend questions them and back to that rape culture piece ‘well, why did you go there?,’ ‘why did you wear that?’, ‘are you sure that it happened?’ And so they probably don’t want to ever tell anybody again because of that first initial contact didn’t yield anything that was supportive and they weren’t believed. So, they don’t think that the system in turn will believe them.
Outside of Old City Hall, Humber News reporters interview Jennifer Leigh O’Neil about the Jian Ghomeshi trial and her own story.