I find it interesting the degree to which people think that simply by bullying and name-calling, they have made an argument and that their opponents will go running for the hills. In my last blogpost, I offered real arguments about how one could adjust the judicial system to at least begin to compensate for the systematic biases and the long-term effects of the shocking number of sexual assaults that simply have no chance of resulting in convictions. These are basic and solid arguments. People may not like them, they may disagree with them, but to portray them as not thought out, or worse not even address them at all, demonstrates in my mind the poverty of those who want to do nothing in the face of an epidemic of sexual violence. These individuals glibly condescend, call me names, suggest that I must be uneducated, etc. simply because I have the gall to offer some criticism of a judicial system that has utterly failed to make any real attempt to find justice in a system where it is often estimated that for every 1000 sexual assaults, only one or two criminal convictions are achieved. The misogynistic nature of the system is obvious, but so is the misogynistic nature of the attacks on my position since I have yet to hear such notions from almost any women. And when it comes to sexual assault, even many progressive men line up dutifully behind the rightwing ideologists and the only women that can bolster their position are those like Margaret Wente.
So it goes. I guess it is important that I have a thick skin about it. After all the condescending attitude that is directed my way has been something women have suffered forever. Instead of actually addressing my issues and suggestions I am offered little more that the “you just don’t understand” defense. If I were a woman I fear the attacks would descend to the the “don’t worry your pretty little head about it,” insult that has been around so long.
Here’s the thing, we could go on doing nothing and giving men carte blanch to assault women (and make no mistake, the small number of cases that are brought before the courts let alone that result in convictions is much alike blank cheque to abusers), or we could try to do something at both the legal level as well as the wider social level.
Mound would suggest that I shouldn’t worry my pretty little head about it and should leave the subject to people like himself who actually know something. At this point this is only about the Gomeshi trial in as much as this – while the verdict wasn’t surprising, even legal minds such as Law Professor Peter Sankoff were surprised by the stark terms of the decision and how detailed the dissection of the credibility was. Thus the actual verdict of the Ghomeshi trail wasn’t surprising but even serious legal minds have been disturbed by the details of the judge’s decision. (And, of course, there is another case to come for Ghomeshi) For this reason, I think the Ghomeshi trial could become a tipping-point (to borrow Malcom Gladwell’s expression) for those who know something must be done. And misogynistic attacks aside, when the time for change has come people will be unable to stand in its way.
I won’t rehash my own small suggestions for legal changes that could contribute to a better reporting and conviction rate. As I said no one actually offered any actual critiques of them and instead I was told I “don’t understand” or that I am a fanatic. When you offer real arguments and options and people react this way, it tells me that I am on the right track.
I offer only one more argument and that is the way that courts have slowly begun to consider the effects of long-term abuse in questions of self-defence in murder and assault cases. There was a time not that long ago when the “all or nothing” nature of self-defence claims was unquestioned in legal circles. Most judges and legal minds adamantly suggested that if someone claimed self-defence in a murder (or even assault and man-slaughter cases), they had to establish immediate and imminent danger of their own bodily-harm or death. Though globally courts are still adjusting to the growing body of evidence regarding the long-term effects of battering and abuse, it is changing. Perhaps most importantly for our issue here is the way that courts have begun to take long-term effects of abuse into consideration when reacting to people’s actions. Furthermore, it is not so easy now for prosecutors to argue that because women have stayed with their alleged abuser they must either be lying about the abuse or it must not have been as bad as they claim. We know now that women stay in abusive relationships for complex psychological reasons and not because they don’t mind being abused as it was once suggested. When people first began to suggest that courts needed to consider these issue in self-defence cases they were laughed at and ridiculed and called fanatics and apologists for murder. But it is now these misogynistic reactions that are falling into the margins. Similarly, we are just beginning to understand the degree to which sexual assault effects someone’s behaviour, but I have no doubt that over time, when new generations of legal minds become more dominant in the system, these issues will be treated more seriously by the courts. Not, or course, if old white men had their way.
(PS. I offered my thanks and solidarity to Montreal Simon, who gave me support on this issue. He and I have disagreed a couple issues over the years but when I offer a real argument he always treats it with respect even when he disagrees.