I am thankful to Mandi Gray. It takes immense bravery to report sexual assault and endure an 18-month trial. Especially when confronting a system that regularly fails women.
For this reason, I cheered inside when I saw the front page of a Toronto newspaper's story about the verdict. It read: "It does not matter if the victim was drinking, out at night alone, sexually exploited, on a date with the perpetrator, or how the victim was dressed. No one asks to be raped." That last sentence was written in red.
When I looked below the fold and saw that the quote came from an Ontario Court Judge - I was thrilled. It was Justice Marvin Zucker who spoke those words in his 179 paged verdict finding Mustafa Ururyar guilty of raping Gray, a fellow PhD student at York University.
A guilty verdict is rare. For every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 33 are reported, 12 result in charges, only six are prosecuted and only three lead to a conviction. The recent Ghomeshi cases serve as a painfully fresh reminder that there are often no consequences for the men who continue to assault women.
We have a system that was built broken and does not support survivors of sexual assault.
Gray's statement re-iterated this point. "I am tired of people talking to me like I won some sort of rape lottery because the legal system did what it is supposed to," she wrote.
As was pointed out on Twitter, I love that Gray began her statement by acknowledging her privilege -heterosexual, white and educated. Indigenous women and racialized women rarely see justice. As I write, there is an inquiry taking place into the actions of an Alberta Judge, Robin Camp, who once asked a complainant, a 19-year-old indigenous woman who was homeless at the time of the sexual assault, "Why couldn't you just keep your knees together?" Shocking.
We have a system that was built broken and does not support survivors of sexual assault. We have a system where a woman's (the complainant's) credibility and reputation is put on trial as much or more than the defendant's. We have a system where women are forced to endure cross-examination by the defence that may be grounded in stereotypes and rape myths. We have a system where far too many women do not have lawyers in their corner to help them prepare, give legal advice and intervene when Charter rights guaranteed by the Supreme Court of Canada are ignored. It should not be this way.
With this context in mind, Justice Zucker's verdict is equally significant. "The myths of rape should be dispelled once and for all," he said - and he is right. This is what so many have been fighting for, for so long. This is how the system should work. The focus should never be on what she was wearing - or drinking - or doing, her lifestyle and the nature of her relationships. It should be on consent and the specific charge at hand.
At a time when critically important conversations about sexual violence are happening through on-line campaigns like #beenrapedneverreported and #webelievesurvivors, Mandi Gray and Justice Zucker's words resonate. Let us continue to fight for justice for all sexual assault survivors. A better way must be possible.
Etana Cain is the Senior Advocacy and Communications Officer at YWCA Toronto.
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