Monday, March 28, 2016

Running lessons: Reflecting on the Ghomeshi trial and hoping for change

It was a pretty good week of training. I was too tired after my long run last weekend to tackle hills on Tuesday evening but I did them Wednesday instead. My long slow run on Saturday was a bit longer than planned - 26k - but felt easier than last week's 23k - partly because it was much less windy and I fueled properly before and during, and partly because I had plenty to think about for the three hours it took me to cover the distance.

I postponed yesterday's 8k until today on account of Easter and birthday celebrations for Husband (including a walk on Risser's Beach and several delicious meals), and it too went well, though my legs were still a bit tired from Saturday.

The one run I missed was the 6k tempo run I had planned for Thursday night or Friday. We got to the country too late to run on Thursday and I spent Friday recovering from a poor night's sleep and miserable headache that originated with the release of the decision in Jian Ghomeshi's first trial. The outcome was expected but it was still painful to witness such an obvious miscarriage of justice, and I spent many hours on-line on Friday discussing the case with friends and exchanging theories about what went wrong.

I plan to write a more in-depth post about the case at some point but I need to do more reading and thinking first. Until then, here are links to some of the articles and commentary I found helpful this weekend - either because they articulate the anger and frustration I'm feeling, or because they offer useful assessments of the legal tools we currently have for responding to sexual assault and suggest alternatives that might work better.

Though I'm still figuring out what I think needs to change to avoid similar outcomes in future, there are a few things I want to put on the record immediately. The first is that I believe Lucy DeCoutere and the other complainants told the truth when they testified Ghomeshi assaulted them. I believe it because I understand how varied women's reactions to sexual assault can be, and how destabilizing and confusing it is to deal with a narcissist. In addition, their evidence is entirely consistent with the accounts of his behaviour others have shared in newspaper articles and on-line over the past few months. It seems clear the man is a violent, narcissistic predator who should have faced justice much sooner and it's infuriating that our system, thus far at least, has utterly failed to hold him accountable.

The second thing I want to highlight is how prevalent sexual violence and harassment are in women's lives - even in a country like Canada, where women's human rights are (theoretically, at least) reasonably well protected. On Friday, I posted this on Facebook:
I've spent most of today in discussions with FB friends regarding the Ghomeshi trial. I hope that the anger and frustration so many of us feel is the beginning of change. I'll be writing out my thoughts on all this soon but first I want to delve more deeply into the current state of the law and what changes might make the system better in terms of both getting to the truth and protecting witnesses/victims.
In the meantime, I find myself reflecting on my own experiences of sexual harassment and assault and how little I've talked about them - even with my closest friends. One of the most frightening happened many years ago when I was traveling in Europe. I was staying at the home of a friend of a friend and awoke to find a very drunk man I barely knew crawling into bed with me. When I told him he wasn't welcome so he should go, he began trying to undress me and insisted he was going to have sex with me. Fortunately, he was so drunk he passed out before he managed to hurt me, but I spent the rest of that long night locked in a cold bathroom terrified he was going to wake up and come looking for me. I left the house first thing the next morning, but avoided making a scene because he was a friend of a friend.

I wonder how many of my facebook friends and family have had similar experiences. Perhaps we all need to start talking more about them so that, as a society, we can begin to understand just how common they are, how much time women spend worrying about whether they are in situations where they might be assaulted and whether they would be blamed if they were. Personally, I think of it every time I go running alone on a trail - even in daylight - or work late at the office or walk home by myself after dark.
I shouldn't have to think about it. None of us should.
Over the next few hours, a dozen or more friends and family responded to the post publicly and privately, sharing their own stories and those of people they love. The stories were both totally gut-wrenching and utterly banal since many women I know could share similar stories.

As women, we experience threats, harassment and violence so often we barely notice it - though it influences many of the decisions we make each day. Should I stay late at the office if it means walking home in the dark? Should I go running by myself - even in daylight? Do I dare disagree with my partner/boss/coworker?  Can I trust the new cleaner working in my building? Why and what did those young men yell at me as they drove by in a car? Will this post on Ghomeshi attract trolls and, if so, how threatening will they be?

Coupled with the awareness that we're at risk is the certain knowledge that, if we're assaulted, many of the people around us - even those who love us - will judge us as having been complicit in some way - by, for example, not being careful enough, being in the wrong place, dressing inappropriately or otherwise "asking for it", and/or not responding to the assault like a perfect victim.

In my view, the intent and the effect of living with threats and victim blaming is to make women more compliant with society's (predominantly men's) desires and expectation since we're reminded constantly that we won't be valued/respected/tolerated/protected if we aren't "good girls" and respond in ways we're expected to respond. It helps to ensure we're kept firmly in those places men want us to be.

The last observation I'll make for now is something that came to me while I was running 26k on Saturday and was reinforced by the sermon we heard on Easter morning - that is, that there can be a silver lining to the whole putrid mess if it motivates more of us to get involved in ending sexism and violence against women in this country. Also, it's tremendously encouraging that so many men are participating in the discussion of the case and where we go from here in sensitive and helpful ways - as angry and determined as we women are to change things for the better. Maybe - just maybe - there's reason to hope some good can come from all this.

BTW, the photo at the top of this post is the view from my chair this afternoon. Here's another - because peaceful places and sleeping cats are good for ruffled spirits.

Happy running and writing, friends.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think you can consent to being assaulted. It doesn't matter if it's in a bedroom or in a hockey rink or anywhere else. If you get your jollies by assaulting, or even playing at assaulting another person, there's a big problem. The thrill seems to make it as real as possible, which means activities that are right up to the line, and given how strong our sexual urges can be, well over the line. It's all very well to say that people shouldn't get their jollies this way, but they do. I certainly would not want to be the judge in a case where people thought they had an agreement about where the line was, and as the saying goes, it turned out not to be so. The current system where the plaintiff is the one one trial, with her (usually it's a her) past behaviours used as "evidence" for the defendant to get declared innocent is reprehensible. Unfortunately, that doesn't help me or anyone else move forward on fairly adjudicating these kind of cases.