Hillary Di Menna
In late July, Mustafa Ururyar was found guilty of sexual assault against Mandi Gray. I have goose bumps just writing that sentence. Justice Marvin Zuker read his decision out loud in court from a 180-page prepared document. He started with recounting both Gray’s and Ururyar’s respective reports as well as relevant cases from Canada’s legal history. Throughout these examples the words “not guilty” were so often used confusion washed throughout the body of the court in waves: Were we about to discover Ururyar was found not guilty? And then the final section was read out: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The body of the court—full of Gray’s supporters—released sounds of joy, others gasped, and others, including me, reached to grab a tissue from a circulating pack.
As Zuker says, “Rape in the case of Maya Angelou is used to reflect the suffering of her race and to Maya Angelou a bird struggling to escape its cage trying to understand and respect both her body and her words.” Many of us like to think this title is also a nod to Gray’s tattoo, which she got last September after the rape. Zuker said he cannot accept Ururyar’s evidence and that the defence’s version of events—painting Ururyar as a clean cut nice guy whose cold would have made him too weak to rape—did not happen.
Not only did the judge—an old, white man, in a place of authority—use the term “rape,” a word that is dismissed in so many spaces for being too threatening, he called Gray’s experience a nightmare. The judge used terms that are so often dismissed as feminist jargon. He discredited rape myths surrounding what constitutes a “good” and “credible” rape victim, as well as saying there is no time limit on pain—a comment made in response to the defence’s argument that it took Gray too long to report the assault. (In fact, she went to the hospital to be tested 48 hours after the rape, and then reported it another 24 hours after that.)
“No other crime is looked upon with the degree of blameworthiness, suspicion, and doubt as a rape victim,” said Zuker. “Victim blaming is unfortunately common and is one of the most significant barriers to justice and offender accountability.”
After the verdict was read, supporters and reporters, gathered outside of the courtroom. Celebratory feelings were abundant and palpable. Gray did not attend court that day, but she did release a media statement 15 minutes before the 10 a.m. decision was read. “I am tired of people talking to me like I won some sort of rape lottery because the legal system did what it is supposed to do,” she said in her statement. Gray acknowledges that both the judge and crown did their jobs well, but rightly adds: “However, I will not congratulate the legal system, or the various courtroom actors for doing what they are supposed to do.”
Gray knows that her intersecting privileges are significant factors—she is a white, heterosexual woman in her late 20s with an in-depth knowledge of the legal system and a graduate level education. “But what can be drawn from my experience is that if I am drowning in these systems, what does that mean for those who are not university-educated, white women who are sexually assaulted?”
In court the defence lawyer acted both appallingly and wrongly. Lisa Bristow ignored Canada’s rape shield law when asking Gray questions directly pertaining to her sexual history. Bristow also read Gray’s phone number out loud in court and compared sex with Gray to sex with a dead fish. I feel sick when remembering Bristow tell Gray, “You were satisfied that you got the hot sex that you wanted.”
In her statement, Gray spoke about how the court process dehumanized her and, as she has said from the start, no matter the verdict, she would not be un-raped.
“My experience has demonstrated that Toronto Police Services do not care about sexual assault. It has been thirty years since Jane Doe first challenged the TPS for their discriminatory treatment of sexual assault complainants. The TPS have had enough time to ‘reform’, ‘diversify’ and ‘train’ but it simply does not work. It is time to imagine alternatives outside of the institution of policing for sexual assault. TPS make it clear that they do not care about sexual assault, so why continue the public façade that they take issues of sexualized and gender based violence seriously?”
Ururyar was found guilty that early afternoon. As Zuker said, “Rape it surely was.” Ururyar was released on bail until Monday July 25 when it was revoked. Gray released a public statement via Facebook sharing her thoughts on the revocation and Ururyar’s application to appeal the verdict. She explains that for over a year she has not been able to feel safe and receives daily messages telling her that she deserves to be raped again, and even die. The same day as the verdict Gray received an anonymous Facebook message calling her a misbehaving whore for having tattoos, drinking, and having sex before marriage. The writer said she deserves to be raped. Messages like these are a sobering reality that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“This is an individual with no remorse for the pain he has caused me, or the others around him. No verdict or sentence will ever reverse the pain imposed upon me by this person. With that being said, jail is not capable of curing his hatred of women,” Gray wrote. “The only reason I am somewhat relieved he is in custody is that because at least I know his likelihood of sexually assaulting another individual is substantially reduced. I don’t think it is a solution. I will never feel joy or happiness about being responsible for putting someone in jail. This is an individual with no remorse for the pain he has caused me, or the others around him. No verdict or sentence will ever reverse the pain imposed upon me by this person. With that being said, jail is not capable of curing his hatred of women.”
Gray’s work is still not done: she is currently bringing forward an Ontario Human Rights Complaint against the university and has switched her Ph.D. focus from women in prison to sexual assault.
Initially, Zuker revoked Ururyar’s bail ahead of sentencing on September 14. However on Wednesday August 3 Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Quigley overturned the decision and Ururyar has since been released on bail.
Since the verdict Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) groups have criticized the decision, targeting Gray, and she has also been the subject of hateful YouTube videos, as well as a pro-Ururyar documentary. Her article published in NOW Magazine received so many hateful comments that the thread had to be shut down.
The Ghomeshi trial sparked a media circus. People mused on air, in print, on social media, and in coffee shops about where the blame should lay, if at all: institutional failures, failed morals, bad choices. Law degrees were replaced by snappy headlines and witty social media memes. While it’s since settled down, the verdict against Gray’s assaulter has initiated another circus. There are angry, misogynists who—no matter what a judge decides—will fight hard against women who have experienced violence. In the case of Ghomeshi, these groups preached the respect for the judge’s decision. In Ururyar’s case, it’s the opposite: we are told the judge is wrong, and I’ve heard many anti-Semitic slurs. These responses are hateful and scary, but they are not unexpected.
The people who may prove to shake the foundations of those whose lives have been affected by sexual violence are those who we see as friends, family, and peers. These are the people we seek comfort from, or whom we at least feel safe with.
Gender-based violence may seem like something that’s too scary to think about happening frequently, or it can appear like it is something that only happens to other people—bad people—on the news. It may seem like an issue that is safe to theorize about with anyone. However, for some of us these issues are part of our lives, lives that are policed by the threat of this violence. Some of us only have the privilege to say why we think these things happen because we can be pretty sure it won’t happen to us. Meanwhile, while he say whatever comes to mind without much thought, we may be telling someone we love what we think about the violence that happened to them. We may ask why some of the women in the Ghomeshi case kept in touch with the man, and unwittingly be telling our sister that she deserved what happened to her. We may say Gray made a bad choice to go to Ururyar’s apartment, and unknowingly be telling our daughter that she could have prevented her own rape, if only she were smarter.
For some of us the Ghomeshi verdict sparked water cooler conversation. For some of us the Ghomeshi verdicts lead to tears and being scared to leave our homes. It lead to women calling each other all day checking in asking if they were OK; it lead to cancelled plans, and missed work. It is progress seeing mainstream media report on these cases and it can be empowering seeing social movements tackling this issue. However, these events do not mean those of us safe from violence have full license to share whatever theory of the day they believe in—potentially at the cost of another’s well being.
A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna is in her second year of the gender and women’s studies program at York University. She also maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.