To the Newmarket Public Library for their latest IdeaMarket presentation, designed to get people thinking – and re-evaluating their own views.
A panel of five women who work with the victims of sexual assault describe the trauma of it all and how the women affected cope with the ordeal. They go on to tell us, in their own way, what needs to change.
I am here to listen and learn.
With former CBC celebrity, Jian Ghomeshi, up in Court again on 4 February, we launch into a discussion about "consent" and what it means. I learn there is outreach work done in Newmarket High Schools, getting young people to think about consent and how it manifests itself. One woman from the audience says nothing less than “enthusiastic consent” will do. I nod my head in agreement – but immediately realise that even that isn’t enough.
On her own admission, the White House intern, Monica Lewinsky had an enthusiastically consensual relationship with Bill Clinton but it was - no question about it - wholly inappropriate.
This is all difficult territory that has to be navigated with great care.
Now I am listening to a panellist making a glancing reference to the Rotherham sexual abuse case where police apparently believed the abused teenage girls were little better than “sluts”. It was truly shocking. But the comment is not set in context.
The police were culpable but so were many others. A string of high profile cases in Rochdale, Derby, Oxford and elsewhere, linked teenage girls from broken homes with British Pakistani men who preyed on them. People were paralysed by fear they would be branded as racist if they drew attention to that fact. Now it is out in the open and much discussed.
Now we are talking about conviction rates and how too many of the supposedly guilty walk free. I hear one panellist complain that convicting on the standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” is perhaps too onerous and, maybe, the “balance of probabilities” would be better. Hmmm.
Convicting someone on, say, a 51%-49% probability is not my idea of justice but I am too polite to say so. I bite my tongue. We are all very respectful of each other’s opinions.
Sexual Assault and politicians
Now a woman in the audience reminds us of the alleged sexual assaults on two female NDP MPs that dominated the headlines last November. They allege they were sexually assaulted by two Liberal MPs, Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews, who both say they did nothing wrong. Justin Trudeau, kicked them out of the Liberal caucus and banned them from running as Liberal candidates in the forthcoming election – unless they are exonerated by an independent investigation, the prospect of which seems to have evaporated. More details are out there in the blogosphere.
The NDP MPs could, of course, report the alleged assaults to the police but they choose not to. And without a formal complaint, the police are powerless to act.
One of the panellists – a police officer from York Region – tells us that any complaint of sexual assault is dealt with sensitively and the anonymity of the complainant is protected.
But that’s true only for so long. If the police decide to prosecute then, clearly, it is all going to come out in Court.
The two NDP MPs don’t want to go down that route.
But if they don’t, the reputations of the two Liberal MPs, already put through the mangle, are destroyed forever.
Update on 3 February 2015: Joan Bryden writes: MPs having difficulty creating legal terms of new harassment policy. Sub- committee's work going nowhere fast as it tries to regulate behaviour.
Update on 5 February 2015: UK Government intervenes in child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham.
see also Joint Committee on Human Rights (UK Parliament) Violence against women and girls.
Update on 20 March 2015: Justin Trudeau: "I consider the matter closed."