Monday, March 17, 2008

Rape victims still face discrimination, advocate says

Two decades after she was raped at knifepoint, Jane Doe said the legal system still discriminates against victims of sexual violence.

"Raped women are framed socially and within the law as someone broken -- not a Madonna or whore, but somewhere in between," Doe said.

"Let the good men fix what the bad man did in a passive role."

Doe was one of five Toronto women raped at knifepoint in 1986 by the "balcony rapist." She spoke to a crowd of 40 people at the Millennium Library tonight about ongoing myths surrounding sexual assault as part of the University of Manitoba Womyn's Centre Women's Week events.

Doe said many women are still blamed for sexual crimes committed against them, and defence lawyers still use a woman's sexual, medical and psychiatric past as a tactic to get an accused rapist out of conviction.

While Doe describes her case as a "good girl" rape, she said marginalized women or women of colour have a difficult time accessing resources and standing up against what she calls systemic discrimination.

That's part of the reason why the majority of sexual assaults still go unreported, she said.

"It is all quite legal and it happens all the time," she said, noting defence attorneys tried to use her brother's depression to imply she was mentally unstable in civil court.

"And they wonder why women don't report rape. Who would you want to subject yourself to that?"

After she was assaulted, Doe defied Toronto Police and put up more than 2,000 posters warning women in her neighbourhood about the rapist. Police had told her she could be arrested for alerting women, saying it could cause "hysteria" among women or cause the rapist to flee.

Doe later sued the Toronto Police for not issuing a public warning to women, and was awarded more than $200,000 in damages.

Despite her outspoken advocacy, Doe said police and society still instill fear of violence in women -- don't walk alone at night, don't take the bus alone, lock your doors and stay at home if there's a sexual predator in the neighbourhood.

But Doe said this idea ignores the fact that many sexual crimes are perpetrated by husbands, friends, colleagues and boyfriends -- not strange rapists hiding behind bushes.

"The men who rape us are the men we know," she said.

Doe said current statistics show one Canadian women is raped every 17 minutes.

She dismissed the idea that more prisons, longer jail terms or more police officers would improve the number of sexual assaults. Doe criticized the Harper government's for wanting to build more prisons and enact a "three strikes" law, similar to California's, that seeks to incarcerate more people instead of reform the cause behind sexual abuse.

What would make a difference, she said, is investing in sexual assault and help centres for victims and properly addressing why violence against women continues to happen.

"The real violence is in our homes and continues to escalate but we don't talk about that," Doe said.

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