*trigger warning for sexual assault and general unpleasantness*
There is an article in the Toronto Star newspaper about a radio host. It alleges that he has assaulted or harassed quite a few women. Since there hasn’t been a trial or even a full vetting of all the information, I can’t say whether this is true. However, one of the questions asked, even by fair-minded people, is why these women haven’t gone to the police with their allegations.
There is a good chance that they have chosen not to because, at some time in their lives, they’ve met someone like me. In getting to know me, they may have heard about my experiences (I am not alone, but these are mine) with reporting sexual assault to the police.
I went to the police when I was still a teenager. Since I was an avid diarist, I even know the exact day I went to the police station to make my report. It was January 19th, 1995.
Before making the report, I took a three hour bath. I remember refilling with hot water more than once, but there are things that cannot be cleaned away. Even though I was living in Malton at the time, I was required to return to Rexdale to make my report. To make the report, I needed to go to the police station closest to where the crime occurred. I needed to get on a bus and return to a place I had literally fled in fear.
To make matters almost comically worse, the person I was making the report about got on the same bus as me. He didn’t see me. I hid behind other people and almost passed out. It was like having the whole electric system in my body go haywire. It was like I had been shocked. The fear and panic, it consumed me.
At 23 Division in Rexdale, I got off the bus. I wrote in my diary that I was glad he didn’t see me. “It freaked me out,” teenaged me wrote, in shaky script.
Back on his home turf, fresh from seeing him, I was escorted by a large and intimidating male officer back to a small room, where I was sat across from an officer I will call J. J was 23 Division’s youth crimes officer. In my diary, I noted that he was very tall. I wrote down what he wore. I did not make note of the fact that an officer who deals with young offenders may be the worst person to talk to a teenaged victim, as they see young people as innately suspect. I did not note that putting a young victim alone in a closed off room with a strange and intimidating man, one who possesses a great deal of societal power, would not lend itself to feelings of safety or understanding. I did not have that perspective at the time.
On his wall was a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s If. I read it over while I waited for him to speak. I wondered if he chose it because the police station was on Kipling Avenue. And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son! I did not suppose the message was for me.
Officer J unceremoniously dropped a tape recorder on the desk between us and asked me to tell him, in as much detail as possible, what had happened.
I opened my mouth and could not speak. I was afraid to cry and be dismissed. I was afraid I would scream. I was a little afraid that the man who did it to me had seen me on the bus and would come to my home that night and kill me dead.
For whatever reason, there were no words, except a whispered, “Can I write it out?”
J was not pleased with my request. He sighed and brought me paper.
I detailed it as best I could. It took more than an hour. The whole time I was writing, every threat my assailant had made echoed, telling me to stop. I felt trapped and wanted to undo it all. I wanted to tear up the paper and run. I wanted to melt into the chair, into nothing.
“What will you do?” I managed, after I was done writing.
“It’s up to you. You’ll have to press charges.”
Press charges? What did that mean? Did it mean that I, a high school student living in one room, would have to hire a lawyer? Did it mean I would have to see him? Face him? Did it mean he would be served papers or arrested? Would he be in jail or free to come after me? I was incapable of asking these questions, and Officer J offered no guidance or information.
“I…I can’t do that.”
He looked at me like I’d wasted his time. Perhaps I had. My high school guidance counsellor had set up the meeting for me. I had been too afraid to call. Too afraid to initiate. Now I was too afraid to actively pursue it.
“Listen. Just go home. Try to be a good girl. Call me if you change your mind.”
And it was done.
I went home that night to my room. I noted in my diary that it was freezing and that the woman who owned the building was singing hymns all night. She turned off the heat to save money and sang hymns to save my soul.
That night I had a nightmare that I was sitting on my bed with a friend when a man in a uniform came in and shot them 8 times. Their body landed on me, trapping me to the bed while they twitched and eventually died on top of me.
No charges were ever pressed.
Now ask me again why women don’t go to the police.