Wednesday, November 4, 1998

Beverly Bain

p. A19.

Jane Doe deserves praise, not attack

It appears to be official. As of last weekend, most major media have decided that Jane Doe, who for a few month was their darling, had now become the bad rape victim. The attacks range from weepy to vitriolic, but all stem from a grossly distorted misquote taken from her standing-room lecture, delivered to Kitchener business and community members during the YWCA's recent week without violence campaign.

Contrary to media reports, editorials, columns, call-ins and broadcasts, Jane Doe did not tell women not to report rape. She provided factual information on the state of the legal system designed to inform women of the realities they will face if they choose to report. She provided strategies for change that will encourage women to enter a system that is presently experienced by many as a "second assault."

She is not alone. As a feminist and an activist in the anti-violence movement for the past 15 years and one who has accompanied raped women throughout the legal process, I know that the system is an unsafe place for them to be. Many advise women not to report unless they are prepared for additional trauma. Unless they are prepared for horrifying and humiliating treatment from police, judges, lawyers, and medical/psychological professionals. Unless they are prepared for the reality that only 4 per cent of sexual assault charges result in convictions. Within the system, police and crown attorneys advise women not to file or drop charges on a daily basis because of their reading of evidence. Jane Doe's lecture echoed these realities. Hysterical media efforts to unmask, silence and demonize her contribute to the climate that prevents women from reporting. A climate where only one in 10 who have crimes of sexual violence committed against them, choose to call police.

Jane Doe stepped outside of the social construction we place on raped women. She fought back politically. And she won. We would like that to be presented in a neat, tidy package and put away and forgotten. But rape and sexual assault are complex issues that require complex and intelligent solutions and strategies that do not lend themselves to sound bites and sermons. The current media backlash against her and the feminist movement, are evidence that we are not prepared to discuss the changes that are required to encourage women to come forward.

Following the Jane Doe victory, city council voted to conduct a social audit that would examine the myriad of recommendations and proposals that have come down from inquests, courtrooms and inquiries, regarding police protocol in the investigation of the crimes of sexual assault. This will include the recommendations following the inquest into the murder of Arlene May and the scathing report from Judge Archie Campbell regarding the investigation of Paul Bernado. That process has begun but it, too, excludes the voice and experience of women who have experienced the system.

It requires enormous courage to report rape and women who have done so and continue to do so must be admired and supported. However, courage is about resistance and many women who choose not to report rape and other forms of violence are resisting further trauma and degradation from a system that has yet to come to grips with how it treats women who have been violated. Women who live in poverty, black, First Nations, immigrant women, sex trade workers, and psychiatrized women have additional reasons to resist. They know that gender discrimination is not the only oppressive behaviour that permeates our courts.

Let it be clear. Let us reframe the debate in order to move forward so as to address and end this most horrendous of our crimes. Men rape not because women do not report. Men rape because they can. There is little if any penalty for the crime and it is the woman involved who will have to defend herself.

Jane Doe reported anyway and look what we have done.

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

Created: February 15, 1999
Last modified: February 15, 1999

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