Over the past few days the news and internet has been abuzz with outrage over comments made by Winnipeg judge Robert Dewar when he sentenced a forty year old man for raping a 26 year old woman.
What has upset people from across Canada were comments made by the judge that “sex was in the air” because the victim was drunk, had been flirting her attacker and when they were finally alone, he raped her. The judge suggested that her clothes and behavior gave the accused the wrong impression thus placing some of the responsibility of the victim. Attitudes like this are disgusting especially coming from someone that is the court system.
As a result of this incident rape victims from across the country are cringing – including myself. I of all people realize that things can be taken the wrong way and very quickly. About twenty-five years ago, I was sexually assaulted while attending one of the high schools in the region. I was raped, in the second floor bathroom, in the school – during exam week. Was it my clothes? I was wearing a long dress and a turtleneck. Was it my behavior? I was shy and did not have any contact with boys other than in school and had never had a boyfriend.
When the principal found out, I was suspended from school while the boy remained in classes. Word circulated among the students that I was “easy” because “rape” was never brought up. I became a target for every oversexed teenage boy in that school until I eventually got expelled after being caught mid molestation by a grade 12 boy (I was in grade 10). He graduated and my schooling was done.
Because no one stepped in and let me know I had rights and supported me at the time, these incidents have come to play in my adult life. It taught me that I had no value, that my word had no meaning. Thankfully years later, I received the help I needed and I can now talk about this without hating or blaming myself.
As a mother, I have raised three daughters and a son. I’ve been teaching them the importance of respect and the meaning of “No means No”. It has let me down in the past and yet in my optimism I believe they are still true. Yet we have a judge, seemingly reinforcing the long standing “truth” that if we as women dress provocatively, smile too broadly or are in any way shape or form sexual, that we lose our rights to change our minds. Everyone has had a moment they’ve been caught up in a moment and suddenly sanity kicks in – do we not have the right to walk away?
It is attitudes like Dewar that will keep victims trapped in their own private hell instead of seeking the help, support and justice that we all deserve. Without justice we can not heal and without healing, we can not live.