When the law fails women, they find their own ways to deal with perpetrators of sexual assault.
By Julia Alsop
MONTREAL’S FIRST RAPE CRISIS CENTRE was founded in 1975. Diana Yaros has been working there since 1979. She has noticed some positive changes, such as the 1983 criminal code reforms that made it possible for women to charge husbands with rape. “I can’t overstate how taboo a topic rape and incest was when we started organizing in the seventies,” she says. “Unless a woman was raped, killed and it was in the news, we simply didn’t talk about it.” But Yaros says it’s still difficult for women to access justice, especially when it involves intimate partner violence. “If you’re reporting an assault of minor, [the police] will respond. If it’s a stranger rape, they’ll respond. But most rapes occur between [the victim and] someone [they] know,” she says.
Jane Park* found this out the hard way.
When she filed a sexual assault report to the Montreal police against a former partner, she was immediately told that there was a 99 percent chance that the prosecutor wouldn’t take the case due to lack of evidence. A couple of weeks later, a detective rang her. Park thought he was calling to schedule a formal interview. Instead, he decided to dish out relationship advice. “In the first two minutes of our conversation, without knowing anything other than the basic details of my case, he told me this was just a dispute and I should try to work it out,” Park says. She was shocked. “He said it was similar to the kind of disputes he and his girlfriend had all the time.” Months later, she received a call saying that the prosecutor had decided not to pursue her case.
She decided to file a report regardless. “It felt like it was something I could do to assert myself. I wanted to feel like my voice wasn’t being silenced, like my story was being documented,” she says. “Instead, I was being told what happened to me hadn’t happened.”