Keeping the peace
[Warning: This post contains discussion of sexual violence and intimate partner violence]
It's Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Ontario and right on cue, Jian decides he is going to agree to a Peace Bond in return for having his charges dropped.
If you're here, reading this, you know that already.
But it seems that what many of you don't know is what a Peace Bond is or what the process is like. I know that because Google was bumping with searches for the words "Peace Bond" this week and I got asked a million times by a million different people to explain it to them.
If you want a brilliant legal perspective on what a Peace Bond is and its use in sexual assault trials, listen to the latter half of my radio show, recorded May 10th, with feminist lawyer Pamela Cross. You can listen here.
Because I am a woman. Because I have been raped. Because I was in an abusive relationship. Because I've worked with sexual assault survivors. Because I'm an empathetic person who gives a shit about the well being of the world. For all these reasons: Jian Ghomeshi's trial of the century has been really, really tough.
I thought the worst of it was over. That we'd have to endure another "Not guilty" verdict this summer. That we'd have to endure the trolls screaming "SEE! BITCHES LIE!" and then we'd all go back to the daily grind of trying to end rape culture.
But I got thrown for the most major of loops with the news that he would be signing a Peace Bond.
I tried to get a Peace Bond and it was the most humiliating experience of my life.
I left my abuser. I was heartbroken and devastated and just wanted him to leave me the hell alone. But he didn't. And if you've been following my work at all, you know the rest.
Since my abuser's death, I've spoken publicly (and privately) about my story. Elements of my story, at least. Telling people what it's like to be raped while your brother sleeps in the next room is not exactly a walk in the park. But with a few deep breaths and a soy chai latte, I can do it.
My Peace Bond story? That's a different story.
In light of Kathryn Borel's courage, here goes.
I left my abuser in the summer. His harassment, stalking and sexual assaults were fucking relentless. The police made it quite clear when I called 911 that they were not going to take it seriously. A police officer eventually called him and told him to back off; to never contact me again; and to move on. That phone call was interrupted by my abuser calling me, to rip me to shreds afor getting him into trouble and ruining his life.
In that moment, I knew: He was never going to leave me alone.
Eventually, the police said I could "start a file" and to keep calling with my file number to "add things to my file". I was to keep doing that while I awaited my detective's return from both his personal holidays and a police conference (True. Fucking. Story). So, I called. And called. And kept calling.
One day, I called 4-5x in the same day. I called so often that the operator was flabbergasted. I told her I was just doing what I was told. "I was told to keep adding things to my file until my detective calls me back." This lovely operator, whose name I unfortunately cannot remember, said "Have you thought about getting a Peace Bond?"
I had no idea what she was talking about.
She proceeded to tell me that a Peace Bond is sorta like how we understand a "restraining order" and that no charges needed to be laid for me to get one. All I had to do was go to the court house, make a sworn affidavit and then I could be granted a fancy piece of paper telling him to leave me alone.
I don't know who this woman is or what she's doing now, but I hope she won the lottery and is now sitting on a beach for the rest of her days. Her kindness, practical help and empathy were a much needed sliver of hope that someone, somewhere in the God forsaken legal system, gave a shit about me.
I brought a friend to the court house, wearing the poor girl's version of "professional clothes" and had the surreal experience of putting my hand on a Bible and speaking into a microphone to say "Yes, everything on this piece of paper is real".
I remember sitting in that room and thinking "This can't be happening. I've never even gotten a parking ticket. I've never been pulled over. I've never gotten detention. I'm a good girl. I'm a good person. Why is this happening?"
What the lovely police operator did not tell me, however, was that it's not a done deal just because I signed a piece of paper and because the police called and told him to leave me alone.
They also did not tell me that he would be entitled to a lawyer.
I only stupidly found this out when I wasted a half day at the Legal Aid office, where I showed up in my best suit and all my paperwork in order, only to be told that because I wasn't being charged with a crime, I wasn't entitled to support. He, on the other hand, could get a free Legal Aid lawyer.
I drove from the Legal Aid Office to my shitty retail job, numb from the realization that nobody gave a rat's ass about me. I had no rights and my abuser knew it.
What the lovely lady also failed to tell me is that my abuser would be "served" at work and have 10 days notice before the court date. He hasn't been charged with anything, so he's entitled to legal counsel and plenty of notice and all the things that are the supposed foundations of a just system.
On a practical level, this means that a man who won't leave me alone has just been handed a legal document while at his workplace, telling him that in 10 days time, I will be making him defend himself against something that will put restrictions on his life for up to a year.
On a practical level, this means that an angry, violent man just got the message that he had nothing left to lose. I had "gotten him into trouble" and needed to be stopped.
I hadn't done any safety planning. I hadn't thought about this 10 day period because nobody told me.
But I quickly found out because my abuser called, messaged me, drove to my house and made every attempt to reach me and say "You cannot do this. I will not allow you to do this." He tried threats. He tried sweet talking. He told me, over and over, that if I was overreacting. That this was serious business. That he didn't deserve this. That if I didn't go through with it, he'd be good again. That he'd be who he used to be.
That if I went through with it, that I would regret it.
I told him I would revoke my request, if he left me alone. I told my parents I wasn't going to go through with it. But in my mind, I was psyching myself up to do it. "Tell him you won't and he'll calm down and then you can do it it in the courtroom and then he can't touch you. They'll be cops there. And if he does keep talking to me, I'll have this fancy piece of paper to put an end to it."
The day of our court hearing, I put on the fanciest clothes I had. I remember it exactly. A pink collared shirt, the nicest black dress pants I owned and these black pointed toe shoes.
I walked outside my apartment and my abuser was in his car, waiting for me. He told me to get in the car, to go into that courtroom, to revoke my request and if I did so, "things will be okay". "Otherwise, if I'm going down, you're going down with me. and you're not coming home."
Current, 30 something, trained-in-trauma-response expert Julie would have screamed bloody murder, called 911 and watched that fucker burn.
But 20 year old, terrified, exhausted, brainwashed, gaslit and trauma bonded Julie got in the car and didn't make a scene.
When you're applying for a Peace Bond in the way I did, you get a courtdate with a generic 10am start. And you sit there. You sit there while lawyer after lawyer goes up to a panel of judges and demands a remand. "We don't have all the documents"; "It's a conflict with an important meeting they can't miss"; etc. etc. etc.
You sit there until your name is called.
I sat in a courtroom that I had only ever seen from watching American crime TV shows. I had an out of body experience as I sat beside my abuser and watched person after person, boringly ask for a recess or a remand or some version of it. I sat in a courtroom, beside my abuser, as a drunk man with all his belongings in a garbage bag, lay asleep in the bench in front of us.
They finally called our names.
I took the very long walk to the front of the courtroom and stood beside my abuser.
One of the judges asked if we were who he had called forward. We identified ourselves. The judge then made a joke about how I looked like my abuser's lawyer because I was so well dressed, meanwhile my abuser had worn those tacky windbreaker type pants? Remember those? We called them "slush pants" when I was growing up. They're hideous.
He wore those, with flip flops and a stained shirt.
I had my pretty pink collared shirt on.
And the judge made a joke about me being overdressed.
Another judge asked me to plead my case.
I nervously said "I'm here to revoke my request. I've changed my mind."
I was shaking and visibly terrified.
Another judge sighed loudly and said, in front of the whole courtroom, that "Of course I was revoking, because you're clearly not afraid of him if you showed up to court with him."
Another judge dramatically drew an X across a piece of paper and went on to pontificate about how I made real victims look bad. I had clearly made this up for attention and that's why real women don't come forward, because they're afraid of looking like a liar like me. That I was the reason women got abused.
"We're closing this file. NEXT PLEASE."
And with that, we were dismissed.
Never in my life have I felt more humiliated. Never in my life have I been more demoralized.
With those judges' words, I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me alive. I wanted the God I didn't believe in, to strike me dead where I stood. I wanted to die.
I don't remember walking out of that courtroom. I don't remember walking to my abuser's car. I don't remember him driving me to work. I don't remember any of it.
But I do remember him turning to me in the car and saying "You did good, babe."