Sexual Abuse & Harassment

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Had It Coming
Excerpt

 
INTRODUCTION 
 
In writing a book about #MeToo, I could have gone two ways.
   The first, the easy route, would have been to lean into my own frustrations, anger, and indignation at the world, developed during thirty-four years of living as a human female. I could have collected those grievances—all those times that a man took credit for my work or a date pushed too far, or that time in a taxi when I barely escaped from the driver. I could have harnessed all the memories of men telling me to “Smile!,” of my ideas not being taken seriously on account of my gen- der, of having my butt patted on the street or on public transit or at a bar. And I could have rolled it all in with the gnawing reality that in 2019 women continue to earn less for the same work as men, represent only a quarter of House of Commons seats, and—as of 2018—total exactly one CEO among the top hundred most influential companies in Canada. That situation doesn’t even begin to approach the level of inequality for women of colour or for women in countries where by law they’re second-class citizens, where they’re under the thumb of male guardians, where their access to education is limited, where they’re routinely subjected to sexual violence as part of domestic life, or civil strife, or war. And then I could have taken that Molotov cocktail of resentment, lit it on fire, and lobbed it into the world, screaming, “Burn it all down!” That’s a book that would have earned me a lot of love on Twitter. It would have been simple to talk about and promote. The fury that many women are experiencing and voicing right now is real and warranted, and writing 70,000 words about why would have been cathartic.
   But that is not the book I’ve written.
   At the time I started researching this book, I’d already spent more than two years immersed in many of these issues. I’m a journalist with The Globe and Mail and in the summer of 2015, I began investigating how police handle sexual assault allegations. As part of that research, I interviewed well over a hundred people connected to the criminal justice system—sexual assault complainants, police officers, lawyers, judges, sexual assault nurses, academics, activists, and front-line support workers. I’d read through thousands of pages of court transcripts and police files. Building on what I’d learned through that reporting, I turned my mind to the #MeToo movement. I thought I’d have firm opinions on everything related to the movement, but the more I read, the more I pushed myself beyond the confines of like-minded social media silos, the more open conversations I had with those in my social and business circles, the more I realized that that approach wasn’t going to cut it. It’s been done. I came to see that a more useful and honest book about #MeToo wouldn’t shy away from the tough questions that the movement has raised.
   Unfortunately, as a culture we aren’t very good at having nuanced, complicated discussions. The public space is not a safe venue to talk about controversial subjects. Social media and call-out culture—the tendency to aggressively shame and reprimand people for real or perceived missteps—has seen to that. Instead, people are talking it out in private, with friends they trust not to rip them apart on Twitter. My goal with this book is to bring those discussions into the open.
   At this extraordinary moment of change in how men and women interact, the path forward isn’t simple. It’s important, I believe, to uncover and evaluate the facts, to expose outdated myths that pervade institutions, and to bring rigour, openness, and compassion in equal measure to this very important conversation. I’ve come to embrace the nuance and messiness that comes with those tough conversations. So rather than lighting a match to that oily rag, with this book I’ve tried to make the case for progress as well as healthy debate. 

 
 
KOBE BRYANT AND ME  
 
I was eighteen when police in Eagle, Colorado, arrested Kobe Bryant on accusations that he’d raped a woman in a hotel room. I don’t remember how I heard about it, but I do remember my first thought upon learning the news: “Well, what did she expect going to a hotel room with an NBA player?”
   The woman was nineteen, barely a year older than I was at the time. She’d been working the front desk at a mountain lodge when Bryant checked in on June 30, 2003. The twenty-four-year-old basketball all-star was in the area for knee surgery. He arrived late with a small entourage and asked the woman to show him around the facilities. After the tour, she escorted Bryant back to his room. He invited her in. They chatted for a bit. Flirted. And when he kissed her, she kissed him back. It was flattering, she later told police, that the famous Los Angeles Laker seemed interested in her. She was okay with the kissing.
   But then Bryant started to grope and fondle her. The teenager moved towards the door, but Bryant blocked her path. “I try and walk to the side, and he would walk with me,” she told police. That’s when, she alleged, the six-foot-six shooting guard put his hands around her throat and squeezed—not hard enough to close her windpipe, but hard enough to make it clear that he was in control. Bryant removed his pants. He bent her over a chair. When he removed the teenager’s underwear, she again protested, but he ignored her. “Every time I said ‘no’ he tightened his hold around me,” she told police.
   The woman told police that Bryant proceeded to rape her. He did so with one hand gripping her throat while she wept. When she was eventually able to leave, Bryant’s T-shirt was stained with her blood. Almost immediately, the woman bumped into a friend, the hotel bellman. She tearfully recounted that Bryant had choked and raped her. A sexual assault examination performed fifteen hours later revealed two one-centimetre lacerations and several smaller tears in her vaginal region. The injuries were “consistent with penetrating genital trauma.” Officials also documented a bruise on her jaw.
   Bryant initially lied to investigators and said he’d never had sex with the teenager, but he changed his story after police indicated that they had physical evidence from the rape kit. In his new version of events, Bryant admitted that they’d had sex, but he claimed it was consensual—and in fact, she had been the one to initiate it. The ensuing media coverage trumpeted Bryant’s athletic accolades, questioned the complainant’s character, and minimized the severity of the allegations by sprinkling basketball references throughout stories that were otherwise about rape. “On the hardwood, he often controls the court. But facing allegations of felony sexual assault by an unnamed nineteen-year-old woman, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant may find himself on another court where three-point plays don’t count,” NBC News reported after the arrest. The headline in the Los Angeles Times reassured fans that they had reason to doubt their star’s accuser: “Alleged victim in Bryant case is a 19-year-old graduate of local high school who is said to be fun-loving, outgoing and emotional.” The Associated Press story painted a portrait of a man deserving of compas- sion: “Sitting not far from the court, where everything comes so naturally to him, Kobe Bryant found it tough just to speak. After waiting several seconds to gather himself, the Los Angeles Lakers’ guard choked back tears and his voice quivered. ‘I’m innocent.’”

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In My Own Moccasins

In My Own Moccasins

A Memoir of Resilience
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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Dis/Consent

Dis/Consent

Perspectives on Sexual Consent and Sexual Violence
edition:Paperback
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Wide Open

Wide Open

A Love Story
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

What I remember most is what happened after.

I’m sitting in my car, staring out the windshield. It’s raining, and it’s late, maybe 3 or 4 in the morning. The wipers are on but the car is not. I watch them spread the rain across the windshield (badly on the right side, that wiper has been broken for years). I listen to the rhythmic squee for a while, staring, not quite able to turn the car on and drive myself home. My thoughts don’t seem to want to take an order. I’m not physically hurt, I’m fine. I’m fine. I think I’m fine. But I left my best friend’s house at 3 or 4 in the morning in the rain because I needed to get the hell out of there. And now I’m sitting here across from his apartment, listening to a broken windshield wiper, not getting the hell out.

I don’t know how long I sat there before I finally figured out I could turn the car on and go home. Sometimes I try to remember, really get the details in order, sort out what happened, go back to the beginning and think it through til the end, but it’s difficult, like trying to get ants to walk in a straight line. It gets mixed up with other memories—the other times he’d tried to touch me when I didn’t want him to. Or when pushed me into a dark room and locked the door behind him. Or trying to leave earlier that same night, sitting on the stairs, my coat half on, him pleading with me to stay, me making him promise nothing would happen. I remember enough, anyway.

When a bad thing happens, you have to survive twice. First you have to survive the thing itself. You have to be physically alive after the thing has happened. That’s certainly key to the whole process. But then you have to survive again, to get through the consequences of the thing that didn’t kill you. You have to figure out how to be a person in a world where your trust in people or your faith in what you think the world is has been shattered. Survival is a gift, but not always the kind you want. Sometimes it’s like the worst of Grandma’s Christmas sweaters, because still existing after a terrible thing happened is confusing and painful and sometimes itchy and definitely comes back every Christmas.

So survive we must. However long it takes, we need to create a container of safety before we can start dealing with the devastation of sexual assault. We need to see that whatever we had to do to survive at the time was what we had to do, and we survived, goddammit. It doesn’t matter if we smoked ten thousand cigarettes or dated all the wrong people or pushed away everyone we cared about or drank ourselves to the bottom of the ocean. Your desire, your will to power, your creativity, your ability to love and connect and fuck and feel don’t completely die unless you completely die. Whatever happened, if you’re still alive, you can heal.

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Whatever Gets You Through

Whatever Gets You Through

Twelve Survivors on Life after Sexual Assault
edition:Paperback
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