painting: Jane Eaton Hamilton

The Prelude to Assaults

Jane Eaton Hamilton
Jun 7 · 12 min read

How do womxn know good men from bad?

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted]. I don’t know you very well, but I know this: one night in early 2004, after I’d been awarded a writing prize in Ottawa, you followed me to a side room annexed to the main hall, where I’d gone to get away from the crowds, and while my (then) wife was in the bathroom or off getting another drink, I’m not sure, you put your hand on me. That hand. One of the very hands that is being discussed in court this week. You closed the distance between us and you massaged my shoulder/neck while talking to me about how I needed to relieve the stress of my big win. Eventually my (then) wife returned, you dropped your hand (that hand!), and we smiled politely and “uh-huh’d” while you bashed the Rockies, BC and, in particular, Vancouver.

You didn’t ask me if you could massage me. I guess you assumed you could touch me. The way men, the entitled 50%, have always assumed they could access women’s bodies at will. You were a star, and your status helped me to tamp down my resistance. I don’t know why the hell you picked me, as I had just been on stage thanking my (then) wife; I was obviously queer and out and significantly older. Maybe I was just the only woman alone during that function? I do know that a number of other men, and people elsewhere on the gender spectrum, have previously in my life singled me out for non-respectful interactions. The truth is, I did not step back, Jian Gomeshi, you [redacted], and I excoriate myself for that now. I should value myself more.

I was taught to be polite. I was taught to smile and nod and always, always be friendly. I was told that friendliness could get me out of pinches, even save my life, and indeed, through the years, this mostly proved to be true. Doing what men tell you to do is just a good idea. Not doing what they tell you to do can be disastrous.

Stats for close calls don’t exist, but I wish this weren’t true. Imagine if all the binds we’ve escaped because of our own instinct or intelligence or cunning or even physical strength were documented for everyone to read. Imagine how strong we’d end up looking.

Stats for close calls don’t exist, but what’s a close call? We can’t know in the moment, can we, whether we’re just inside an annoyance, Jian, an irritation, a burr, a circumstance we have to just endure and extricate from when we can, or something more dangerous. We don’t know the end point, Jian, you [redacted]. We can’t know. That’s how you get your power, right? You know your goal, your end-point, and we don’t. We just know the end-points for other women who’ve come before us.

But you guys know, Jian. You guys know. Most of it is pre-meditated, isn’t it, with a dollop of opportunism thrown in for good luck.

Guys know if they’re going to slam someone’s head against a wall, or choke someone out, or rape someone, don’t they? Guys know this. Guys think about it in advance, what their limits are, what her limits will probably be, how far they can push it, how far they can test her, what she’ll go for, what her fear will look like, what her tears will taste like, what her breasts will feel like cupped in your hands or under your teeth. Guys know, Jian.

There was the time I was tripped on the subway in New York so a man could help me back up by my boob. There was the time I woke up on a train through Switzerland with a man on top of me, grunting and making thrusting actions, though I was still fully clothed. There was the time aman followed me around a park in Aix en Province, and I was stupid enough to hide in the women’s washroom, thinking he wouldn’t come in. (He didn’t. I cowered on a toilet for about two hours wondering if it was safe to go out.) There were the times on New York streets where the guy wolf whistling followed me too far and I didn’t know if he was going to trail me to my block, to my brownstone. There were the hundreds of times my breasts were ogled. There was the time when I was about 13 and a man opened his raincoat to me in a Hamilton, ON alley. There was the time a man on the New York subway ran his hand along my crotch. There was the time at a sporting event where I walked up some stairs and four or five men in a row, one with every step, passed me up like a sex commodity between them, groping me. There were the times at parties where some guy slid his hand around the curve of my ass. There were the times my ass was pinched. There was the time on the Montreal subway where a man dropped something so he could pick it up and run his hand from my ankle up under my skirt. There was the time I had a persistent obscene caller. There was the time I had a stalker. There was the time a man on the New York subway grabbed and cranked my nipple. There was the time a man on the school playground gave my sister and me his underpants to use to wrap up the killdeer we thought was injured and then followed us down the path toward our house. There was the time a man who dogged our family on the way to the fireworks and my mother’s fear vibrated inside me.

There was rape.

A guy didn’t want it to be statutory, so he waited until I was 18 and then he raped me. After he raped me, I was not the same in the world again. I was altered. My functioning was not as high as it had been. My confidence was not the same. I had been fractured 1000 times through childhood as I discovered what the world was like for girls and women, how I was lesser and men didn’t care, or they wanted that to smart, and it did smart, like lemon on a cut, and now, by this one man’s callous act, I was severed from myself. I had been moving forward with life, and now I was scuttling sideways, like a crab, my antenna always prickling with distrust.

You were a star, and your status helped me to tamp down my resistance.

We could argue these, their usefulness in attending to the perpetrators of sexual assault. We do argue these. But I am not interested in the perpetrators, largely men who are dull, if wily, and cruel. I remain more interested in victims and survivors. Naturally, I wonder who the harmed would be in our world if men hadn’t hurt them. I see their many on-going creative, kick-ass achievements now. I wonder what heights their achievements might have reached if they could have lived unharmed by casual violence, by serious violence, by fatal violence. I wonder it for every one of us, because no one escapes the system.

Believe the victims.

StatsCan says “…[T]here were … approximately 636,000 self-reported incidents of sexual assault.” Out of 636,000 cases, there are 2347 convictions. We’ve studied how many victims lie, and it’s 2–6% in most studies, 8% at the outlying edges. Let’s say 6% are false reports. That brings us to 585,120 assaults/year, with 2347 convictions.

Which means 582,773 sexual offenders go free every year. Over a half million, folks. Over a half million. In Canada, we’re talking, this so-called gentle society.

Free.

To harm again.

Canada has only 33 million inhabitants. If nearly a million Canadians are being assaulted sexually every 18 months, I’d say we have a problem; I’d say we have more than a problem, we have an epidemic whose suffering lands disproportionately on women. Beyond that, there are more sexual assaults of marginalized women — if a woman is lesbian, non-binary, trans, or of colour, she may be marked as a target simply because offenders know these women are less likely to trust a good result at the police station, and less likely to be believed if they do report.

Disabled women, most of all, are at risk. Disabled women often don’t have the wherewithal to fight back, whether by avoidance techniques, calling police during/after or suing. Stats Can 2018 says, “Canadians with a disability—both women and men—were almost twice as likely to be victims of a violent crime than Canadians who did not have a disability.”

Over a half million. In Canada, we’re talking, this so-called gentle society.

But, Jian, let me talk about what you touching me was and was not. Because you had followed me and waited until I was alone to approach, what you did was strange and mildly unsettling. I felt a sense of disquiet — if you will, a warning bell, a red flag popping up in a field already cluttered with other red flags from other incidents. But given my sexual orientation and marital status, I also didn’t take what you did particularly seriously. That night I stayed up with another Canadian literary luminary getting drunk and laughing until 4 a.m. He certainly didn’t massage my shoulders and I’ve never written a post about his bad behaviour, nor would I.

Guess why?

There wasn’t any.

Okay, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], I get that what you did to me was not a charge-able assault, or, arguably, even an assault. I didn’t take it as one, then, and I don’t now. But I’m going to tell you what it was. It was the something else that so many of us experience 1000 times a year as Canadian people assigned female at birth, and trans women, experience— and let’s name it for what I now believe it was: the prelude to a potential assault.

The preludes to potential assaults are these: language or behaviour or touching that create in their targets vague senses of unease that we “get over” as the day or week wears on. There is so much of this kind of crap slung in women’s directions in the average day that often we don’t even bother mentioning an encounter. We don’t tell our spouse. We don’t tell our employer. We don’t call a friend. Because these little infractions against our sovereignty, these thousands of small infractions, intended to train us into thinking for the patriarchy, are par for the course. But if we’re being truthful, we all understand what they’re actually telling us: they’re actually reminding us about what could happen. They’re showing us who has the power.

If, say, we say no. If, say, we fight back. If, say, dude woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

A year before you massaged my back, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted redacted], you allegedly hurt Lucy de Coutere and alleged other victims, too. You were exonerated in court, after what was a character disembowelment of your alleged victims, but people still wonder about you. People pretty much don’t even want to pass you on the street.

You touched Lucy with that same hand you extended to me. The allegations that weren’t proved in court were that you wrapped that hand around victims’ throats and choked them. The allegations that weren’t proved in court said you used your hands to slap and your fists to punch your victims. The allegations that weren’t proven in court said you allegedly videotaped these encounters, and allegedly showed one tape of you hurting a woman to your employers in order to plead your innocence.

We don’t tell our spouse. We don’t tell our employer. We don’t call a friend.

Only if we get to bash you in the head, throttle you, rape you and leave you for dead.

They say, We know you like it. They say, But you asked for it.

You know what this mountain of harassment (and worse) does to us, the harried, the harassed, Jian? Just like guys intend it to, it makes us queasy. It makes us question our interpretations. It makes us question our importance. It makes us terrified to go out at night. Nervous to walk our own streets; always “ready” with keys between our fingers. Careful to lock our windows and never enjoy a summer night breeze.

It does all that because it’s meant to do all that. That’s exactly what it’s for. The truth is, we aren’t fully enfranchised members of society, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted].

This systemic oppression is misogyny, and in Canada we need an inquiry* to untangle its octopedal arms so we can root it the hell out of our country, and unfasten our institutions from it. Imagine the productivity here if all our populations were equally vested.

Really, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], I want you to stop and think about that. I want you to imagine a different world, a world where one class of people can’t get away with (allegedly) treating another class of people violently.

Because right now, in part because of you, Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], we people who’ve experienced violence are triggered. We are not just thinking about your behaviour, and your lawyer’s behaviour, we are thinking of so many other times in our lives where someone else has behaved badly, where someone didn’t respect and honour us.

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], this is all coming back up for us, all at once, until it pools like another Canadian ocean under that bridge men have been having us walk, tying us together across the country in one collective wave. We are thinking about times someone followed us onto the bridge. Times we were groped. Times we were pressured. Times we were coerced. Times we were held against our will. Times we had brusies. Times we were battered. Times we were raped.

This collective will says, We are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.* You know what I hope for? I hope that pretty soon, if we have our way, guys with your baitings and bashings are all going to tumble off that bridge and drown in a big cold ocean of women rising up.

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], ours is a world that celebrates the male. You know what else is part of our oppressive system? Not letting women drive, or vote, or own property, or go out without male accompaniment. Saying that girls are not good at math, giving girls passive toys, not letting women go to unversity, glass ceilings, few female politicians, women earning less than men for work of equal value, women bearing the brunt of child-rearing and housework, women who perpetuate stereotypes even as they obtain jobs where they could change them.

All that stuff we call sexism? That is just misogyny written in semen. Men like you built the world. You built it to work for you. And it works for you. Our police departments work for you. Our courts work for you.

Times we were groped. Times we were pressured. Times we were coerced. Times we were held against our will. Times we had brusies. Times we were battered. Times we were raped.

Some men are up in arms, cautioning Canadian women to calm the fuck down. Don’t get your sweet little heads all in a tizzy, they say, in Canada we have something called due process. This is supposed to happen to complainants in court. Ultimately, it protects all of us.

Really, mate: Ultimately, it fucks women over.

In Canada, during due process, victims get psychologically battered, and we, the violated, are standing up with court in session, quite out of order, and yelling, This is not okay. Convicting 2347 offenders for 600,000 offenses every year is an abridgement of our section 15 equality rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We are saying to the survivors of spectrum violence and to the brave, fierce women in court: We believe you and we stand with you and our support will never waver.

This is *supposed* to happen to complainants

So Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted], thanks for the back rub. But just so’s you know: I’m an anti-fan.

  • barbara findlay, Vancouver lawyer
  • from the movie “Network”

Jane Eaton Hamilton

Written by

Jane Eaton Hamilton is the queer, non-binary, disabled author of 9 books of cnf, memoir, fiction and poetry, including the 2016 novel WEEKEND. NY Times,Gay Mag.