The Criminal Justice System Isn’t Designed To Protect Women

Not guilty.

The verdict in the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial hit me viscerally. I wanted to be angry, but I wasn’t. The reactions I read on social media from women I admire and from my friends didn’t seem angry either — just deeply hurt, saddened, tired, and overwhelmingly not surprised.

We knew he wouldn’t be convicted, but it still felt like the criminal justice system had betrayed us. Another affirmation that the law is not on our side; that we live in a country where people are still more comfortable chastising women for getting involved with violent men than we are with holding those men accountable for their own behaviour.

You don’t need to look far into the past, or even outside of Toronto, to find recent examples of reasons women might not put their faith in the law to deal with abusive men. For one, the recent Twitter Harassment Trial verdict had the Justice citing the victims’ choice to defend themselves online against Gregory Alan Elliott’s twisted running commentary on their lives as a reason he couldn’t “know” he was harassing them. Look at all the reporters tripping over themselves to ensure Rob Ford was left with a dignified legacy, glossing over his proud bigotry and history of domestic violence.

Why don’t women report sexual assaults more often? Why would we? As long as men’s reputations are considered equally valuable to woman’s bodies we’ve learned it probably won’t be worth the risk.

If I were sexually assaulted and brutally beaten by a stranger, I believe would report it. I have some hope that under those circumstances the predator would be made to face to consequences of his actions by a court of law. However, I know all too well that is not the most likely scenario in which I would be victimized.

If I were sexually assaulted by an acquaintance — let’s say a Tinder date, after having had a few drinks — I’m not sure that I would trust that the police would consider what happened to me a crime worthy of their attention. I don’t have confidence that a prosecutor would deem the case a potential winner. I couldn’t handle it if the same journalists that sensitively reported my accusations started clamouring for the right to publish compromising photos my rapist wants disseminated to further humiliate me. I don’t need to be subject to a defense attorney trying to convince the public that I deserve what happened to me; that I asked for it. I don’t want to hear the Justice render a verdict that focuses on how my behaviour after being sexually traumatized discredited me, instead of putting the focus on the actions of the accused.

The message this verdict sends to Canadian women is that men with whom we have a personal relationship are free to do whatever they want to us behind closed doors, because unless we have a room full of witnesses, a photographic memory, and behave in the way some judge has arbitrarily decided victims should behave after being violated our abusers will not be held accountable.

Women have their lives on the line, men have their reputations.

In what universe is hinging a sexual assault case on the “credibility” of the victims when the credibility of the accused is never examined a fair trial? Due process is meaningless when the process is what’s broken.

The foxes put themselves in charge of the henhouse, and we’re just supposed to pretend that the system has an equal chance of working in our favour, even though statistics and our lived experiences prove the contrary.

Men decided ’s sexual assault laws. Men are often in charge of enforcing them. Men dictate whether or not we deserve justice. Men are the perpetrators of most sexual assaults and domestic violence. Women are largely the victims. Women have their lives on the line, men have their reputations.

I don’t know how to solve Canada’s ineffectiveness in dealing with violent men, but I know this: 1) The solution has to be driven by women. Nothing will change as long as men get to keep doling out legal pittances that won’t disturb the status quo; 2) I trust the criminal justice system to protect my bodily autonomy as much as I would trust my cats to gently bathe an injured baby bird.

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About Jenn Walker