The recent verdict in the court case of #HeWhoMustNotBeNamed was expected, but utterly disappointing. Media coverage is peppered like a minefield with attacks on women who speak up about sexual violence from people -- mostly men -- who cannot and will not understand. There is much discussion about the need for change, and little consensus on how to achieve it or where to begin.
For many of us, this verdict is like digging fingernails into an open wound: those of us who, in the lead up to this trial, were declared liars because our attacks were never reported to police -- who were coloured as less than truthful because we waited days/months/years before being able to talk about our experiences at all.
We knew this would be the outcome.
We hoped for something different, but we knew this was the inevitable conclusion because we know all too personally how easy it is to forget details -- how we tried to explain our own experiences away. We knew because we tried to gloss it over and make things "right" and "normal". We know how it is hard to note what colour shirt someone is wearing when your mind is trying desperately to be anywhere but in that room, in that moment.
We understand. We are a Sisterhood. We are #everywoman.
We know that our stories cannot hold up to this level of scrutiny because we, too, did not behave the way we were supposed to behave. We reached out and made contact the next day -- either from fear or shame -- as if rewriting our experiences would make them into something else. As though creating a fiction around our attacks would mean they didn't happen.
We called or sent messages in the days after because we felt shame for something that was not our fault. We were raised in a society that taught us to feel shame and responsibility when we are attacked. It was our fault for smiling, our fault for wearing the wrong shirt or going to the wrong bar too late at night -- for not being aggressive enough, for being too aggressive. We were told it is our fault for being sexual beings in a society that treats sex as an advertising hook.
We know because when we did share our stories we were disbelieved and then discouraged. We were doubted instead of protected, shunned instead of helped.
Right now we feel raw and exposed because watching this trial unfold so publicly in such minute detail was like being exposed ourselves.
We are angry. We are raging. We are demanding change in a system that treats us as expendable -- a system that treats us as guilty until we prove our innocence, because without innocence there can be no violation and if there was no violation, no crime was committed.
We were victims. We are survivors.
More personally, I have been watching this trial unfold over the past year while watching my baby daughter grow.
She is my fourth child -- the first girl in a household of boys. She is one year old. She is strong, persistent, clever, and utterly amazing to me. I feel a protectiveness for her that I didn't feel for her brothers. They will be okay -- our society is set-up to favour them directly and indirectly. They are better positioned by accident of gender to protect themselves.
My daughter is at risk because she is not my son.
Statistically, there is a strong chance that some day someone will hurt her -- 1 in 3 Canadian women will be a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime, a number I feel is inaccurately low based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence from speaking with women I know. I will do my best to prepare her to protect herself -- just as I prepare my sons -- but my heart hurts when I think about how the biggest risk factor for her is the one thing she cannot control: her gender.
I want her world to be better than this.
I try hard not to project my own experiences onto her. Recently, I found some photos from my teens -- my heart clenched when I saw how young I looked, so close in age to my eldest son.
I remember being scared -- that everything was my fault because I wasn't perfect and I somehow deserved what happened. I felt so incredibly alone. I remember trying to speak the unspeakable -- to say what had happened -- and then backing away from it at the first sign of disbelief. Why would anyone believe me, when I knew it was my fault? I put myself in that situation -- I was ultimately responsible.
I remember when my childhood ended -- the afternoon my innocence died and was replaced with deep feelings of guilt and worthlessness is etched in my bones. I felt pushed to the outside of my peer group -- trapped on the periphery by my new and painful history, an experience incongruent with school dances, track meets and teen angst.
I don't talk about it much, but it shaped the foundation for my adult life. Only recently have I begun to peel away the onion layers of emotional defences built to protect myself, and pick away at the wound hidden beneath. I thought I had gotten over it and hidden it so well, but I can see now where it oozed out around the edges and impacted the woman I am at 40.
I had no idea how birthing a daughter would lay me bare to raw emotions buried for more than 20 years.
Right now everyone wants to talk about the reasons why only 3 in 1000 sexual assaults result in convictions. I want to talk about how to change that. I want to keep the dialogue going, even if it leaves me feeling exposed, so that my daughter won't be 1 in 3 -- so that my daughter's odds are better than mine.
She deserves that.
All our daughters deserve that.
#EveryWoman deserves that.