I continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and solidarity that our team is receiving from folks all over North America. There have been some common threads in people's comments and questions, and I wanted to take a moment to address them.
"This guy obviously assaulted multiple women, and there are still more coming forward. Why all the compassion? Why the focus on restorative justice? Why not just call the cops?"
There are lots of reasons that we've taken the approach that we have. First of all, the legal system tends to fail survivors of sexual assault on a pretty consistent basis. Take a look at these reporting and conviction rates for sexual assault. They're dismal. Plus, as a result of victim blaming and the potential for re-traumatization, between two-thirds and nine-tenths of sexual assaults never even get reported.
Why don't people report these crimes? Part of it is victim-blaming. There's fear, and shame. There is self-doubt. These are certainly all factors.
However, I also believe that people are afraid to come forward because of the impact that they know it could have on the person's life. They want to believe it was a mistake. A one time thing. Even Jessica, when describing some of the aftermath of the community meeting said: "I dread seeing him again... I feel like I destroyed his life, like I was the catalyst that finally ended his reign on top. It's a horrible feeling, knowing that his family have been told. That his family have to know what he did and the guilt and shame they are going to experience...tonight I feel pain for the ramifications in his world."
I know that I certainly struggled with that in terms of sharing my story. It happened almost six years ago. I am well, and happy. What if sharing that story ruined his life? What if he's healed now? What if he's never done it before, or since?
The approach that we've taken in Vancouver is supportive of healing. It rejects shaming. It asks that people do the work to become safe people to have in the community before being able to participate again. It allows for the possibility of change and growth.
I think that this model makes people more likely to come forward. I think it makes us more likely to call out bad behavior. In his post on this blog, the incredibly smart Erich Haygun said: "One thing that really stuck with me from my training at BARCC [Boston Area Rape Crisis Centre] was that the organization had taken an official stance against the death penalty for child rapists, specifically because it was proven to decrease rates of reporting. Most childhood survivors are abused by family or family friends, and people are less likely to expose a familiar perpetrator if it means that their uncle, for instance, is going to be murdered by the government. In practical terms, this means that the less an offender is vilified and ostracized, the more community support the survivor is likely to experience. The focus should be identifying problematic behavior, not problematic people. Because even though in this case the offender has violated multiple people, the unbelievable prevalence of sexual assault is not just the result of the actions of a handful of people. The silence around the issue is what allows them to operate and in asking people to break that silence, compassion for the offender is a critical component of healing not only the survivor and the community, but the offender themselves. If you simply push a perpetrator out of one community, they'll just go somewhere else- and that's not really a solution."
On the perils of confidentiality vs. silence
In our community meeting, our facilitator Tara Hardy laid out some ground rules for our discussion/dialogue. Someone raised their hand and asked if confidentiality could be added to the list.
This is a common question when we start discussing this stuff. At what point does confidentiality make us feel safer to share our stories, and at what point does silence make other people more vulnerable?
We've chosen to make our concerns public, but not the perpetrators names. We are not interested in shaming perpetrators. We want them to get help.
However, it's important for people to know that this is an issue in our community, and that there is a framework. That we are working on it. That these things have happened. We want people to have somewhere to go, someone to turn to, if something happens to them. So we made our process public. We are sharing our lessons as we go. We hope that other people can learn from our model. So far, we seem to have escaped any major fuck ups. If we make them, we will let you know. Actually, you will probably see it. In real time. And that's healthy.
On the importance of believing survivors
A major reason that a lot of people don't come forward is because they think that people won't believe them. They are worried that people will shame them, question their judgement, accuse them of making it up.
We hope that you will give every survivor who shares his or her story the benefit of the doubt. That you will believe them. It is fucking painful to come forward. It is easier to bury it. It is easier to keep quiet.
Even for those of you who find that the named perpetrator is someone you care about, I hope that you will start from a place of believing that the survivor is telling the truth. It leaves space for so much room to heal.