Letters to the editor, March 31, 2016

These are the letters and comments from the print edition

After the verdict

There are a lot of angry and disappointed people in Canada as a result of the not-guilty verdict rendered by judge William Horkins in the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial. I am one of those people. Being the mother of a domestic violence abuse survivor, there is a lot of room in my heart for outrage.

I have an extremely difficult time with the phrases "presumed innocent until proven guilty" and "beyond a reasonable doubt." I am consumed with them; they nag at me and confuse me and make me feel restless and uncomfortable. People repeat these words as if the court of law is the only place that truth is uncovered, where only available evidence can tell a truth.

There IS no evidence for so many. And that IS a truth.

My daughter experienced intimate partner violence for two years. Her assailant was extremely careful not to leave scars or bruises visible to the naked eye. And when she finally got out, when she finally revealed what had happened to her, there was no justice for her. She had no evidence to show, no witnesses. There are those who remain friends with her assailant, who cling to "presumed innocent until proven guilty" and "beyond a reasonable doubt." For my daughter these attitudes threaten to negate and rewrite the memories, the betrayal, the truth. Did it really happen? YES IT DID. In my daughter's life, yes it did.

A disturbingly high number of sexual assault and domestic violence cases are never reported, and of those reported, only a small percentage go to trial, and of those cases only a small percentage result in conviction. Why? The burden of proof is with the complainant.

But there is often no physical evidence, and no witnesses beyond the complainant and the accused. When it comes to the testimony of the accused, there often isn't any, because they are allowed not to take the stand. As for the complainants, testimony is often shadowed by trauma, causing mistakes to be made in stories, or facts to be left out. Complainants are also held to an incredibly high standard because they often have to testify about the relationship with the accused leading up to and after the alleged event, as if that should matter.

Victims of sexual assault need support— legal support, before, during and after court proceedings. We need more specialized courts for victims of domestic violence and we need to DEVELOP specialized courts across Canada for victims of sexual assault. It's time for our justice system to evolve from the outdated mess it is right now into something that truly offers a fair trial and justice for all. And then, just maybe then, those who grip so tightly to those treasured phrases of "presumed innocent until proven guilty" and "beyond a reasonable doubt" might actually see the real truth. —Christine Hulme Colin, Halifax

So, I had a megaphone in my hand. Again. Raging against the machine. Again.

On behalf of my niece who suffered horrific violence in a relationship, I screamed out my anger to a supportive crowd who screamed out their anger—that I'm so sick and tired of going to these things because injustice to women prevails. The Ghomeshi acquittal is another death in the family of women. Change does happen, I told the crowd, but it moves ever so slowly. I told the young people there to prepare to stand at a rally 30 years from now because not enough has changed.

Once the topic of sexual abuse arises in the company of women, there is not one who doesn't have a story to tell. In a recent conversation a young woman remarked "I was lucky. I got out of it early." And then we all agreed that feeling "lucky" was an absurdity in such a situation.

We have no language for what happens to us. This limits our ways of communicating, limits the discussion, limits the change. By trying to decode the terror of misogynistic violence, we are restricted to comparisons, degrees of pain, measurements of suffering.

And this is why we need to keep talking, telling our truths, shouting, raging, being infuriated. Because eventually the words WILL form that can articulate what it is truly like to exist in a society that assumes your utterances are falsehoods and mere stories.

This is why I protest and rally and write and read and speak. I will NEVER be silent. On behalf of all women, I will forever put myself out there to continue the conversation. In my lifetime there will be no putting this injustice to bed. It will be a fight to the death. —Linda Hulme Leahy, Cow Bay

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