Rape Victim Jane Doe LaunchesMonday, July 26 2010
Rape Victim Jane Doe Launches "Coffee Table Book"
By Mona Forrest, womennet.ca
Jane Doe kicked off her Canadian book tour in Ottawa April 24, 2003, the night of a crucial Sens game. She didn’t make any hockey analogies during her talk to an audience of 75 people at the Ottawa Public Library, but she did note at one point that we had some kind of hockey team here in Ottawa and asked if anyone had the score.
Women there knew the score, but not related to the Sens game. Jane Doe is thoughtful, humorous, vulnerable, brave, down-to-earth, and not crazy. She said that she regrets that nothing has changed since she was raped in 1986 to enable women to face the process when reporting rape and that most women do not report rapes because most women are not crazy. Jane said that public opinion is that the law protects a woman’s personal, medical/psychiatric and sexual history from display in court in a rapist’s trial, but to the contrary these factors are the very basis of rapists’ lawyers’ defense presentations.
She thinks that rape should be discussed openly, be put on the table, and so she wrote a "coffee table book." She said that people did not know how to deal with her outside of the role of victim and she had to invent her own way of being and dealing with others.
Using the Jane Doe term is not what she would prefer to do, she said, and she wanted to see her name on the book she wrote, but for her own security she was obliged to take the precaution of a obtaining a press ban on using her real name, and she reminded media in the room of that ban, while introducing herself to the audience with her real name. Therein lays the conundrum of many women who have endured and survived rape, the living with the fear that they will be further threatened if they tell the story and tell the truth.
Jane Doe was already an activist and feminist when she was raped by a man who lived with his wife and child nearby in the downtown Toronto area of Church/Wellesley. Police knew there was a serial rapist at work as a pattern had emerged of women being raped within a six block area of Jane Doe’s apartment, of women who could be reached through balconies on the first or second floor being victimized, but the police did not issue a warning in the area or ask for the public’s assistance.
Jane’s feminist belief and activism and support from networks of people she was already involved with in working on causes were of help to her in pursuing the actions she did, while these very beliefs would be used against her in court.
She told the story of how the police side in her court case required her to provide a list of feminist books she had read in the ten years before her rape. She said that was difficult enough as it is doubtful that anyone could remember what they read ten years ago, but she called up friends who she had discussed the books with, and compiled the list, Brownmiller, Sheehy, Daly, dozens of others.
In court, each title was read out separately and she was asked for each one, had she read this book and she had to reply yes. The attempt was then made to prove that the action she had taken against the Toronto Police Force was not because their process was wrong and contributed to the unnecessary victimization of women but because Jane had a "feminist agenda" long before she was raped.
I have never heard of a rapist having to list every pornographic magazine and misogynist and violent book he had read in the ten years before he committed rape, and that being used to prove that the rape was planned and intentional and because of a woman hating agenda, but someone should give it a try.
When Jane Doe asked why no warning was given to enable women to take steps to protect themselves, she said police told her that women would become hysterical and the rapist would be warned off and not be caught. Jane Doe and others were bait to enable police to try to catch the rapist.
After she was raped, Jane Doe said she herself would post warnings to women, and police threatened her with charges for interference in the investigation. She went ahead, and as a result of her postings a tip came in that resulted in the rapist’s arrest. He was later convicted and sentenced to jail.
Jane Doe’s story was just beginning. The Legal Education and Action Fund, LEAF, agreed to support her in suing the police for negligence and violation of her Charter rights, and she embarked on a 12 year odyssey - one that cannot be repeated, as LEAF no longer takes on individual cases. Jane’s book describes that journey in many dimensions, and she said that the city of Toronto auditor recommended 57 changes in procedure as a result. She said that not one of the changes had been implemented, while audit reviews claim the opposite.
During the question period, the audience of majority women and a few men, asked questions about what supported her and gave her the courage to pursue her case, and they discussed what people need to do to support women who have experienced rape and violence.
I was particularly taken with a young woman who said that we should start using the term feminist again, that it has for too long been used as a negative or put down, and that if everyone started calling themselves feminist and owned the title, that could be turned around.
Jane Doe said this long. long process has been a "piece of work" for her, something she had taken on because of her principles, her belief in social justice and her long history as a feminist and a woman involvement in working on issues. One of the steps that therapists say is crucial to overcoming disasters is to take positive action to regain control of our lives.
Jane Doe has done that and more. She has been through the fire and out again, and she has emerged quite some time ago I believe, ready to go on with her life. This book and this book tour is more than a part of that process, she has come full circle to the basis of what is important to her and speaks with the credibility of personal experience, past her situation as a woman who has been raped to that of a woman activist who took on the some very big opponents, fought the good fight and won. While it is not given to every woman to be able to duplicate her efforts, we should appreciate them in the hope that others take courage from Jane Doe.
Her Charter challenge and triumph against the processes used by the Toronto Police Force and others in handling rape has found a place in Canadian law and Canadian women’s herstory.
"The Story of Jane Doe" is published by Random House, is available in Ottawa at Mother Tongue Books and at other bookstores around the country.
Comments? Write to Mona Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org.