Tuesday, September 16, 1997

Rosie DiManno

p. B4.

Tiny details chill as woman relives knifepoint rape

IT'S ODD, how we can remember the banalities of life, the tiny minutiae that radiate outwards from the throbbing core of a traumatic event. Even when, sometimes, the details of the trauma itself are unrecoverable.

Jane Doe does not know, to this day, if the 12-inch butcher knife that her rapist held against her throat in the early hours of Aug. 24, 1986, came out of her own cutlery drawer. Perhaps it was one of those spare kitchen utensils her mother was always pressing on her, when she went home to visit. Perhaps the rapist -- the same man who had already sexually assaulted four other women in downtown Toronto -- had brought the knife with him.

It was never recovered.

But Jane Doe can recall, as she told a Toronto courtroom yesterday, the warm drip-drip of her rapist's sweat, falling against her bare skin, as he repeatedly penetrated her.

In relating this to her lawyer, Sean Dewart, Jane Doe's left hand fluttered to her throat, and she rubbed her fingers against the hollow of her neck, as if trying to remove the acidic stain of such an intimate violation.

She has a sharp, fox face, keenly expressive, her eyes widening with the effort of her own attempts to remember, her voice a sibilant whisper, but emphatic.

Despite her tiny, fragile appearance, she is battle-hardened. And she has not lost her humour, as she proved yesterday with the occasional ironic observation.

Jane Doe has told this story so many times in the 11 years since she was raped as she fought for, and won, the right to sue police for negligence; as she attempts, now, to hold them accountable for not giving her proper warning as a potential target of this particular rapist, given what they knew about his habits and how closely she fit the profile of other victims.

She is the heart of the matter: her account of the "invasive" post-rape procedure a chilling indictment of the system as it existed a decade ago; her recalled conversations with police investigators a shocking example of what her lawyer has called the systemic gender-based discrimination against women that allegedly existed on the force.

It had been, Jane Doe told the court, such an unexceptional day. Though a Saturday, she was working at a demanding job, but had managed to squeeze a few hours of free time to take her 5-year-old niece on a birthday shopping outing.

She returned to work till about 7 p.m., stopped for a slice of pizza and a Coke, picked up a video, went out later in the evening to buy some fruit at the corner store, watched the news on TV, read for a while and fell asleep with the bedside light still turned on.

"I was actually shaken awake. I felt somebody shaking my body. a man had his hand over my mouth, was in my bed and had a knife to my throat."

For about an hour, the rapist subjected her to various sexual acts, all the time asking her questions: How old was she? What did she do for a living? Did she have a boyfriend?

"It's terrifying... it's terrorizing," she told the court. "It contrasted so completely with the violence."

The assailant had some difficulty maintaining an erection, and Jane Doe was seized with conflicting fears, thinking, "if he didn't maintain an erection, he would kill me, that it would be my fault. That contrasted with the fear that if he did ejaculate, at the moment of ejaculation he would plunge the knife into my heart."

When the assailant left, Jane Doe called 911. While she was still on the phone, police arrived in her lobby. Once in her apartment, they wouldn't even allow her to use the washroom, unless she left the door open.

She didn't want medical attention, could not understand why police insisted she submit to a hospital exam if she intended to file a rape complaint, saw no need for the stretcher that ambulance attendants brought to her door. Her neighbours were all huddled out in the corridor by now, she told police. She didn't want to be seen being wheeled out of her apartment.

"I was adamant. I didn't want to leave that way. It was very disempowering."

In the end, they compromised. "I sat on the stretcher, with a sheet over my head."

"Balcony Rapist" case... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: March 6, 1999
Last modified: March 8, 1999

J.D. Jane Doe, c/o Walnet Institute
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710