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The Ghomeshi scandal made me remember all the times I was sexually violated

Svea Vikander's picture
As former CBC talkshow host Jian Ghomeshi goes to trial for four counts of sexual assault this month, Canada is forced to confront its attitudes about sex, consent, and the validity of victims' stories. Each day of February, Svea Vikander, a Canadian radio host and therapist, shares another of her personal experiences of sexual harassment and assault.

Day 4: Jian Ghomeshi reminded me of my nighttime voyeur

| February 4, 2016
Svea Vikander, basement window

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Jian Ghomeshi goes to trial this month. And so, in a way, do Canadian women. This trial is not only about a man who violated the four women pressing charges, but about whether we, as a society, trust women who tell. 

 It's personal for me. Today and every day of February, I am sharing my own stories of sexual harassment and violence. Today is day four, in which I share my experience being watched at night through my bedroom window, and of the strange ways the police suggested I deal with it. If you're joining us now, may I suggest that you start at the beginning, by reading my introduction here. And remember, practice self-care. The Ghomeshi scandal has one hell of an undertow. 


This is incident number 12.

I was 16 and I had a nice boyfriend. He was caring to the point of over-sensitivity, protective to the point of jealousy. He spoke three languages and his grandmother treated me as her own, serving me handmade pierogi and teaching me Russian phrases. As teenagers often do, we spent far too many nights together. I would sneak him into my basement bedroom and we would fumble, as Dr. Seuss puts it, "With great skillful skill and with great speedy speed."

He would leave late and get up early the next morning to drive across town to pick me up and drive me back to our school, which was only a few blocks from his house. In rush hour. I would be cranky because I was sleep-deprived and stressed out because, although I loved him, having a living shadow didn't exactly fit into my career plans. 

One night, leaving my back gate to get into his poor family's much-absconded car, he saw another man, also leaving the property. The man exited through the front gate. This meant that he had either been prowling the garden outside my window, or had just come from a late-night visit with my mother.

I considered the latter to be unlikely. The former, on the other hand, felt entirely accurate. In fact, hearing about the prowler, I felt a sense of recognition. I had, more than once, felt the presence of someone outside my window as I studied or slept. My boyfriend realized he had seen this same man walking the street outside my house before. 

We were both worried. 

My bedroom had two natural light sources: a semi-circular paned window and a functioning but unused French door. Neither had curtains. The door had a sarong hanging on it. The graceful arch of the window would have been obstructed by a regular curtain rod, and so my mother, who is a genius, had cut a piece of corrugated plastic to use as a blind. Its semi-circular shape nestled perfectly into the window frame. She attached a handle so it could be taken down and put it up when necessary. Sometimes, it would fall forward, leaving a gap exposed about the size of a hand-width.

It was 11 p.m. and I was at my desktop computer when I saw a man's profile -- a streetlight-lit silhouette in the corrugated plastic -- peering into my room. His head was craning to see through the gap; his body was four feet away from mine. Only a small pane of glass stood between us. I scrambled to turn off my light. He sprang from the window. I sat in the dark, my hands shaking. I called my boyfriend. 

He wanted to lie in wait and confront the man, perhaps lay some Krav Maga on him with his friends. I didn't think this was a good idea. He wanted to go to the police. I didn't think this was a good idea, either. My experiences with them had been less than stellar; and what's more, I didn't want the embarrassment of telling them, and then wondering what they would think of me. I didn't want to tell my mom because I didn't want to tell her about my sneaking.

A few days later, my boyfriend told me that he had gone to see our "school liaison" (police) officer to talk about my prowler. He said that the officer wanted to meet with me and that we would go see him right after lunch. I was not thrilled but I saw no way out.

Frequently interrupted, I explained my side of the story. The officer told me that he had already spoken with some officers from my precinct. He said that on Wednesday night we would do a sting operation. I was to leave the blind open and lounge around in something revealing, while the officers parked an undercover car nearby, laying chase when the man appeared. My boyfriend and his friend would also be watching from his car.

Despite its absolute insanity, this plan was the thing that was going to happen. My boyfriend had advocated for me, his girlfriend, and I, his girlfriend, would accept the help of the police. I thought maybe I should tell my mom but, really, why start now?

Wednesday night came. 

My boyfriend and his friend waited in the car with a baseball bat. 

I waited in my room in a silky bathrobe.

The police stood us up. 

Fortunately, the watcher stood us up, too. 

The police never called, and never followed up. The officer gave me a disapproving glance when he saw me goofing around on a riser at a school dance, and that was it. I took to taping the corrugated plastic to the window frame and hung a heavier curtain over the door. I startled often at the sound of a cracked branch or a cat meowing and would jump up to turn off the lights.

I eventually told my mother. She was angry I hadn't told her earlier and immediately installed a motion-sensor camera.

I never encountered the man at my window. I never felt entirely safe in my bedroom again.

 

***

In my post yesterday, I mentioned that I have twice gone to the police after being assaulted, finding that each time my bodily self-determination took a back seat to other concerns. This is a third version of that same scenario. The whole thing was not exactly...feminist. 

In not informing my mother of the trespasser on her own property, the police disregarded my mother's right to safeguard her minor daughter's safety. I have a vague memory of the officer asking me about my father. If he had been in the house, he would have been consulted. As a woman, she was not.

 

 

In going to the police without my consent and in my absence, my boyfriend, whose intention was to keep me safe and happy, disregarded any right I had to choose my own methods of self-protection. If he had been my guardian, he would have had a legal responsibility to go to the police. But he wasn't. He simply felt that he knew, better than I did, what I needed. 

In speaking to my boyfriend alone, and myself only in the presence of my boyfriend, the officer seemed to agree in this regard. The way he spoke about me to my boyfriend showed their mutual concern about my purity. In their initial meeting, my boyfriend had objected to the officer's characterization of me walking around naked with the shades open -- as if, for a man to violate my privacy, I must be a teenage temptress, veritably begging him to trample the flower bed beneath her window. The officer had told him that, "Well, the guy must have seen something, because he keeps coming back." 

I felt pretty greasy after hearing that.

 

 

And, finally, in asking me, a teenager, to entice a potentially dangerous man -- a man who had already demonstrated that he was willing to break the law in order to violate my personal space -- the police neglected my physical and psychological safety.

Especially because they asked me to do it alone. And then they didn't show up. Plenty of unrest but no violence occurred in my scenario. But it could have gone south real quick. In 2010, a special needs 14 year-old in Alabama was asked to perform a similar (albeit higher stakes) sting operation. It didn't work out as planned and she was raped by the student they were hoping to catch. 

Tomorrow: When a photograph becomes an opportunity for assault.

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