The Red Tape of Sexual Assault

When the outcome of the Kesha verdict first hit my Twitter feed in February of this year, my first reaction was to throw up; the second, to cry; the third, to scream.

A woman being denied her freedom to work in a safe environment away from her abuser is a situation that is very near to me — I’ve also had to fight my employer to protect myself from my rapist. It baffles me that it isn’t simply common sense to accommodate victims coming forward about abuse by coworkers.

As survivors, we’re already victimized once — but if we don’t want to face our victimizer on a daily basis, we’re forced to re-victimize ourselves by retelling our story to prove that our experience is real, that we’re credible, deserving of protection.

For two weeks after he raped me, I had to see and hear my rapist every day at work.

The trauma from the assault manifested like a growing cancer, flashbacks becoming more frequent; flinching, nauseated every time I heard his voice. The evening I decided I had enough courage to report him to my supervisor, my rapist would have been training me between heavy shelving units, isolated from my coworkers. At that point, I didn’t want to move forward through the legal system — I didn’t want to overturn my life for nothing — but law dictated my supervisor’s due diligence to notify the police. I filed a video statement, and he was charged with one count of sexual assault.

After reporting it, management put me in a position where I had to drag heavy cartfuls of files between nine floors. Not only that, but I was also forced to completely reverse my sleeping schedule — to accommodate his bail restrictions, they thought it best to remove me from the shift on which my rapist worked, and put me on an entirely separate floor. When I resumed working after four months between two separate employment contracts, they had me in the same arrangement – that is, until the charge was withdrawn days after I started.

At that point, management thought it best to move me down to the same floor as my colleagues — and my assailant.

In my first week, I had caught a glimpse of him once, and had to bolt from the room, hyperventilating, heart racing, holding in my vomit, crying, and panicking. You could imagine how much I protested against moving to within 20 feet of him.

Management insisted that they knew what was best for me and the office, refusing to listen to my pleas due to “operational feasibilities” and what they considered simply an “interpersonal conflict”.

Given my Hobson’s Choice between going back to unemployment, or working with my rapist, I chose a seat right beside my manager’s desk for my own safety, and complied with their demand.

Throughout this whole process, I wasn’t made aware of my rights as a workplace sexual assault victim.

I didn’t know that I could have submitted medical documentation from my physician and counselor to enforce my employer’s legal duty to accommodate my mental health — the post-traumatic stress disorder his attack inflicted on me. My rapist faced no disciplinary action for raping me. He subtweeted me when the charges were laid and even walked up to my desk and smiled at me after they were withdrawn — management remained passive when I reported both of these occurrences, despite promising to investigate even the smallest allegation of harassment.

After two weeks of appointments with my doctor and counselor, management was legally obliged to accommodate me and started reaching out to neighboring offices to accept my transfer. I spent a month constantly on edge from anxiety, suffering from depression, and a lack of sleep and appetite until I was finally transferred.

For two weeks, my health improved significantly.

That is, until management threatened me with disciplinary action up to and including termination should I choose to discuss the “personal situation between me and my rapist” with other people in the office.

You can imagine how that went.

Apart from my official statement to the police and my informal complaint with my supervisor at the time, I filed complaints with two separate federal government departments (I am a public servant), as well as a provincial tribunal that grants compensation to victims of crime. I testified against him in a hearing for that grant, unaware at the beginning that he would be present.

That was one of the most challenging three hours of my life, and with the complaints still in process, I’m sure there are more to come.

Kesha’s case hits very close to home for me, and raises my concerns about so many facets of our justice system. Of course, the presumption of innocence is so important to living in a free, progressive society — but the problem is how the burden of proof lies on the victim.

In theory, it’s the most reasonable way of administering justice, but in execution, the system itself further traumatizes victims. The trauma is already so intense that going through a system we know is stacked against us amplifies it — but having to stay silent also has an effect.

Through the way the justice system is set up, through the way we perpetuate stigma and myth surrounding rape, we are setting rape victims up for failure, not just in the short-term, but in the long-term too.

The judge hearing Kesha’s injunction cited lack of evidence as one of her reasons for rejecting the motion. Wendy Williams had the audacity to talk about the case on her show and wonder why Kesha didn’t think to video tape the abuse.

Survivors are expected to conform to an impossible standard of victimhood, and are faced with an impossible choice — speak up now and be deemed a liar, stay silent and/or speak up later and it never happened.

Blaming victims for our stories not being credible enough essentially says that everything that happens after our rape is because of our own mistakes. Shouldering that blame onto us instead of the person who acted against our consent is damaging.

Even when we do come forward, and try to go through lengthy, time-consuming, re-traumatizing processes, most of the time, justice will never be served for us.

Kesha states that Dr. Luke’s abuse began about ten years ago, when she first signed with him. A chunk of the discussion in a majority of sexual assault cases revolves around why it victims take so long to come forward. People seem to think that as sexual abuse victims, it’s our “responsibility” to report our assaults right away, lest we allow our abuser to commit the crime again. Why is the only responsibility in sexual assault ever assigned to victims? The only responsibility we should have is to communicate our lack of consent.

It should be everyone’s responsibility not to rape, not to abuse, not to assault. When that responsibility is ignored, it should be everyone’s responsibility to show our abusers that blatantly disregarding a human being’s autonomy is not okay.

Everyone needs to be held accountable for rape culture, not just survivors.

We know that Kesha didn’t try to hold Dr. Luke accountable through a court of law — her priority with the lawsuit has been to protect her own health and safety by trying to get away with him. The injunction was filed to speed up that process, as it takes years before a lawsuit goes before a judge. As it stands, Kesha cannot make music without Dr. Luke being involved, whether it’s as a producer, or as the head of the label profiting off of her work.

No survivor should ever be put in the position of having to choose between working with their rapist or not working at all.

The abuse already impacts our health (post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression can lead to effects on our physical beings), but by subjecting us to our trigger, our rapist, we’re being forced into an unsafe work environment, which is against any developed country’s labor laws. Survivors shouldn’t have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to be able to work in a safe environment.

We shouldn’t have to endure further damage to our health to ultimately protect it.

I can only hope for the best for Kesha and use my voice to support her. This is such an important moment in the fight for sexual abuse survivor rights, and I’m hopeful that Sony does right by her in the end.

Too long have survivors gone unheard.

Too long have we suffered abuse by our abusers and apathy by society.

Too long have we allowed our system let rapists slip through the cracks.

This has been my hardest year to survive so far, and I’m only just beginning to feel like myself again. This trauma is something I have to live with for the rest of my life, but I plan on channeling it in a proactive way.

Fighting alongside other survivors to make sure what’s happened to both Kesha and I never happens to anyone has become a battle I’m more than willing to fight.

Enough is enough.

I’ve gone through hell and come back stronger than ever — and you can bet I’ll leverage that strength to help finally create the change this world so desperately needs.

Now watch me.