Jane Doe & Thousands of Women

In May, I responded to the disbanding of the community and women based Toronto Police Services Board Steering Committee on Sexual Assault that was formed as a result of Jane Doe’s successful suit against the Metropolitan Toronto Police.  In that case, it was found that the Toronto Police had been negligent in their handling of her rape, and had also breached her Charter right to equality before the law.

Last week at The Star, Michele Henry insulted both Doe and women’s communities who have struggled and worked against the odds for decades to challenge, assist and support the police to make or begin to make the systemic changes necessary to ensure that rape and sexual assault cases are properly pursued in an article purporting to assess the “gains” made in the ten years since the case was decided and since the re-structuring of a new “Advisory Committee” that excludes community members. 

The article isolated Doe, called her “bitter”, left out the work of individual women and women’s community groups in her struggle and bought into the official police view that “everything has changed and things are all better now”.  [You can read the article here].  Doe mobilized women to write to The Star and set them straight.  This week, The Star has some of their letters:

The woman known as Jane Doe has lectured at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law every year since the early ’90s. Her thoughtful, insightful analyses of the policing of sexual assault and the role of the law, health care, the media and other of our institutions in perpetuating sexual assault mythology has informed generations of our students. The hall is always packed. Just last week it was standing room only during her presentation. Her research, her book and of course her case are part of the curriculum in universities across the country.
It is difficult to reconcile her hopeful energy and dedication to teaching the next generation with the Star‘s categorization of her as “bitter” or “dogged” and its failure to represent her as a woman who has worked in collaboration with others in Toronto and across the province to effect change in police investigation of sexual assault.

In March 2009 our faculty will host an international conference to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Jane Doe decision and to reflect on the current response to sexual assault. Many of the 60-plus proposals we have received share her position that little has changed in the policing of that crime.

In fact, a 2007 Department of Justice study demonstrates the persistence of a shockingly high rate of unfounding for sexual assault by police. And Toronto’s own Auditor General in 2004 documented ongoing failure by police to follow their own protocols regarding sexual assault investigation.

Rather than isolating Jane and her work, it is in the interest of your readers that you represent the systemic nature of the crime of sexual assault and the many other scholars, front line and community workers who work with Jane Doe or support her.

Elizabeth Sheehy, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa

You need only read the report of the Auditor General of Toronto, the judge’s decision in Jane Doe’s case, or the brilliant book that Jane wrote to understand the real story of Jane Doe.

 If you had taken the time to actually engage with Jane Doe’s story and the significant social analysis embedded in what she is doing, perhaps then you would not have run such a simplistic report. It is clear that you chose instead to support the posturing of a police force that was found guilty of negligence and discrimination in their investigation of sexual assault.

If we must decide, as the article suggests, “Who is right – the police or Jane Doe?” I’m with Jane, as are many people who have woken up from a false sense of security and who don’t trust a police force that deliberately squashes the possibility for real change.

Institutional affiliation as a quality of the new advisory committee is not community driven and has often been proven to augment divisions between what actually happens to women and the institutions that they must adhere to. Democracy, we must remember, depends on the courage and challenges of citizen-subjects (not institutions). I think you have forgotten this.

Maria Belen Ordonez, Department of Social Anthropology, York University

One need only look at statistics to understand that the rate of sexual assault continues to rise and women continue to not report, citing fear of the police investigation as the main reason. An article about the work of the Steering Committee would have been much more useful than a police promo piece.

 Anna Bourque, Toronto

Your article is framed by the question “Who is right – the police or Jane Doe?” Given this simplistic approach, I’m not at all surprised the article failed to deal with what the Jane Doe case represents: the political struggle of many diverse women against systemic violence. The Star audience deserves a story that represents the perspectives of these women and their work to address how interlocking systemic violences such as racism and sexism and classism are reproduced by the state.

 Let’s have a little political analysis when dealing with issues of political violence.

Jamie Magnusson, Associate Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Thousands of cheers to Jane Doe, Elizabeth Sheehy, Marie Belen Ordonez, Anna Bourque and Jamie Magnusson and all other women who wrote letters that didn’t get published.  To all the women participating in the international conference at Ottawa U. in March, 2009 to celebrate the Ten Year Anniversary of the decision in Jane Doe’s case.  To community and women’s advocacy groups such as the Toronto YWCA, METRAC, Parkdale Community Legal Aid Services Programme who worked so hard on the Steering Committee.  To Beverly Bains, who helped to design the Committee.  And to women everywhere, who struggle with such persistence and courage  and beauty to make the world a better place for women – and men.  I am so proud of you – of us.

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