Keep it together

Human-RightsI’m going to post this article here. I need you to read it, and I’ll wait.

Many things are going on here, and none of them is particularly good. For anyone who says that feminism isn’t needed anymore; for folks out there who say feminism isn’t relevant anymore, this judge proves why you’re wrong. Feminism is about fighting for EQUAL RIGHTS regardless of someone’s gender.

The fact that the judge in this case doesn’t like our country’s rape shield laws*, and was openly contemptuous of them is bad enough. This isn’t even a case of not believing someone who alleges rape or sexual assault; if the prosecution has proven that a woman was assaulted, which it *has* (why would the judge ask whether penetration could have been avoided if that fact hadn’t been proven?), then there are very clear processes that follow.

Asking a survivor of rape why she ‘couldn’t just keep her knees together’ shows the kind of ignorance that means this judge should not be on the bench. Asking a survivor why she ‘couldn’t just scoot her bottom into the sink so she couldn’t be penetrated’ misses the point altogether. The point of this case is that a young woman was sexually assaulted, the prosecution argued the facts of the case well enough that the judge accepted that they happened (enough to ask why the survivor didn’t stop the assault), and the JUDGE hearing the case dismissed pretty much the entire case with a level of ignorance and coldness that makes me seriously wonder how the hell this rube got to be a judge in the first place. I would even go so far as to say this level of ignorance borders on total stupidity.

The judge issued an apology – sorry, buddy; too little too late there – and has been ordered to take “gender sensitivity training”. First of all, what in the blue fuck is “gender sensitivity training”, and second, you can’t fix stupid. You just can’t fix stupid. People who believe it is in the power of the survivors of assault – sexual or otherwise – to stop the attack are just wrong. Possibly stupid.

If you and I are sitting down for tea and we start arguing the stupidity of people who don’t believe in Canada’s rape shield laws, and I whip out a baseball bat and bash your knees to smithereens, chances are good that a judge isn’t going to ask you why you didn’t just get up and leave. Chances are good that the police aren’t going to look at you and say, “well why didn’t you call for help?”.

This case, full of wilful ignorance (just because you don’t like a law doesn’t mean you get to ignore it or apply it, JUDGE CAMP) and, frankly, cruelty (the survivor in this case now has to go through ANOTHER ENTIRE TRIAL, and what, if any, consequences does the judge have to face? He’s not being permitted to adjudicate cases involving sexual assault. That’s like saying “since you murdered someone with a rock, we’re not going to let you have rocks anymore. Axes are fine.”) highlights something pretty important. There are still people, some of them powerful people in positions of authority, who think that sexual assault is somehow different from any other kind of assault. That it’s a lesser kind of assault. That smashing someone’s kneecaps at tea is somehow worse than forcing your penis into someone’s vagina in the WC of a bar.

Gender sensitivity training isn’t going to do a goddamned thing for this twit, because this case isn’t actually about women. This case isn’t actually about men. This case is about assault. Rape is a form of assault. If this judge is stupid enough to think that the survivor in this case could have prevented her assault by “keeping her knees together” (and I’m going to point you to the actual muscles that it requires to do that; most people’s hip adductor muscles are not stronger than someone else’s hip abductor muscles…which is to say the muscles that you use to keep your knees together are generally not as strong as the muscles you use to open your knees apart, and the laws of physics being what they are, it’s pretty easy to use the leverage of the rest of your body to force someone’s knees apart, regardless of your gender or theirs), then imagine what he would have said if it had been a man instead of a woman who was assaulted at that bar. Gender, here, is irrelevant. What is relevant is that a 19-year-old young adult was assaulted in a bar. Someone did something to that 19-year-old that they did not consent to. That. Is. Assault. And in this case, the form or title of that assault is rape.

The law is not about changing things that happened in the past. The law is not retroactive (usually). What the law does is look at the actions that you took, and the actions that someone else took, and argues each side against the other to prove (or to disprove) whether harm was caused, and if harm was caused, a decision is made that doesn’t *undo* the harm, but that is supposed to make things whole. And here’s the problem. With assault and other serious crime, the law can’t really ever make you whole again. The nature of assault is that the assailant takes something away from you, and what they take away from you is power. Agency. The law can’t give that back. The only way you can get that back is by rebuilding it yourself, often with the help of physical and mental health professionals. So in the case of major crimes, the purpose of the law is to assign punitive punishment for harmful actions.

Keep in mind, I am not a lawyer, nor am I a judge, and I am not a student of laws. So maybe I have this all wrong. Here’s what I do know: judges who refuse to acknowledge or who are dismissive of the laws they have sworn to uphold and apply ought not to be judges. There are plenty of other jobs out there for smart people who can learn stuff, so if you don’t like the fact that you cannot use the way a woman chooses to dress as a reason for why she can’t possibly have been raped, get a different job. If you think the survivor of sexual assault is at fault for her own rape because she didn’t just ‘keep her knees together’, get the hell off the bench. This case wasn’t about what the survivor could or could not have done to prevent her own assault. It was about what the assailant did to the survivor.

This, and every sexual assault case is about what the alleged rapist is alleged to have done, not about what the survivor could have done to have stopped it.

Look, if part of the purpose of the law is to provide some kind of assurance that we live in a relatively safe society, and to punish the people who threaten that relative safety, then at least part of your job as someone who works in the legal field is to ensure that the people whose safety you have sworn to protect have to believe that that’s what you’re going to do. If it were me in front of that judge, I’d have recommended a little trip to the bathroom to demonstrate why I didn’t “just keep my knees together” (and then I’d have been charged with contempt of court, I’m sure, and fined some outrageous amount of money).

This judge should be removed from the bench, disbarred from ever practicing law again, and should have to spend some time with counsellors at a rape crisis centre. He is ignorant. His ignorance is a symptom of a much bigger problem, and that problem is that we do not take sexual assault seriously, regardless of gender. Until we no longer have to warn our kids to “be careful at parties because someone might take advantage of you”, we haven’t done enough. Until we don’t have to have classes about what consent means, we haven’t done enough. Until we don’t have to have arguments about the difference between rough sex and rape, we haven’t done enough. Until we don’t need “zero tolerance policies for bullying”, we haven’t done enough.

The right to be the boss of what happens to your own body may be the only inalienable right that every human being has. It is completely shameful that we so easily overlook this basic human right. We can do better. We can be better.


*Canada’s rape shield law is a piece of legislation that outlines whether (and if so, how and when) a defendant’s previous sexual history can be used against them at trial, what consent means, and what constitutes consent. There have been challenges to Canada’s rape shield laws as recently as the early 2000s claiming that it is unconstitutional, but those challenges have been defeated by the Canadian Supreme Court.

cenobyte
cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

7 Comments

  1. I heard of this case on the radio this morning, and my first reaction was “What the fuck century did we import that judge from?” It’s good to see someone is giving him a quanta of grief over it, although one would prefer the outcome of that grief to be something more Draconian (or perhaps Babylonian, where a judge found to have been taking bribes was made into a chair for other judges to rule from, that they might remember the consequences of bending to temptation).

    1. I like the cut of those Babylonians’ jibs.

      …jibes?

      I saw this headline late last night and assumed it was some kind of joke article. I was v. disappointed this morning.

  2. I’m afraid I can’t get very worked up about Judge Camp. Maybe judicial culture in Canada is different to Australia but I’d guess the main difference between Camp’s misogynist attitudes and those of most of his fellows in the legal profession is that he’s too stupid to express them in accordance with accepted protocols.

    There’s all sorts of rules and regulations that are meant to protect victims of sexual assault from being retraumatised during reporting, investigation and prosecution but in my experience a lot of cops, lawyers and judges take great pride in circumventing them while usually staying within the letter of the law. I’ve lost count of the times legal professionals have told me in private that they simply don’t agree with or respect such restrictions of their power, typically justifying them with revelations of their paleolithic attitudes towards women or homosexuals and a know-it-all air with regards to rape.

    Maybe cultural change is possible and maybe punishing the particularly indiscreet misogynists like Camp might promote such change but I doubt it’s just my natural pessimism that makes me think I won’t see anything substantial in my lifetime.

    I’m inclined to think the legal system does much more harm than good to sexual assault victims and would never press someone to report being raped. I think if it’s to be rehabilitated it’s gotta be hived off from the rest of the court system, perhaps abandoning the adversarial process favoured in the Anglosphere. I think it would probably help if the education and career paths for those working in such a system were kept as separate as possible from the mainstream legal profession too, though I suspect many of the problems start in the private, often unisex, schools that produce a disproportionate number of legal professionals.

  3. “the main difference between Camp’s misogynist attitudes and those of most of his fellows in the legal profession is that he’s too stupid to express them in accordance with accepted protocols.”

    That is a very good point. A very, VERY good point.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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