Thursday, July 9, 1998

Linda Williamson

p. 15 Comment.

'Sorry' just isn't good enough

If future civilizations judge us by press clippings, the past seven days might eventually be seen as a watershed for women. It's been quite a week. Apologies, promises to do better, demands for inquiries. Good intentions are everywhere.

Defense Minister Art Eggleton says once and for all (again) there will be zero tolerance of sexual assault in the military. The province vows to implement all of the 200-odd recommendations of the landmark inquest into the murder of domestic abuse victim Arlene May. And Jane Doe, the tireless Toronto woman who refused to accept her lot as a rape victim, wins $200,000 in a lawsuit that proved, the judge said, police used her as "bait" to catch a serial rapist.

So much action demands a reaction. What does it all mean? Well, what women everywhere wish it meant is that the jerks, brutes and perverts would finally leave us alone.

Alas, instead, we get political promises and more axe-grinding than you see at a lumberjack competition.

Let 's focus on the Jane Doe case, which breaks the most new ground. This is a case, remember, where a woman survives the worst type of rape imaginable -- by a stranger, at knifepoint, in her own home. She then finds out police knew the rapist was in her neighborhood -- preying on the dark-haired women just like her, breaking in through balconies just like hers -- and were waiting for him to strike again.

The story is very specific, the nadir of bad police judgement. They screwed up. For that, Doe richly deserves compensation, though money hardly makes up for what she suffered. An apology from police would be nice. But beyond that, the interpretations of this judgement border on looniness.

First there's the "slippery slope" argument, which has created strange bedfellows, notably National Action Committee on the Status of Women prez Joan Grant- Cummings and Toronto police services board chair Norm Gardner. Both say the judgement opens the door to all sorts of other people suing police. Grant-Cummings hails the potential onslaught of suits for homophobia, racist, "ableist" or "ageist" police behavior, Gardner rightly fears the same thing.

But let's get a grip here. The facts of the case are unique. Comparing it to a human rights beef like age discrimination is just insulting. And Doe's ordeal is no get-rich-quick scheme.

Thinking has changed

Then there's the "that was then, this is now" view. It's true, rape investigations have changed dramatically in the past 20 years (thankfully, women are no longer grilled about penetration). Police have made great strides, both in catching rapists and in aiding victims. Still, they're often slow to warn the community -- in some jurisdictions it takes days before they warn about a rapist on the loose.

Their justification is usually that they haven't had time to properly interview the victim (translation: we're not sure if she's telling the truth). These days, people are warned about everything -- don't imitate stunt drivers in a TV ad, don't fall prey to the latest bank-in-spector scam. Yet many cops still don't get that it never hurts to warn women about a rape.

Besides, in Jane Doe's case, as in the vast majority, that smelly old red herring -- the lying victim -- doesn't exist. There are no grey areas. This is no he-said, she said. This is rape pure and vicious, the kind that can't be softened with the label "sexual assault."

Unfortunately, this sad fact is being trivialized by those who take an activist interpretation of this decision. Like the Toronto councillors who now want an audit of police handling of sexual assaults.

Sorry, but this reeks of political opportunism. C'mon, people. Jane Doe has been fighting this battle for 12 years -- you're just wondering if there's a problem now? All of a sudden you want to review every sex assault study since 1982? This never crossed your minds before?

Better you should focus on the present reality -- described by Judge Jane MacFarland in her ruling as "the general pervasive threat of male violence" which governs every women's behavior.

MacFarland's words have been decried as "feminist dogma," but they ring true for any woman who's ever walked a dark street, looking over her shoulder. (Forget dogma, that's when you need a rottweiler).

What good is a police audit or mea culpa to those women -- ie., any of us? Those who care about helping women change that reality should be fretting (or cheering) about Jane Doe coming forward and concentrate on new ways to work with police to ensure others don't suffer her fate.

"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