Another celebrity has been acquitted of sexual assault charges because the female complainants did not hold up in court as credible witnesses. I was neither a witness to the alleged occurrences, nor present for the court proceedings, and therefore, cannot comment on whether or not justice was indeed served. On a personal level, however; I have to confess that I am deeply troubled by the case.
I am reminded of a younger me, fifteen, returning to my sister’s apartment after a night of repeated sexual assaults and confinement at the hands of male twice my age. Still trembling from the shock and terror (I wasn’t sure whether I’d live or die at the end of it) I was met by members of the police force, who took my statement, acknowledged that they knew the perpetrator, admitted this was his typical m.o., and advised me that the case would not stand up in court as I had been drinking under age and was wearing provocative clothing – ie., the standard bell-bottom jeans and halter top of the era. They put me on a bus for home, and told my parents that I had spent the night with a man. Unable to speak up for myself in face of the wrath that followed, I buried the trauma for many years.
Perhaps that’s why I never said anything when my first boss, a few months later, locked me in the storage room of the department store where I was working part-time and made sexual advances.
Nor did I speak up when my eleventh grade math teacher followed me to a bar one night, and cornered me, saying that I owed him for all the classes I had skipped and he hadn’t reported.
At twenty, working my first corporate job, I cried myself to sleep night after night after enduring endless sexual harassment on the job. Only one of three women in the department, and the youngest, the males would parade past my desk every morning, saying they were “just looking for high beams” or “wondering if I got my plumbing checked last night.” When, after six months of enduring this behaviour, I was told during a job evaluation that I would only qualify for a raise if I “put out”, I did take it to a higher ranked manager, only to be told that I should reconsider the offer. I updated my resume and moved on.
I didn’t report it when a co-worker of my husband’s called me with obscene messages, indicating he was stalking me.
I didn’t report it, when in an attempt to better my education, I went back to university, and was stalked and harassed by one of my professors.
I didn’t report it, when a spurned lover turned suddenly ugly.
I had learned that being a woman means that I am always in a position of vulnerability, and therefore, it is somehow my fault if another human being shows me disrespect. I have learned that women blaming men for sexually inappropriate behaviour are examined first for personal propriety before being taken seriously, and I know that none of us are faultless when scrutinized under a microscope.
When this recent case first went public, something amazing happened – women started to speak up. Thousands of women, just like me, revealed countless incidents that they had never reported. It felt empowering.
Every time a woman stands up against sexual assault, I applaud. I have hope.
I do not want my children, or my children’s children to have to suffer the humiliation and condemnation that my generation of women have known.
This case ended in a an acquittal, and I hope that has not dampened spirits.
Let’s not lose the momentum sisters! If we are ever going to end injustice, we need a voice.