“Come over tonight, I want to tie you up”.
His text hit with the full force of a closed fist. My stomach churned and I felt a wave of fury, immense sadness and fear wash over me. A text, from him. From the man who had assaulted me the night before. The man who had pinned me down, telling me “You like it” when I raised my voice in a panicked, “You’re hurting me!”
Against all logic, I returned his text the next morning with flirtatious banter. And this: “Sorry – was asleep.”
SORRY. I’m sorry. Me. I’m sorry. Please accept my humblest of fucking apologies.
And it was a closed fist of fury, sadness and fear that struck me this week when Jane Doe #1 and Lucy Decoutere took the stand to testify in the sexual assault case against Jian Ghomeshi.
After the cathartic national conversation initiated by Ghomeshi’s firing from the CBC in late 2014, we’re backsliding into the tired but convincing platitudes that heap the blame of sexual assault at women’s feet. At issue – at least according to the news outlets: both Jane Doe #1 and Lucy DeCoutere kept in touch with Ghomeshi after their assaults.
Side note: Can we talk about how weird these drawings are?
Torn apart by Ghomeshi’s lawyer Marie Heinen in two brutal cross-examinations, it almost appears that it is Lucy DeCoutere and Jane Doe # 1 who are on trial. The tone in media coverage, on social media and in polite conversation is shifting: maybe these two women are, after all, attention-seeking fame-whores out for their fifteen minutes (right – because the women who went public with their identity to denounce Ghomeshi – DeCoutere, an accomplished actress and Canadian Forces pilot and Reva Seth, an accomplished Toronto lawyer – couldn’t possibly be any more successful than Ghomeshi). Maybe they were, after all, ‘jilted lovers’.
Maybe Jian didn’t do it.
When the victims were first disbelieved in the very early hours of the aftermath of Ghomeshi’s firing, we wondered out loud why none of these women had ever been to the police. Tsk, tsk, women – if you really had been assaulted, why had it taken so long for you to come forward? And for that matter, why didn’t you go to police?
At least we have Tumblr to make us laugh about these things.
It was #BeenRapedNeverReported that called us to order, chipping away at our ignorance with testimony from thousands of women around the world explaining why they hadn’t reported their attacks. A constructive conversation ensued.
But now, a regression to a state of affairs where Jane Doe #1 and Lucy DeCoutere’s credibility hinges on hair extensions, bikini pics and late-night emails. It notably hinges on a “fawning” love letter from DeCoutere, the harshest indictment of her post-assault behaviour.
“I love your hands”, she wrote.
“I feel like this letter has got a weirdly apologetic tone, like I’ve done something wrong”, DeCoutere testified. The last line, she says, “is me pointing love to the very thing that he used to hurt me”.
DeCoutere – as she stated many times – tried to “normalize something that was so strange,” and when she sought him out a year after the assault, it was so that the inevitable run-in would be conducted on her terms. Whether her methods leave some of us scratching our heads does not mean that they are not entirely legitimate ways in which victims of violence occasionally react.
Flash forward to Chrismas night, a few weeks after my own assault. My phone pinged, and giggling, high off bubbly champagne fumes and family time, I peered down at my phone. “Hey, it’s me – I miss you. Merry Christmas. Are you around? I want to see you before I go to Florida.”
Fury. Sadness. Fear.
Bumbling and nervous, I replied with my oh so witty banter, joking. Badumbum.
Je suis Lucy. And I am Jane Doe #1.
But Lucy, Jane and I are not alone. In a post for Chatelaine, author Sarah Boesveld reminds us that Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who carried her mattress around campus to protest her rapist’s presence at the school, and Andrea Constand, the woman who cracked the Bill Cosby case open, both maintained contact with their aggressors.
Nicole Pietsch, co-ordinator of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, writes, “some survivors will maintain contact – reasons can include being uncertain about whether the violent incident was in fact violence, wishing to improve the relationship, feeling responsible for improving the relationship, or seeking clarification or explanation for the behaviour”.
“Violence against women is not about the behaviour of the women,” DeCoutere’s lawyer Gillian Hnatiw reminded us on Friday. “It is not about how they cope with an assault or the details they commit to memory in the aftermath. (…) It’s not about whether [victims of violence] see their abusers again or send flowers, any more than it is about what they wear or how much they had to drink.”
Canadian women: Not staying quiet.
So what did I want from my aggressor when I flirted, texted and made nice? A boyfriend? Sex? Love? Try none of the above. I wanted to tell myself that my world was whole, my body safe, my mind intact. That I have nothing to fear.
We believed Lucy once. Nothing has changed – DeCoutere was still assaulted and she never consented to the violence. And she is not the one whose behaviour is on trial. Ghomeshi’s is.
I believed Lucy then. And I believe Lucy now.
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