Sexual Assault And The Twitter Tide

*trigger warning*

This is not my life. I have told myself that a lot the last few days. Not my life. These stories are about someone else’s life.

But the dialogue – it’s something I know we’ve needed to have for a long time. There’s been a shift, and that shift is coming online and from younger people.

This is a link that will take you to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, if you need to talk to someone.

This is a link that will take you to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, if you need to talk to someone.

Let me take you back a bit. Roman Polanski went to court for what he did. I read the court documents while writing a story on him. He drugged and anally raped a 13 year old girl. The actual reports are graphic and brutal. Hours of mistreatment and abuse. When I wrote the story about 15 years ago, the general flavour of the discussion around Polanski was that he was a tortured genius, reeling from the death of his wife at the hands of the Manson Family. He was forgivable. Even the (now) grown woman in question had forgiven him, so why couldn’t we?

Remember, this was a case that had been reported to the police, had gone to court and had resulted in a conviction. That’s rare enough on it’s own. There was no doubt that Polanski was a child rapist. Still, the narrative favoured him. He was an exiled artist. A man misunderstood. What were we saying? Who wouldn’t rape a child under those circumstances? Her bodily autonomy was worth much less than his creativity? A great creator can not also be a horrible man?

Click here to find Rape Crisis Centres in Ontario.

Click here to find Rape Crisis Centres in Ontario.

When Jian Ghomeshi posted his Facebook statement, many of my artist friends reposted it. After all, who among us hadn’t had our lives judged by our patrician higher-ups? Add to that the weird societal idea that women lie – an idea that goes all the way back to our Sunday School classes, comic books and saturday morning TV shows…

Oh Veronica. She’d tell any lie to get Archie – and hasn’t that Hannah Montana gotten herself trapped in yet another situation because she just can’t be honest about who she is?

People I respect and care about posted his well-scripted preemptive strike and I did not. Even then, my gut said wait and see (my gut is not a scientific tool, but it’s been pretty handy, so I listen to it.)

What I noticed almost immediately was something I had never seen before – as quickly as the narrative that cast him as victim was produced, people started to question it. Folks suggested caution to those incensed by the firing. People mentioned friends who had found his behavior frightening or who had noticed that he could be intimidating in his dealings with women. People talked about their own experiences with powerful (mostly) men that had mirrored these allegations. Within hours, the overwhelming support had become far more cautious as people started to question whether his statement could be taken at face value.

Click here for ways to contact the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.

Click here for ways to contact the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre.

I followed the tide as it shifted and realized that I was watching something completely new. As the women started to come forward, one after another, bravely attaching their name to allegations that I can’t even describe right now, hashtags like #ibelievelucy, #ibelievethem and #beenrapedneverreported took over Twitter. If you are under 30, you may not understand exactly how new and amazing this is. I get that Twitter is not the real world. It’s a microcosm that is young, tech savvy and opinionated. What happens on Twitter will not translate to homes, police stations or courts of justice – but that’s okay. It is a public space where women were heard and believed. That bowls me over. It gives me hope. It says something.

Yes, Twitter is where women find themselves harassed and threatened. I’m not dismissing that. But it’s also forum that has allowed for a shift in how we talk about assault. It has allowed hundreds of thousands of women to say “You don’t know me, but I’m telling you a person attacked me and committed crimes against me and no one listened.” Previously, that kind of openness has been limited to survivor’s groups and clinics and diaries that no one sees. We’ve moved the story out into the world. Let’s see where it goes from here.

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