by Eddie Jude
On March 24th, 2016, the day of the verdict for the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial in Toronto, I was at the Black Lives Matter occupation, Tent City, outside police headquarters. The fifteen day occupation sought justice for Andrew Loku, a Black man who was shot and killed by Toronto police. The person next to me read out the live tweets of Ghomeshi’s acquittal and judge’s comments on the (lack of) integrity of the witnesses. When I heard that he wouldn’t be convicted, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. I literally felt nothing. At one point I said I didn’t want to hear anymore and so the person stopped reading out loud and we both went on with our day. I knew from the start that Ghomeshi would never be charged, because if most ordinary men never get charged let alone convicted for sexual assault, then what were the chances that this B-list celebrity would?
A month prior, singer Kesha was told by a judge that she’d have to fulfill her recording contract with her label, which meant continuing to work with producer, Dr. Luke, who was also her rapist. A week before that the vocalist of a punk band called Bleed the Pigs put out a public statement saying they’d been assaulted by their bandmate, who, once confronted, dipped out of the band and ghosted off to tour with another one of his projects. Back in January, the world erupted into arguments over whether or not David Bowie was a rapist for having had sex with a teenager.
Every day my online news feed is filled with more and more breaking news about men in various entertainment scenes and industries who assault women, femmes, and gender nonconforming people. What stays the same with every story is that people will say or do almost anything to hold up the reputations of these men no matter how many survivors come forward. Over thirty women say they were drugged and raped by Bill Cosby, each having an almost identical story, and yet people still believe that these women are corroborating. I never really understand what people think survivors have to gain going to criminal court because literally the only people making money are the lawyers and pretty much the only people on trial are, well, seemingly the survivors.
All this goes to reiterate, that the day Ghomeshi was declared not guilty, I felt nothing. It all unfolded exactly as I had expected it to; the survivors were humiliated, their stories discredited, their privacy breached; Ghomeshi never took the stand once, and then he walked free. Rape culture ran its course and subsequently, no justice was served.
That same day, survivors and protesters alike congregated at Old City Hall to express their support to the trial’s witnesses at the ‘I Believe Survivors’ rally. At first I was stunned that these women would show their faces after what they had just gone through, but then I remembered that when I was raped, I got up the next day and life continued as usual. The world doesn’t stop when your abuser walks free. You just try to avoid them and hope that you don’t get raped again in your lifetime. Maybe you see a counselor or a therapist. Maybe you become an advocate for survivors everywhere. Maybe you develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought on by your assault, or re-traumatization from your trial. Maybe you seek an accountability process from your community and they react with indifference or silence. Maybe you write about it. Maybe you do nothing.
Healing is an ongoing, messy, and non linear process that often feels lonely and isolating because of people’s unwillingness to accept the experiences of survivors as truth. Many survivors choose to heal alone and in silence because when we do speak out, we are rarely believed. Sometimes healing alone is not a choice, but the only actual option.
During the I Believe Survivors rally, we began to march from Old City Hall up Bay Street to Tent City in the rain and sleet, where Black Lives Matter TO (Toronto) were waiting to greet us. The police officer who killed Andrew Loku had also been acquitted of all charges. So our two causes joined forces and Tent City became a cacophony of hundreds of echoing screams and chants, ‘we believe survivors’ intertwining with ‘Black Lives Matter’. Alexandria Williams of BLM TO screamed over and over again that she believed us; her yells hitting a pitch that caused her voice to crack, as if the spark ignited inside her was erupting into flames. Having someone repeatedly say they believe you while you stand with hundreds of other survivors is a magical and transformative moment of healing. The combining intersections of racism, colonialism and patriarchy; misogyny and rape culture in this space felt like an important moment in history, and I was honoured to be able to witness and heal from its energy.
The merging of these two actions demonstrated that solidarity within our movements not only bring us closer to justice, but also shape our ability to heal in public, and as a community. There is transformation in healing together because capitalism wants us to remain solitary and alone. We break that silence by recognizing our own voices and the voices of others; in believing each other. By telling the stranger next to you that you have their back; by crying on the shoulder of the friend standing next to you. To feel mother nature’s rage alongside you, as she showered the city in days of endless rain and snow while Tent City and the Ghomeshi trial proceeded.
In the moments that these actions physically merged, space was carved to hold and cradle our collective grief as the rain showered us, and I felt truly nourished. With gratitude, I would like to thank Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizers of the I Believe Survivors rally for providing us with such an exemplary example of what community healing can look like.
Eddie is a writer, musician, community artist and educator living in Toronto. They write zines under the moniker Late Bloom and are a collective member of the Toronto Queer Zine Fair. You can find more of their work at www.eddiejude.com.