I once awoke to find a man’s hand on my breast.
It wasn’t a man I had gone to sleep with.
I was in what I thought was a safe space, with people I knew and trusted. I woke to that trust shattered by the realization that a man I had not consented to engaging with in any sexual way was attempting to do just that.
I froze. Thought I must have imagined it. Then I realized it was not a bad dream and I bolted. I locked myself in the bathroom until he gave up knocking on the door.
I left shortly after, without confronting him or telling anyone else in the house what had happened.
I believe the assault was out of character for this man. I believe he was so intoxicated that he wouldn’t have remembered it even happening. I wasn’t physically injured. And so it would have become a ‘he said, she said’ confrontation that would have, most likely, irrecoverably destroyed my relationship with someone close to me. So I chose not to report it, not even to mention it to him or basically anyone else until now.
And I was okay with my decision. Until this week. Two news stories have me re-examining my choice. One is Taylor Swift’s sexual assault trial in which a jury found a former radio DJ guilty of groping her during a photo op. Swift’s testimony was precise and perfect. Unapologetic. “I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions — not mine.”
I believe, like me, Swift was not physically or emotional damaged by what happened to her. But instead of walking away, she took the stand. The former DJ may have only nudged his toe over the line of what is unacceptable behaviour, but he still crossed that line. Swift reminded me that we all need to protect that line, so that more people don’t cross it.
The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian police dismiss one out of every five sexual assault reports as unfounded, meaning the investigators don’t believe a crime happened. It’s true, some cases that are reported are fabricated. People who study sexual assault suggest the rate of false reports is as high as 8% (or as low as 2%); but our national unfounded rate is 19%. That means nearly 7,000 Canadian women and men are told by police each year that their report of a sexual assault is not, by police definition, a valid allegation.
In the area served by the Codiac Regional RCMP, the unfounded rate is 33%.
I wonder what change would come if more people like me, like Taylor Swift, started reporting our assaults, too. Would that number rise? Or would the justice system be forced to adjust its process to better reflect reality?
There is a review of unfounded cases underway in New Brunswick. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Public Safety says meetings are being held with local organizations that help victims of sexual assault, discussing changes that can be made based on information provided by the province’s police departments. A report is expected to be made available to the public “at a later time along with recommendations for next steps.”
My experience did not involve physical violence. I don’t think it even involved malicious intent. But it still crossed a line that we are all responsible for enforcing. I have hope that the review of unfounded cases in New Brunswick will help etch this line more firmly in place among our justice system – and among our collective consciousness. We can’t continue to ignore those that trespass the line.
She Said appears Saturday in the Times & Transcript.