Two years before I entered high school, I was the victim of a violent rape that took place a mere few kilometres from the football locker room I was now standing in. From the moment of that assault, I chose to disappear, fractured into different people -- the person I was afraid to let you see, the person I wanted you to see, and the young man who struggled with that internal turmoil every day for the next 30 years. I've heard that living as a survivor of rape is like living with a secret tumor. It metastasizes in the dark hollows of shame, and it continues to destabilize and corrupt every bond and every relationship in a survivor's life.
Whether we're talking about sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, or date rape, it's important we don't get caught up in the semantics or the nuances of the language we choose. When I read the news stories about the accusations against Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi, I shudder at the fact that for many of us, our first reaction is to dismiss, or question, the assertions brought forth by the "alleged" victims who after years of isolation and devastation, have finally arrived at a place where they feel they can speak out.
As a scared child, I ran away from the abuse around me, and as an adult, I used drugs and alcohol to run away from the trauma inside me. But here's the interesting part -- shortly after I got clean and sober, I actually took up the sport of running. This fall, I will be running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon three times in the same day (126.6 km), not as a fundraiser, but simply to show others how resilient we are, even after the trauma of sexual violence. But most importantly, I hope that my campaign will build upon the momentum we are starting to see in the media about the prevalence of sexual violence and the need to address the countless lives that lay in its wake.
My name is Jean-Paul, and I am in treatment for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Hearing me say that usually elicits one of two responses in people -- abject pity or recoiling fear. I want you to know that I understand where you're coming from, but allow me a few minutes to see if we can change this dialogue.
To call what happened to me "rape" would be dishonest and disrespectful to survivors of rape. I was, however, a prime candidate for rape twice in my life, and escaped by the skin of my teeth both times. Our society seems to think it's rape or bust: minor sexual assaults are tragically unreported, and this is why I'm writing this piece: I want to change that. If every woman who's been a victim tells her story, we can start to stitch together a narrative of sexual violence, the understanding of which is the first step towards eradicating it. I know it's difficult to tell people about experiences where you weren't in control, but think of it this way: by speaking about your experiences, you're giving a voice to other victims, past, present and future.
Survivors of sexual assault experience a great deal of shame and guilt, particularly young women, as they internalize the victim-blaming messages conveyed by the media. This often keeps them from seeking the support they so desperately need. This International Women's Day, we need to encourage more initiatives that are centred on girls and young women. We need to commit to eliminating barriers to accessing support for survivors of sexual violence. And we need to support projects that deconstruct and challenge rape culture. But most importantly, we must listen and believe young women when they speak.
Of the six South Asians I entrusted with this information, four have had similar sexually abusive experiences. This problem needs to be discussed more aggressively within the South Asian community. Parents need to be aware that our community is not immune from sexual predators. They come in the form of uncles, fathers, brothers, and friends. More often than not, it's someone you know.
If I look at a snapshot of my life 18 years ago, I see a young man ravaged by a spiraling alcohol and drug addiction, a man fractured in spirit desperate to claw his way out of the darkest hell of a deep depression. Shortly after entering a treatment program to deal with my addiction issues, I took my first tentative steps into the world of running. Before I knew it, I had found my "people." I had stumbled upon my "tribe."
"Good luck with the little drama queen," they say when they find out I'm expecting a girl. It seems we gals have a rep right out of the womb -- as dramatic, irrational whack-jobs. So, when one of us is assaulted and comes forward, many people instantly think: oh she's exaggerating, seeking attention or revenge or a payday. It's a pattern, after all.
This letter was written by my husband and he has agreed to let me share it here. I hope it inspires you as much as it inspires me. One of the first girls I dated had been raped by a past boyfriend. She went to court and wasn't able to prove that he did anything they hadn't consented to, so he wasn't punished. At the time, she lived in a small town and the gossip forced her family to move away. Before her, I don't think I was really that aware of rape or consent. I'm sure that I'd had the "no means no" conversation in health class but until her it didn't really mean that much to me.
I feel guilty in some weird way for entering into this debate that has been eye-opening for so many people, as it sheds light on how many female victims of sexual assault are among us. As a man, and as a survivor of rape myself, I worry that adding my voice to this might in some way usurp or direct the conversation away from highlighting the abuse of women in our society. But part of me thinks that this shouldn't be a debate about men or women, but rather, it should be about creating a culture in which stepping forward and disclosing sexual assault becomes a much more supportive and empowering experience.
For many years, I have wondered what might be the limit of our tolerance for sexual freedoms. I have no doubt that that tolerance ends when those sexual freedoms infringe on the dominion, to use Ghomeshi's word, of one's own body. Given how difficult it is to determine when that is the case, or is not the case, however, I suspect we will be hearing many more stories of "poor persecuted perverts."
As a survivor of sexual assault and an advocate for people who have been assaulted, I'm already shaking at how I feel this, and the discourse around it, is going to play out. As with any public or private allegations of sexual assault, it's important to remember these things when talking about Jian Ghomeshi in the coming weeks.
My friend and I were telling her boyfriend a few weeks ago about being harassed in places like the grocery store, the mall, on the street, in the bank, at a restaurant, etc. etc. etc. and he was horrified. This is because he is a good person who's never thought about doing that to another person. Then I asked, "Well, what do you do when your friend catcalls someone?" and he said he gets very embarrassed. But he didn't tell the guy to stop.
I'm sorry, I didn't realize that a person required a previous criminal record in order to receive adequate sentencing for years of abuse and rape of a minor. This story has received almost no attention. A friend of mine in Halifax tried to contact the national media, but they just took her name and number and said they would call her back. They never called her back. They either just weren't interested or else felt that it was too contentious -- but given the high-profile treatment other rape cases have received in the media, the latter doesn't seem very likely, does it?
If a woman says "no" to you, you are a rapist. If at any point during sexual contact she says "no," you are a rapist. If the woman expresses a desire for you to stop in any way, including words such as "this is not OK," you are a rapist. If the woman is too far under the influence to verbally give consent to a sexual act, you are a rapist. There is no colour in these rules. These are the black and the white.
While some women would no doubt make plenty of money by running escort services or choosing a few well-paying clients, the majority of those in prostitution do not have that kind of relative bargaining power. And considering that we share a border with the U.S., not only will decriminalization lead to increased demand from Canadian citizens, but also from our southern neighbours.
With every day that passes, the Nigerian schoolgirls could be moving further into dangerous territory of all kinds. Exploitation like the kinds they may be facing can have intensely disturbing effects on a child's social, emotional cognitive and spiritual well-being -- as well as their long-term development.
Today marks one year since I last saw my daughter Rehtaeh alive. The last time we spoke, the last good bye, and the last "I love you." She got out of my car and walked into her mom's house. On the way home she asked if we could stop at McDonald's. How I wish we did, one last time. Rae passed away April 7, 2013. It's been a year-long nightmare but I try to keep hold of myself. Now that I'm outspoken about our daughter's struggles I've unfortunately attracted the attention of the worst society has to offer. They send messages reminding me Rehtaeh is "worm food," she's dead because I failed as a father. But it's mainly through talking that I've learned the difference Rehtaeh made and the impact she's had on others.