Police report on rape fails all of our Jane Does
TheStar – comment/living – Police report on rape fails all of our Jane Does
May 21, 2008. Antonia Zerbisias
Early Sunday, a young woman walking her dog near the Balmy Beach Club was sexually assaulted.
Police issued a warning and the media dutifully picked it up, telling women “to be vigilant of their surroundings” and “to be aware of a possible sexual predator in the area.”
Gee. Thanks. We’ll keep that in mind next time we dare venture out alone after dark.
Which is just one reason why “Jane Doe,” the woman who successfully sued the Toronto police for negligence and sexual discrimination in their investigation of her 1986 rape by the “Balcony Rapist,” is angry right now.
“What `warnings’ like that do is focus on women’s actions; they regulate women’s movements,” she says. “Don’t go out. Don’t walk the dog. Don’t go in the park. It’s hysterical. It’s fear-mongering.”
Yes, but wasn’t a major part of her winning case against the cops that they didn’t warn women in her downtown neighbourhood that a knife-wielding rapist was on the loose? That the police used her as bait?
“What police (and media) need to focus on is the perpetrators of the crime, on the men. Those men need to know that the police have them covered, that they’re going to get them,” Doe insists. “Otherwise they’re giving the rapists a power surge, a power hard-on. They think `Look what I’ve done. I have an entire community of women under lockdown. Even the police are telling them to be afraid.'”
Doe is very frustrated with how the Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto Police Service recently shut down the Sexual Assault Audit Steering Committee, struck in 2005 to change how the system deals with rape.
As reported by the Star’s Michele Henry yesterday, board chair Alok Mukherjee thinks the committee’s work is done.
Toronto cops are tops.
His report concludes: “I believe that the Steering Committee has successfully fulfilled its mandate and its recommendations will lead to real, substantive change in the way in which sexual assaults investigations in cases involving adult women are carried out by the Toronto Police Service.”
But that’s not the way the community-based committee members â€“ experts in the field of sexual assault â€“ see it. They have published a much more comprehensive report, to be released today, which not only criticizes the official document but comes up with concrete recommendations based on solid research and their years of experience.
What’s more, Doe tells me on behalf of the community members, the police report signs off on all sorts of practices that were never even discussed, let alone approved by all members of the committee.
They also maintain that current police training and practices are sexist, racist, rooted in “rape mythology” and the notion that women make “false allegations.”
That despite the evidence, collected by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics’ Juritstat, that one in six sexual offences reported to police in 2002 was declared “unfounded.”
But then, the onus is on the woman to prove she was raped.
Hence the use of the police “rape kit,” a highly invasive and painful procedure that requires intimate physical examinations, performed without lubricants.
“It goes to the myth that women lie about being raped,” says Doe. “It’s experienced as a second assault by women.”
The thing is, the overwhelming majority of rapes go unreported for so many reasons: fear, shame, self-blame, the fact that two-thirds of the perpetrators are known to the victims.
Of those that do get reported, notes Juristat, they get “cleared by police at a lower rate than other types of violent offences.”
In other words, rapists get away with rape. Still.
As Doe ruefully notes, “Things are worse than they have ever been, worse because we know better now.”
Antonia Zerbisias is a Living section columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at thestar.blogs.com.