Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Truth Will Out

There's a big controversy in Canada right now over a well-known CBC radio host and his growing number of alleged sexual assaults. I will not waste one column millimetre in acknowledging him. This one is for his victims.

I was around 12. I was wearing a striped turtleneck and jeans. I had developed breasts early, but I didn't flaunt them, and I was very naive. My mom was visiting in the kitchen, and I wandered into the living room of the home we were visiting to see what was on TV. I sat down on the arm of the chair, and this person I had known all my life reached around me to give me a hug...except his hand didn't stay there-it ended up on my breast. A worker's hand, it was callused and not quite clean...but his fingernails were immaculate. I pushed the hand away, and it returned. I jumped up, and he looked at me and said "Do you blame me. Your breasts are huge."

"Yes", I said and headed to my mom. I told her what happened driving home, but she never confronted or did anything about it. She told me to forget about it because it would cause trouble if I said anything..

 But the thing was, I did blame myself, and it took me years to put the blame where it belonged, on this person who had known me all my life, and with whom I still have the occasional interaction when duty requires it. When he tried to hand a ball to my daughter when she was small, I flew in front of her and told him to leave her alone. No one protected me, but by God, my daughter would be safe from him. She's known since toddlerhood that he is a bad man and to stay away.

I was dry-raped as a teen. What started out as flirtation and kissing progressed to me frantically holding my shorts closed.(they were light blue corduroy)  He was wearing sweatpants, with nothing underneath. He lay on top of me, slamming repeatedly into me. When he stood up, there was a ring of semen. I never said anything because I shouldn't have been there in the first place.

I was date raped in university. I went back to a dorm room and things turned rough. When I said no, he didn't take no for an answer. I shouldn't have been there in the first place.

When I worked in Customs, there was a senior member of management who had  been accused of more than one sexual assault and sexual harassment. He was using the system to his advantage and using appeals process to keep his job until it was time to retire, so if a female officer had to go to his office during a shift, she took a male officer with her, or she went with another female. Under no circumstances did she go by herself. And newbies were warned-don't go up there alone.

There is a video making the social media rounds of a woman in jeans and a t-shirt walking through the streets of New York. More than 100 sexually charged and inappropriate comments were made to her over the 10 hours of film, and all she did was walk. I can tell you as a survivor of the Toronto Transit System commute that I perfected the art of seemingly losing my balance and stepping back in such a way as to land a heel on the top of a groper's foot, between the 2nd and 3rd toe. When full force is applied, it's excruciating, and the groper would hurriedly step back from me. HE couldn't say anything because he had been trying to fondle me, and I could apologize profusely about losing my balance...except I never did. One steely glare and the groper would flee.

When I was working in the postal unit, a guy came in to claim his movies "Busty" and the "Best of Big Busty". When I confiscated them, he suggested I should look into appearing in the next one. My male coworkers laughed and agreed. The only other woman officer left the counter so she wouldn't have to defend me. I was on probation and I needed the job. I kept my mouth shut.

My early encounter had a lasting impact on me. I stopped wearing anything even vaguely revealing or form fitting. I have never worn a bikini again. I covered, camouflaged and hid, because his voice in my head said "you are to blame." I finally had a breast reduction after years of unwanted comments and attention.

 I have nothing but respect and praise for the increasing number of women who are finding their brave and telling their stories. Why is it that it took 9 brave souls before the narrative changed? Why is the first question in an assault often "well, what was she wearing?" ir "What were you doing there?"  Why is there a perpetual implication that the woman somehow brought it on through her actions , her demeanor, or her dress?

It shouldn't matter if a woman is dressed provocatively, is an initial willing participant in an encounter, had a lapse in judgement and went to someone's hotel room, house or dorm room, or ignored the trickle or flood of doubt seeping through her veins and went somewhere she shouldn't have been. No means no. Full stop. Consent can be withdrawn at any point. "I changed my mind." is a valid reason.

I don't know anyone who has experienced sexual assault and remained unchanged. It changes you irrevocably. And yet, we as a society do a very poor job of sheltering and protecting victims. Instead of saying "I believe you." we say "Are you sure? What were you doing there? Oh that's just Bob being Bob." or "What were you wearing."

So to the victms coming forward, I say: "I believe you." "It wasn't your fault." "You're doing the right thing." Because although I wasn't a victim of this particular predator, I have been a victim of ones before, I believe you, and I have from the start. The Truth will Out.