Tuesday, September 16, 1997

Christie Blatchford

p. News 5.

If only we knew then what we know now...

Whatever else, however Jane Doe's $1.2-million lawsuit against Metro Police is resolved, let it be known that this woman is a courageous and admirable creature.

Jane is an exotic smudge of a woman, tiny with russet hair and a charming crooked grin which she indulges at moments of great difficulty, when she probably feels more like crying, which also renders it ironic. There is something bird-like in her movements, like the tilt of her small neat head. Forty-five now, she looks both wonderful and every inch her age.

She took the stand before Madam Justice Jean MacFarland yesterday afternoon to recount the details of the terrifying rape she endured early one Sunday morning in the summer of 1986 and, really, to set the stage for her suit.

Jane was the fifth victim of this particular rapist - the so-called Balcony Rapist, who later pleaded guilty to a series of attacks, Jane's included -- and it is her contention that the police knew enough about the rapist that they should have warned her and other women living in the Church-Wellesley Sts. area that they might be in danger.

That they didn't, Jane's claim alleges, is at least in part because systemic discrimination against women was rife in the department.

This is the part of her case I consider the dog-bites-man bit, which is to say, in 1986, when she was attacked, sexual assault wasn't accorded by most of the world the regard it is now, so why would the police force - any force - have been any different?

There's one line on the general occurrence reports that forms part of the evidence in this case which captures this perfectly. The line calls for information about "Object of attack/motive" and in the reports on the last two Balcony Rapist's attacks, police wrote, "Sexual gratification," which, as most of us now know, is a pretty good precis of what rape is not about. But few of us knew then what we know now, police included, and I'm not sure how fair it is to look back in anger.

That said, Jane spent most of her time yesterday talking about the attack on her. This is the compelling part of her case, because though all rapes are traumatic, hers was also a spooky one.

Jane's identity is protected by court order, but suffice to say, she grew up in a good Roman Catholic family where police were respected. One of the Metro force's best- known officers was a friend of her dad's, and she and her brothers and sisters grew up knowing this man and the others "were doing a dangerous job to keep us safe, and we honored him as such." This upbringing made Jane a good citizen - she's been an active volunteer in various organizations since she was a teen, held her first part-time job at 14, and has always supported herself - but it also rendered her vulnerable to disappointment, I think, from the institutions she was pre-disposed to trust.

On August 23, 1986, Jane took her niece, celebrating her fifth birthday, out for a day downtown of "kid things and birthday things," then took the little girl home and headed to her office; in those days, she had a contract in the arts community, and was at her busiest peak. After a glamorous dinner of pizza and pop, she settled down in front of the tube for a hot Saturday night of watching a video; before bed, she popped up to the local grocery store for some fruit, then hit the sack to read and drift off to sleep, a few lights on for comfort.

Early the next morning she woke up to find herself being shaken; when she struggled to consciousness, she had a man in her bed, his hand over her mouth, a butcher's knife at her throat. The man was wearing a mask of some kind and fashioned one for her, too, out of a pillow case, and from then on, all she could do was hear. She heard him taking off his clothes; heard his voice asking her the sort of social niceties you get at a party (how old she was; did she have a boyfriend; what did she do for a living) which made the violence of his actions, of the rape, that much more terrorizing.

"I was moving between two thoughts," she told a still courtroom yesterday, "between two points of extreme fear" -- that if he couldn't maintain an erection, he would blame her and plunge the knife into her, and that he would maintain an erection and would kill her once he ejaculated.

After an hour, he left, and after she made sure he was gone, Jane did everything right. She phoned 911 to report the attack; she cooperated with police, even when it was embarrassing to her (such as when, just after the rape, she had to use the bathroom and was allowed to only with the door open); she waited at Women's College Hospital to be seen by a doctor; she answered question after question from cop after cop.

For her bravery and her trouble, the friend she called to meet her at the hospital was dissuaded from coming, allegedly by police, and the officer who ended up taking over her case she says warned her she could be charged with interfering with an investigation if, furious about the force's perceived failure to do so, she issued a public warning about the rapist.

What tells the tale about this woman is how, shortly after the rape, she left her apartment. The police wanted her to go out lying on a stretcher, as a proper, even contrite, victim; as shaken as she was, she didn't want that. "I didn't want to leave my home that way," she said yesterday with that smashing grin of hers. The hall was full of curious neighbors; she wanted to walk out under her own steam. Jane eventually compromised, and sat on the stretcher. I would bet that at Metro Police headquarters now, they wish someone had taken that as the instructive lesson in character it was.

"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