Sunday, 15 January 2012
The Other Side of the Story
Nearly anyone who knows me knows that recently, I have become very interested in acts of violence and abuse against women. It’s been an ongoing obsession of mine for about a year now, as I've tried to understand characteristics of abusers and “abuse dynamic,” as well as what can be done to prevent it. In a way it has sort of become an all-consuming hobby, which has jaded my perspective and caused me to see almost every relationship, no matter how insignificant, under the microscope of power-and-control dynamics.
For a while, I thought that seeing the world in this shit-stained way was OK, telling myself that it was justified and helping me “get through” one day at a time. And anyone who didn’t understand it, well... too bad.
But last week I was at a friend's house visiting their adorable service-dog who, much to the owner’s dismay, was inching towards me for attention. Instead of laughing or ravishing the dog with secret-affections, I heard myself saying, “Well, aren’t you manipulative.”
I had just accused a beautiful, innocent, square-headed black lab of a characteristic associated with sociopathic men (and women).
It was then that I realized I had a problem. Claiming the dog tried to fool me is where I draw the line.
In light of the fact that I had taken the whole control thing too far, I agreed to go to a lecture on wrongful conviction yesterday, with the same friend whose dog i had bitched out. I figured learning about two men that had been wronged by the system could help me remember my empathy for humanity, not just women (Girl power!) We sat in the back and I skimmed over the event speakers, Jamie Nielson and Robert Baltovich, a knot forming in my stomach as a read about each of their awful situations. Jamie Neilson was accused of rape in 1996 by a friend of an ex girlfriend, Cathy Fordham, and soon after the judge convicted him of sexual assault, assault, forcible confinement and uttering death threats. Despite his steadfast denial of all accounts and the courts complete reliance on one eye-witness account (the victim’s), Neilson lived the next 3 and a half years in prison. He was finally released when some brainy lawyers put their heads together and realized Ms. Fordham was also accusing over 30 other man of eerily similar crimes and situations. The nut-job ( and I do not use that word lightly)had fabricated the entire story, and well, she only served 6 months in prison and is now raising a family (Lord help us).
Robert Baltovich was 24 years old when he was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Elizabeth Bain, after she disappeared from her Toronto home in June 1990. Though their was insufficient evidence, and a belief that the Scarborough Rapist (Paul Bernardo) might have escalated to murder and taken another victim, the Crown believed Baltovich to be a “spurned lover” who killed Miss Bain, and he spent the next 8 years in jail.
Reading about these men and hearing their testimonies shook my belief system just as I had expected. Both of these men were wrongfully convicted due to tunnel-vision (which usually occurs because its easiest to blame those whom were intimately involved with the victim and therefore is less work for the Crown, or because the cop on the case has emotional investment in what they believe to be the truth) This means that in both cases, the victims were categorized as abused and, in the case of Baltovich, killed. Had it not been for our CJS’ tendency to prioritize acts of violence against women and believe those who claimed to be victims, these men could have lived their whole lives in the free world, instead of in incarceration.
So, maybe our institutional dependence on women’s rights is very much to blame for the years these men spent behind bars. The problem with this viewpoint is that our society’s support for abused women and their delegations of the men accused of abuse is often very beneficial to women. Some women do not even realize they're being abused until they’re hit 3, 4, 5, times. Others realize the minute they are belittled, smothered, or mocked. But either way, the minute a woman dials 9-1-1 after an instance of physical violence with their partner, the man is arrested and escorted to the cop shop on the spot, no matter how many times he claims she started it, or that she fell. Immediate action like this is necessary is for a number of reasons:
1) The women’s safety is at stake without law enforcement intervention
2) The abuser might have succeeded in convincing the victim that the abuse is ‘not that bad,’ that ‘she deserved it’ or that she is not being abused at all.
3) 9 out of 10 times, this type of intervention circumstance is necessary for a woman to find the courage to leave an abusive relationship.
4) If ‘innocent until proven guilty’ was considered in the arrest of violent men, the men would be found innocent more often then not, not because they are innocent, but because a general characteristic of abusers is that they are amazingly persuasive liars, and often believe their own lies.
It is for these reasons that accusations of abuse are taken so very seriously by the authorities. Women in abusive situations frequently need all the help in the world to process what has happened to them, often dealing with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, such as nightmares, depression, bouts of anxiety, loss of concentration, low-self esteem, suicidal tendencies and alcoholism or addiction problems, just to name a few. Picture falling asleep for a while, a light,restless slumber, and waking up a few years later having no idea who the fuck you are or what you stand for. That’s what it’s like, seriously. So clearly, rights for women who have been violated or abused need protection, and it is the system's belief that immediate arrest after an act of physical abuse is the first step in offering support for women.
And I must say, they couldn’t be more right. One of the functions of law is to be a voice for those who are voiceless, fight back for those who can’t fight, and if anyone’s in the position, it is more often than not, the battered woman. So what do we do when our laws assertive, face-forward approach to abused woman put innocent men in jail because of the odd personality-afflicted, psychopathic women uses those rights to her sick advantage, as in Jamie Nielson’s case? What do we do when a innocent man spends 8 years locked up because the easy battered-women conclusion closes the case?
I’m writing this because I have no answers. The lecture left a bad taste in my mouth, as I wondered what can be done about such injustices. I’m still at a loss. Regardless, I think that pointing fingers to one cause is ineffective, because I think a number of factors make up a wrongful conviction. And though I’ll likely be a raving feminist until the day I die, I hope to slowly regain enough faith in women AND men and fight for humanity’s injustices, not just those with flowers below their waist.