The news today is full of the results of the trial. All the survivors I know are triggered as shit. All of us, all reliving the sense of powerlessness, the screaming into the void. Ask survivors in your life if they are ok, today. Remember survivors are listening to how you talk about Canada’s former radio star and his acquittal.
There’s this kind of unbelievable part of it all that I can’t wrap my head around, exemplified in a few pieces that are essentially saying, as the judge did, they continued to be involved with him, and did not include their subsequent contact with him in their original testimony, ergo it wasn’t assault.
Look, it used to be the law that men clearly could not rape their wives because somehow being married meant you were always consenting to sex. Clearly, being married doesn’t mean you are the property of a husband and does not mean that you are always interested or available for sex. That seems pretty clear now, yeah?
And yet, women stayed married to husbands, and maybe even kept loving them, maybe sometimes chose to have sex with them again at a different time, while rape happened as part of the marriage. Yes?
In a more personal example: my first partner, who I was in love with (and who continues to be a dear friend 20 years on), who I lost my virginity to, had nonconsensual, coerced, pressurey sex with me many times, that hurt, that I wasn’t ready for, that I didn’t, actually want. I continued loving him. I yelled at him and tried to make him understand it sucked that he kept having sex with me I didn’t want. I told him it was wrong to continuously pressure me for months about ‘letting him’ and tell me things that undermined my trust in my own body’s knowledge. We fought about it. We continued loving each other.
I told him, eventually, that I had actually been very very small in a tiny place inside myself feeling angry and disconnected as we were doing these things, that I’d been not really there while my body was just going along. After I worked through the intense dissociation that accompanied the sex, and did a bunch of emotional work, I think of it as an all in all beautiful experience – we were young and stupid and didn’t know how consent worked and he apologized and worked on it, etc. This is all ancient history, but it matters as an example.
Twenty years later and after lots of healing my thinking on it has not changed in any significant way: it seems easy to comprehend that I both loved him, and was in love with him, and emotionally wanted us to be close and wanted him to be happy, and also, I did not want nor was I ready for things that we did.
It’s been 20 years but in the intervening and much more sex-positive time, I have not gone back and thought, ‘oh, that nonconsensual sex, that I wasn’t into and that thus physically hurt, it was actually consensual’ just because I continued to be close to him afterward, chose to have consensual sex other times, remained his close friend, etc. I did not want those acts at those times. I did want other acts at other times. That’s up to me, no?
This is all clear, right.
So explain to me how it is that continuing to engage with someone, continuing to flirt with them, continuing to have feelings for them, after they do things to you you do not want, means it wasn’t assault? I can go on four dates, I can write love letters, I can say yes on Thursday and no on Friday and yes again on Saturday, and that Friday is still no.
Particularly if you did not have a conversation in advance about quite extreme violent acts such as slapping or choking. That, and that alone, should really be the question.
And given the ways dissociation and power work (do people actually not know how dissociation works?) how is it ‘consent’ if you go along, if you shut off, if you take time – sometimes years – to absorb and understand what has happened to you? Especially when the person in question holds significant power relative to you or in a social space in which your well-being might depend on his continued goodwill? CPTSD is not exactly known for creating precise memories or ‘obvious’ victim behaviour. (To take a little tour through the physiological responses of a survivor, visit here).
Who cares if thirteen years later, the details are not all that clear about what you did after the events in question? Who cares what they did or did not remember about what happened the next day, or the following weeks? It is the moment of the choking and slapping, the moment of biting the neck, the moment of lifting someone up by the neck so they couldn’t breath, that we need to be discussing. They can do whatever they like afterwards. They can take ten years to realize that consent is not gleaned from a love letter or an email, it is created in the moment and it seems perfectly clear that those conversations about what was ok before slapping, choking, biting occurred did. not. happen. So what if it took a while for that to come clear, and so what if details were forgotten.
In discussions online, by two ‘elder stateswomen’ journalists, the ways trauma affects the brain has been shoooed offstage as though irrelevent. I do not understand how one can justify ignoring the large and growing body of evidence that indicates that the many complicated ways people respond after assaults are not evidence of dishonesty but of a functioning central nervous system. The research is fairly new, piling up in the last 8-10 years or so. But that’s no excuse to pretend it doesn’t exist.
PS: all the images that came up were awful so I’ve gone with something nice and relaxing, if vaguely metaphorical, instead. You’re welcome.
More analysis: Round Up of the Best Ghomeshi Articles
I’m also working on a speculative fiction piece: check out Cipher here
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