I’m a long distance runner, and I’m currently training for the Boston Marathon coming up in less than one month. Preparing for a challenge like a marathon requires making sacrifices, not to mention an unwavering dedication – and to a non-runner, a lot of this behavior seems ‘odd’ to say the least. Like this morning for instance, while most people were nestled in their beds buried comfortably under their warm blankets, I was slipping and sliding through the icy streets of downtown Toronto completing my 20 km run before breakfast. It’s behavior that doesn’t make sense to most people, but to another endurance athlete, it makes perfect sense.
I had so many important things to do today, yet something inside me compelled me to push it all aside so that I could make my way down to Old City Hall to hear the judge’s verdict in the Jian Ghomeshi trial. Sitting in the courtroom listening to the judge read his findings into evidence, I was overwhelmed by an immense sadness, expecting that in all probability, I would leave that courtroom feeling hollow and utterly alone.
You see, I am not just an endurance athlete and a concerned citizen, but I too am a survivor of rape. It’s a secret that I carried for over 30 years, and throughout that time, everyone around me witnessed that trauma metastasize into drug and alcohol addiction and suicidal depression. Being a survivor of sexual violence can at times feel like walking through a never-ending minefield of triggers, trauma, shame, and self-loathing.
So there I sat listening to Justice William Horkins say that the testimony from the three Ghomeshi complainants was unreliable, conflicting, and suspect. The trial had become more about the actions of these women after the alleged assaults than about the alleged sexual violence itself. Is it any wonder that survivors of sexual violence are so reluctant to step forward and seek their day in court? I can promise you that as devastated as these women felt with the verdict, it doesn’t even begin to compare with the powerlessness and isolation they have been living with for many years now.
After the verdict was delivered, I walked outside the courthouse and stood beside other survivors and advocates working in the field of sexual violence. As I stood in the cold misty rain clutching my sign that said “We Believe Survivors”, I knew that many people looking at us were unable to understand what was going through our mind. But how are they expected to? Unless you’ve had your life forever altered by sexual violence… unless you’ve woken up every day since the assault and had to whisper to yourself, “I am stronger than what happened to me, at least for today”… Unless you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that in all probability there will be no closure to that trauma… well, how could you understand?
And as we stood in the cold outside that courthouse, a wave of journalists, camera crews, and microphones encircled us. Under the harsh lights of the cameras, we were prodded and pulled to offer our opinions, to render our judgments on the verdict. I looked around and I couldn’t help but think, “Where are all the other men? Why does the responsibility of advocating for a society free from sexual violence always have to fall on the shoulders of women?” And that was the point at which I was overcome with an immense feeling that can only be described as grief – knowing that when the lights of the cameras dim, when the trial is no longer part of the news cycle, and when Jian Ghomeshi puts all of this in his rearview mirror, the loss and trauma will continue to reverberate in the lives of these three incredibly brave women, just as it echoes in the lives of survivors across the country and around the world.