News  Jane Doe speaks on the politics of rape

Sexual assault activist and feminist denounces treatment of rape

Jane Doe was raped in her downtown Toronto apartment in 1986 – but it took 11 years for the police to be charged with misconduct during their investigation of the case.

On Tuesday, about 100 students listened to Jane Doe – a placeholder name for confidentiality – criticize police and legal procedures in rape cases.

Doe was the fifth woman in her Church-Wellesley neighbourhood to be attacked by an assailant known as the Balcony Rapist.

Though the police were aware of the serial rapist’s attack pattern and he was eventually identified by a poster campaign begun by Jane Doe, no further action was taken by the police.

Doe was outraged that police officials withheld information crucial to citizens’ safety in order to facilitate the Balcony Rapists’ arrest. She claimed that the decision was based on the myth that when women are informed of a sexual predator, they become hysterical and cause the rapist to flee.

“Since the age of three, we [women] have been socialized to be mindful and to censor how we live our lives. Nevertheless, we did manage to live fabulous lives…. We are the people who hold society together – and we will be okay, if you tell us there is a threat to our lives,” she said.

Doe eventually pressed charges against the Metro Toronto Police, claiming negligence and gender discrimination in the investigation of her case. She was the first civilian to hold the authorities accountable for their investigative methods and won $220,000.

But Doe said the court hearing on her lawsuit was a humiliating experience. Authorities used her personal medical reports showing a history of mental illness to argue that the psychological damage she sued for was unrelated to the police procedure on her rape.

“This is why women walk away. Why would anyone subject themselves to such incredibly outrageous, horrendous treatment?” she said. “By what was done to me in those days, in a court of law, and in the means of justice, I was diminished as a human being.”

In response to Doe’s lawsuit, a city auditor submitted to the Toronto Metro police a list of 56 recommendations to improve investigation into sexual assault in 1999. However, on November 2007, the chair of the Police Services Board terminated the steering committee created to ensure the recommendations were implemented by the police. Most of the recommendations have yet to be fully incorporated into police protocol.

Doe urged the audience, mostly composed of law students, to challenge gender stereotypes and to support the representation of women before court by a lawyer.

“You are going to be part of the problem. You are going to cut your teeth on sexual assault issues as well, because nowadays there are many changes that influence jurisdiction and that you don’t learn about,” she said.

Michael Twigg, a U3 International Development Studies student who attended the talk, was impressed with Jane Doe’s frank and honest treatment of rape.

“She is a fantastic speaker. She manages to put people at ease in talking about this sensitive subject and to shed light on such an important issue that is often marginalized,” he said.

The Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students Society (SACOMSS) co-hosted this event in co-operation with the McGill Faculty of Law’s Women’s Caucus and the Annie MacDonald Langstaff Workshop Series.

SACOMSS’s External Becky Harris said the Centre was excited to invite such an illustrious guest.

“It is a unique opportunity for us to hear her perspective on sexual assault. She opens the floor for discussions on this issue [since] of course it is solely the survivor’s decision to talk about it or not,” she said.