Thirty-six years ago, on a snow-dusted late autumn day, I was raped. Back in early 1984, when I attended the trial of the man that raped me, the #metoo movement hadn’t yet mobilized to bring awareness to the fact that the victim and the witness were one and the same, that regardless of the circumstances, taking advantage of a person is always criminal.
The rape hadn’t been a brutal one. In fact, I had gone willingly to the site at which I would be forced at knife point to undress and then have sex with a man who wasn’t a stranger. I had gone with him to buy some cocaine, something I was familiar to because I had for almost a year been working as a stripper in a club on the upper end of St. Laurent Blvd., and had been taking various kinds of drugs for several years. The boyfriend that I had at the time was a deadbeat and verbally abusive (something I was fairly used to from being raised with parents who were also free with that sort of thing), and together we consumed mostly hash on a daily basis, but we also sometimes did coke. The stripping supported the both of us, since we had both quit college and moved out into an apartment together, and neither one of us could be considered gainfully employable. For a while I had tried to find other jobs, but no one would hire me because I didn’t have any experience. We were two nineteen year olds, without a clue.
Before all of this, I could tell you that I grew up in an at times volatile home, that my father had committed incest with a sibling before I could understand what had torn apart our family dynamic, that I was molested by a neighbourhood teenager when I was four, and again by my sibling’s spouse when I was nine.
To say that I had a healthy attachment style or that my relationship to sex was normal would be a lie, but at the time I didn’t know these things. I just kept on going, trying to figure out how to go about things for myself because there wasn’t a reliable source to provide me with a way that I could function in a healthy manner in the world. No one spoke of these things; we just learned to live with them.
At the time I am sure PTSD didn’t exist in the public lexicon. I had two, maybe three counselling sessions after the rape. They did not address the long history of what had come before that had perhaps contributed to the trauma that led me to pull out my hair until a part of my scalp had almost gone bald and was tender to the touch. My therapist showed me a way, via hypnotherapy, to calm the impulse to pull my hair out, but had never addressed the root cause.
I initially didn’t want to press charges. It drags out into public the very things we hold the most private, our body and how we choose (or in this case not) to share it. It makes public the parts of ourselves that we are already ashamed of. My boyfriend insisted that if I had really gotten raped rather than just cheated on him, then I should report it. So I did, three days later. For good measure, after I came home that night, he insisted on reclaiming possession of me. When I went to the doctor three days later, we discovered that my rapist had now given the both of us a parting gift: gonorrhoea.
My rapist was not charged with rape, in the end. He stole my wallet, my belongings, and sold them. He had my address book and was calling females listed in it to see if he could lure them into a meeting – at least until he got caught, at which point they became evidence. He was in possession of an illegal weapon. Those were the charges that we laid against him, for which, by the time the trial was over, he had most likely already done the time for.
Years later I googled his name and found that he had become rather notorious. Some of the articles were in relation to a trial for murder that he was a witness on around the same time as the trial he was facing for my rape. Years after that 1984 trial it would come out that he had perjured himself, according to him, under duress by the officers. To my mind, the charges against him for rape were reduced because he had testified at that murder trial. The man who had been convicted spent decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit based on this false testimony.
I discovered that he was in the news again in 2001, as a result of being tried for another rape. What made it news-worthy was that he was acting in his own defence and had subjected the victim of the crime to two days of questioning. After discovering that the original judge had been biased (due to a conversation he had had with the prosecuting lawyer that had recorded him speaking to the penalty prior to the trial), the case had to be retried with a new judge. It made it into the history books as a case that would shift the laws required of witnesses, because the poor woman who was the victim refused to subject herself to cross-examination once more, and would have been in contempt of court had the testimony from the previous trial not been deemed admissible.
Today I read that the man who was falsely convicted of murder has been granted restitution by the courts. Our legal system is supposed to provide a way to keep citizens safe from repeat offenders who are harmful to society. My rapist is such an offender. He was a career criminal, and felt that he could take whatever he wanted, whether a piece of stolen goods, money from the sale of drugs, or the use of a body that would otherwise not willingly have complied to his demand of it.
He is apparently deceased today (according to one of the articles), but the harm he has done to so many is indisputable. He is just one of many such people who know how to work the system, to slip through the cracks of the law.
Before people who rape people are stopped before they can do more harm, we need to view the crime as one that is reprehensible. This isn’t about a lover’s spat gone wrong. It isn’t about wearing too short a skirt, or in my case nothing at all at a job that I was doing. It is about power and humiliation, it is about taking something from someone that can never be replaced, it is about leaving those of us who have had those things taken from us in a perpetual state of recovery from trauma. Where is our restitution, for crimes we never committed?