I am not a perfect victim because there is no such thing as a perfect victim

[I know I said that my next post was going to be one in which I took a bit more of an in-depth look at why women are doing so badly on KickStarter. However, when I sat down at my computer to write, what ended up coming out was something very different. So bear with me. I do have that post outlined, and it will be the next blog post I write. I apologize for the interruption.]

The last week+ has been very difficult for me, media-wise. I live in Canada, which means coverage of the trial of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi has been damn near inescapable. (But wundergeek, what the hell does this have to do with gaming, you might ask? I’m getting there. Be patient.) Simply avoiding radio and television news would not be enough to avoid being exposed, because on every single social network there are shares and links and stories – all with commentary, and all with quotes or transcripts of particularly odious things being said to and of alleged victims. No matter who you are, it makes for harrowing reading. But for me – as someone who has been sexually assaulted by a nerd-famous man and who didn’t speak out because of concerns over being treated… pretty much exactly how the witnesses are being treated now? It hasn’t been a fun ride.

[Explanatory sidebar: For those of you who aren’t Canadian or have otherwise missed the scandal, Jian Ghomeshi is the former host of a wildly popular national radio show and a former NATIONALLY BELOVED media figure. He was fired by the CBC when allegations started to emerge that he had sexually assaulted a number of women. He initially tried to sue for wrongful dismissal, but the suit was withdrawn as more and more women spoke out. So far 23 women have spoken out, and the current trial includes only 3 of those women as witnesses.]

Attorney for the defense Marie Henein has made headlines for simply eviscerating witnesses on the stand, using Ghomeshi’s comprehensive archives of communication to attack the credibility of the witnesses. And while it’s true that Henein certainly can’t be held responsible for inventing the standard defense playbook for sexual assault trials, she has been disgustingly effective in deploying it. Puzzlingly, the crown prosecutor has not included any testimony about the psychology of abuse victims, because all of the so called “inconsistencies” in the witness testimonies are pretty fucking consistent with the psychology of abuse. But it looks like they’re not going to, and the common media consensus is that Jian will probably get off now that the three witnesses have been so publicly “discredited”.

Listening to the coverage summarizing Henein’s arguments has been harrowing, and more than a little triggering, because the defense’s devastatingly effective attacks on the “credibility” and “reliability” of the witness testimony, and the popular media narrative accepting that these witnesses can’t be held as “credible”… all of it highlights just HOW FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE it is for women to live up to the standard of the “credible victim”, because being “credible” requires being PERFECT, and THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT VICTIM.

(Here’s where we get back to how this relates to the topic of this blog. Thanks for bearing with me this far.)

Several years ago, I wrote about my experience of being sexually assaulted at a gaming convention by a man I have jokingly described as “nerd famous” – someone who is famous and universally (well, almost) respected as one of the top minds in game design and publishing. And I know, I KNOW in my heart of hearts that my decision not to name that person was the correct one, because there are so very many reasons why I am also not a perfect victim.

A perfect victim would never have agreed to share a bed with a man that she did not know well. A perfect victim would have said something when she first began to get uncomfortable. A perfect victim would not have allowed him to restrain her, or would have removed his arm from restraining her once it happened. A perfect victim would have removed herself from the situation once it grew intolerable instead of waiting until morning.

A perfect victim would have openly removed all of her belongings from the room and left to report the incident right away instead of sneaking back up and moving her stuff while her attacker was absent in order to avoid a confrontation. A perfect victim would have told her attacker to keep his distance. A perfect victim would NOT have had breakfast with her accuser. A perfect victim would have told friends, of which there were many present, that something was wrong and that she was not okay. A perfect victim would have asked for help in reporting the incident and making sure that action was taken.

But I was NOT the perfect victim. Hell, I didn’t even KNOW I was a victim until later that day when my attacker wanted to join a group of friends and myself in going for dinner, and I started to have an anxiety attack. I got a male friend to intercede and tell my attacker that he needed to keep his distance, but it wasn’t until afterward when I was explaining to the male friend in private what had happened and why I had made the request that I realized that what had happened was sexual, and was abuse, and was not okay. And it took SOMEONE ELSE SAYING IT TO ME in order for me to realize that it was true.

But the moment in which I accepted that what happened was abuse was also the moment in which I knew that I would NEVER be able to name the man who attacked me:

Decide that you are going to blog about what happened. Be angry that you can’t ever say who it was. No one will believe that he would do something like that. Know in your soul that naming him would be the same as exile from this community that you’ve built a place for yourself in. Know that you are not capable of dealing with that kind of fallout. Know that you are not able to find out the hard way who will side with you and who will not and not have it destroy you.

Argue with your husband about whether you should blog about the incident. He only wants you to be safe, you are determined not to be silent. Tearfully convince him that you are right. Blog about it with all identifying details omitted. Hate yourself for being a coward.

Become obsessed of the definition of harassment versus assault. Reluctantly decide to call it assault, even though you weren’t raped – mostly because of the physical confinement. Continually minimize your own trauma by telling yourself it wasn’t that bad.

Have panic attacks whenever his name comes up in your gaming-related social media streams, which is often. Learn to look like you are being productive while you are, in fact, doing your best not to hyperventilate.

Get pregnant. Cry. Have more panic attacks. Cry.

Worry that your silence will make you culpable the next time he does something.

Get therapy. Get your shit together. Finally accept that you didn’t say no because your entire life you have been socialized not to.

Everyone knows the standard defenses, explanations that can be deployed to convince victims of abuse that they are to blame. “She was dressed like a slut.” “She was out alone at night.” “She was drunk.” “She was asking for it.” The tragedy is that we live in a society that provides scripts for abusers, but not for victims. Often, victims of abuse don’t even realize they’ve been abused until well after the fact, because the only script that exists – the HORRIBLE RAPIST IN THE BUSHES – barely even resembles the reality of sexual assault, that in 9 out of 10 instances of sexual assault, the attacker is someone that the victim knows and trusts.

And so we hide, we victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. We hide from what we KNOW the consequences will be if we speak out, but it also means that we hide from each other. Each victim becomes an isolated island of suffering. And maybe you manage, like I did, to make peace of a sort with what happened. But things like the Ghomeshi trial stir up the waters, leaving all sorts of garbage and debris on the shore of our lonely islands – trash that we have to pick up ourselves because the abuse is OUR PROBLEM. It is always only ever OUR PROBLEM.

And yet, incidents like this also help victims to chart the waters of victim-hood. In the storm, we catch glimpses of shores of suffering that are not our own and add new islands to map, although the boundaries of those islands can only be charted in the vaguest manner – guesses at best. And one can’t help but wonder – what of the islands that are too well hidden to be found? How many are there? And how are they affected by their seclusion?

Lest you think that my metaphor is getting tortured, this weekend, in talking to a female friend about the agonies of the Ghomeshi trial coverage, she confessed to me that she had experienced a similar incident to the one that I had described in my previous blog post, and that it wasn’t until reading that post that she had the language to describe what happened to her as assault. And in a way I was glad that being even partially open helped her to be able to describe an experience that wasn’t okay. But the encounter was also depressing, because this is always what happens.

Cosby. Ghomeshi. Assange. Woody Allen. Damn near every time the waters get stirred up, I learn of a new story. Of a woman that I respect and admire who has been the victim of harassment, abuse, and assault. And yet sitting here, I can’t say that I know of a single woman who has ever gone public with her story, or has tried to take legal action over it.

So here I am, shouting my despair at the internet yet again, which I seem to do at regular intervals. Because as laudable as the work that is being done to implement anti-harassment policies at game events and conventions is, it doesn’t mean a damn thing until we start fighting back against the need for women to be “perfect” victims.

11 thoughts on “I am not a perfect victim because there is no such thing as a perfect victim

  1. All I can say is that I share your anger and despair over this trial and how they are treating the victims. It’s like they are being victimized again because now they are the ones on trial. People want to know why rape and sexual assaults go unreported, well, there you go. I get what you are saying regarding your own rationale for not pressing charges; not only would you get to relive the experience, you’d get all kinds of victim blaming because you’re the kind of person who made the mistake of placing her trust in a person that clearly didn’t deserve it, and continued to place yourself in a bubble of denial like anyone would who was just assaulted by someone she had erroneously given the benefit of a doubt. It just makes me so sad because if there was any justice in the world, this man would be punished for assaulting you and everyone would be in your corner. /hugs

  2. I am sorry, and sympathetic for your plight.

    I am very glad you have the will and courage to communicate this “stuff”…not just the experience (unfortunately shared by so many), but your FEELINGS on the matter. Sometimes humans stupidly forget that other humans have the same feelings as themselves (and the importance of those feelings).

    Now *I* want to write a series of posts on the issue of sexual harassment/assault (even though I’m a poor person to do so). It would appear there aren’t enough people shouting in the dark.

  3. I I can ask, what happened between you and your guy friend after?
    I went through something a little while back where a very good friend of mine was raped underage, and I tried to help deal with the fallout from it. But what worries me is that she has totall cut me off and that she has continued to be ‘with’ the guy who hurt her, and it scares me. And what scares me more is that now I worry she lied to me to make it seem she wasn’t “a slut” or similar, and it’s very confusing emotionally
    And this has got way off track but I just needed to say it
    (Looking forward to posts to come, love the blog:))

    • I am no longer in contact with the man who attacked me and we are not friends.

      And. Uh. I don’t know how to say this, but maybe the reason your friend cut you off after she told you about being raped is because she could tell you thought that she was making it up. The psychology of abuse is NOT straightforward and many abuse victims continue to have relationships with the people who abused them. Because the fact that you even entertain the idea that she was lying to not seem like “a slut” is some first-rate victim-blaming.

      Telling someone that you were raped is NOT something that women do for shits and giggles, or to try to make men look bad, or to try to make themselves look better. And no matter how she has reacted to the abuse, it doesn’t make being raped her fault, and it doesn’t make it in any way something that you get to sit in judgement of as to whether you believe her or not.

      If a woman tells you she was raped, LISTEN TO HER, BELIEVE HER, and DON’T QUESTION HER MOTIVES. Then ask her if she would like your help, and if so, what she would like from you. Sometimes women don’t actually need help, they just need someone to listen.

      • I think I explained it poorly. I’m not so good with words
        I’d also like to retract the original comment(but can’t see how) At the moment an extended period of social rejection and isolation has fed a lot into paranoia, which gives a long down spiral.
        I’m going to put my reaction up to that. In the last few months I’ve been used a lot by a lot of people and that’s also fed into a lot of mistrust.
        I would like to think that I did the best that I could given what had happened, but I think it’s more than likely it wad a total clusterfuck. I can’t send to get anything right.
        On her worrying about her image, it’s not done thing I would ever think but with a lot of groups, friend included, it matters more than anything, and she’s struggled through abusive relationships before for that reason. I think that’s probably too cold and logical an approach, though.
        I think this is one of those cases where I have completely fucked up, and should be though more before posting, especially given drugs and paranoia.
        Lastly, who said I was a guy?

        • So I’ve been pondering your response and… like… I still don’t really know what to say?

          First things first, I apologize if I misgendered you. My gut reaction whenever someone drops things in my comments section that make me uncomfortable is that it must be coming from a dude, because that’s 99% of what happens here. That’s my damage and is something I need to work on.

          Second, with regard to the male friend that I got to help me, we’re still friends. I’m not really comfortable commenting beyond that, because that’s getting into territory that isn’t mine to relate.

          As for the rest… I don’t know what to say. It sounds like you are suffering and I’m sorry for that, but I’m afraid I don’t have more to offer than that.

      • If I understood ezlovaati correctly, it was the other way round. Her friend told her, she tried to help, as a result got cut off, and because of that now wonders wether that might be because it was never real. I agree with your advice, but I’m not sure to what degree it applies here.

        Also, I think she meant to ask about you and the male friend you asked to intercede on your behalf, the one you first told about what happened, because that mirrors her situation with her friend? Because the situation seems (understandably) to be difficult and I can understand she’d like some perspective form someone who was on the other side of such a conversation to better be able to deal with the situation and help her friend. I’d feel the same.

        Please correct me or just tell me to shut up if I’m wrong, ezlovaati, I really don’t wan’t to tell anyone what they really meant or something like that, just trying to clear up what seems like a misunderstanding.

      • I don’t think she/he was accusing her of lying, but rather that she/he was worried that she already was concerned about being perceived as a slut and was lying. Nothing in the comment suggested she/he distrusted the victim or thought less of her because of the possibility of lying.

    • Wow, um, that’s a really bold thing to ask someone on a public comment thread. I would rethink that request.

      I get it though, you’re worried about your friend who you care about and are looking for answers. Problem is, the answers are probably complicated as hell and you may never get them. If your friend has cut you off, there’s not much you can do. You can reach out from time to time, try to reconnect and hope it’s what she wants, but it’s not your call it seems.

      I also get that you’re frustrated and just want to help, but assuming she lied to you about her assault is fucking presumptuous! What happened to her has nothing to do with your feelings or view, and your frustrations over it sucks sure, but get over it, you’re not the presumed victim here, she is. Until you hear otherwise from her, I recommend assuming she’s telling you the truth. What this world needs is men siding with the victims of assault, not doubting them.

      I know that came across as harsh, but this trial has got my back up now too, and besides I think you know I’m right. You said you were there to help her when she told you about it, that’s good, that’s the right thing to do. Stick to your guns, don’t let your doubts get the better of you. Anyways, I hope that helps somewhat.

  4. Hi,
    I understand that human behaviour in the presence of stress/fear/ shock from interpersonal violence does not conform to ‘normal’, ‘sensible’ (perfect) behaviour and so should not be judged in the same way. Also I agree that subjecting a victim of such an horrendous act to further public ordeal is cruel and unfair and discourages victims from reporting.

    Can you suggest how a criminal investigation and legal process can differentiate between actual assault (with intent) and false accusation (outright lie)?


    • I have had this comment flagged to respond to for a day and still have no better idea of how to respond.

      Legal process and system is something I feel wholly inadequate to comment on. What I CAN comment on is cultural issues. As far as concrete structural/systemic issues? You would need to ask someone who is not me.

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