OF all the questions directed at people who have experienced sexual assault, it seems the most common begin with, “why don’t.”
Why don’t you report / tell the police / speak up on social media / tell anyone / do anything / make it stop.
This is an easy thing to understand, for some of us. Difficult for others. So I thought, maybe it would be useful for some, if I were to invite you to walk with me, as I review each step of my own process of choosing to do nothing at all.
Before I begin, some disclaimers are in order. This post is only about the paths that branched out and then trailed off inside my mind. It is not intended as a guide. The choice I made drew on many things: the specifics of what happened, my basic personality make-up, who I am and who he was and where I’m at in life. None of those things are transferable. They all stay with me.
With that in mind, let’s begin.
For most of the month I spoke about Jian, an old story kept slithering up from the catacomb holes in my mind. The story is mine, and it’s strange to realize now that it is nothing more than that: just a story, one that I’ve told almost nobody. The story happens to be true, insofar as I lived it, but every day the finer points get a tiny bit hazier, the emotions a little bit more distant. More and more, I feel like I’m telling a story about a character who both was and is-not me, like a part on a stage I once played.
Nothing happened to the man who I must cast as the villain in the story. Nothing will happen. Hell, he’s almost a bit part.
This was where he makes his entrance: just over two years ago, someone did something really awful to me. This person is a member of the broad Winnipeg media world, and though caution suggests I clarify that they are not a colleague, I will not give his name. I will also say that nothing I have ever said or done will offer any hint as to who it was. I never changed my behaviour around this person, at least not in ways that would have been perceptible to anyone but me.
The details of what he did are not particularly important: I can say that what this person did, what they confessed to doing, would widely be considered a sexual assault or molestation, though it was not a rape. It occurred in a place where I had every reason to feel safe. I do not think he thinks he did anything wrong; and frankly, I doubt he even remembers it now.
Another thing: I am not particularly traumatized. Never was. I felt violated, angry, humiliated and filthy for a time. Some of those feelings remain, but not in a way that will leave any lingering scars. This is important to note, because it certainly shapes how I chose to respond. And also because I know a lot of you care about me, and truthfully? I’m fine.
For various reasons, my memories of the event are hazy and fractured. Some of that is absolutely alcohol, and it is very common for sexually predatory people to use alcohol to enable their actions. But some of it is just time. Two years out, what once burned in me now comes back in lazy and dim-lit flashes. It’s sort of like trying to peer in the windows of houses while your car zips down the street; but instead of rushed impressions of people in houses, the fleeting shapes I see are all me.
Sometimes I wonder if it even actually happened. One day, not too far off now, my grasp of it will be gone.
My God though, I hope he didn’t and won’t do it to anyone else. But I saw him laying the groundwork for it before and after what happened to me, saw the way he honed in and pressed himself against the women in his vicinity, and just… my God, I hope he stopped.
Right. So this is where I pause. Retrace my steps. Go back to the crossroads from which split several paths, and review which one was the best.
The one I took: I said nothing. When I finally became aware of the gravity of what had happened, I turned on my heel, cheeks flaming. I got the hell outta Dodge. I didn’t tell anyone for several months. In the end, four people know about this: two close friends who I spilled my guts with, my now-partner (who I didn’t know at the time), and one colleague who, in a fit of pique, I recently told rather casually.
All of them believed me. That too is important to say, because I’m grateful as hell for their faith, and their care.
At the time, though, it briefly crossed my mind that I could go down the road of calling police. But work through that with me: I had literally no evidence. None. By the time I really understood what exactly had happened, enough time had elapsed that there would have been no chance of finding any reliable eyewitnesses. There would have almost certainly been no DNA; if they had managed to swab anything at all from the fabrics where it happened, that could hardly have proven anything.
All I had was a story, and even that was patchy and full of holes in my memory. Well, a story and what he himself had told me — but I couldn’t expect he’d tell the same thing if the cops came calling. So no, all I had was a story, and in my quick estimation that hardly seemed enough to carry us all the way to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Which is an imperfect standard but one I believe in, for the criminal court — I expoused on that more on Escape Velocity Radio last month.
Besides, I didn’t want to spend the next months of my life hashing it all out. I just wanted to scrub myself clean. So that path is out.
A second path: I could call his boss. I stop here, and this little voice in my head is nattering at me — “and say what?” It would be a coin flip at best, between “I’m sorry this happened” and “none of my business,” but either way it would mean giving someone else the power to disappoint or judge me. There’s a good chance that rumours would spread quickly, and as much as it would hurt to find them frolicking in the open, they’d be twice as deadly being dealt behind my back. So nope, the boss path is out.
Another path, this one jagged and running through brambles: I name him, shame him, call him out on social media.
At this crossroads, I pause. I could do this, and there may even be some satisfaction from it, but the cost would be high. There would be a split between “his” people and mine. Our city is not a particularly big community, and I would forever be remembered for starting that mess. I would have to live with the stain of it forever, like a scarlet A on my head. Work and social settings would become fractured, as people juggled how to respond, and how to behave. It would all rotate around me — the girl usually happiest in the corner, who just wants to work.
And what could people really even do, if they did want to take my side?
Compared to many people who have borne similar harms, I am lucky: I have a platform. There are many people who follow me, and truthfully? I think that most of them would believe. I have faith in the community I’ve chosen for myself, and I have faith in the connections I’ve made. Yeah, if I went public — there would be a whole lot of public anger, at him. It’s very possible that he’d get fired — though ultimately, we would all know it would be because the PR was bad for the company, and not because they were taking a strong stance on the act itself.
This is where the path ends: that wouldn’t look like accountability, to me. It would not look like justice.
Under that scenario, sure, there would be some measure of punishment. But it would not be honestly served. I cannot see how dropping that kind of bomb would connect the dots in his head, to make him understand that what he did to me was wrong. He might apologize, but it would be only an apology extracted under duress. It would not be true contrition, which is freely given and fully meant; any apology he offered would primarily be informed by the pain levied against him.
I do not choose to damage, for damage’s sake. I prefer restoration.
But in the months and years that would follow, he would still quietly smear me as jealous and hollow; he would see himself as the victim of me being vindictive, and many people would believe him. He would be sorry he got mixed up with me in the first place. He would not, however, understand that his actions set the whole thing into motion.
No, no, I will not give his name. I will not call him out.
And I start to wonder, what would accountability look like, to me? What would restoration look like?
In my head, it looks less like punishment, and more like a lightbulb blowing up behind his eyes. It looks like him understanding how a night that fled by for him smeared me with shame that still lingers to this day. It looks like him realizing how he had violated me at every turn, how he had manipulated me to get around my barriers and abused my trust. It looks like him seeing that he had pushed at my weak spots, it looks like him realizing in horror how he’d refused to take “no” for an answer. How he’d lurked around the edges until he could take what he wanted.
I want him to feel that. I want him to know that. And I want him to look me in the eye, human to human, and fucking apologize.
There it is, that’s it, the final alternate path: I could call him out privately. I could ask to meet him somewhere, just the two of us, and I could lay it on him. I could unleash everything, all the anger that’s still clinging to life in me. But I would say: “I am not here to punish. I am here to make you understand, and if you understand, then I am here for your ‘sorry.'”
Then I think of what it would be like to look him in the eye, after these years. To vomit up this dusty old story. And I think of him shrugging his shoulders, and glancing around for the exits, and saying… “I don’t think it happened that way. I don’t remember this at all, what you’re saying. No idea what you’re talking about. You sound sort of crazy.”
That is the one thing in all of this I could not stand, to be made to feel crazy.
Realizing this makes it easy. There is only one path forward now, one that’s well-trodden and well-lit. There aren’t any sharp turns in it, no bumpy stretches or hidden pits. It goes quite simply like this: I will never say what happened, exactly. I will never tell his name. And no, there will be no justice for what happened, and he might do it again unless he chooses to change.
That’s on him, though. I was not responsible for his actions then, and I am not now. I am nobody’s caddy, and I refuse to dutifully carry his blame.
No, there’s nothing I can do, not that won’t do far more damage than it would help. There will be no justice — but at least, if nothing else, I can have peace. And I do have peace.