When octogenarian Joan Collins, an actress of minor talents whose B-movie career was mounted almost exclusively on pulchritude and sexuality, announces her rape in her late teens by the man she subsequently married, then we have reached that moment known as jumping the shark.
Meaning: Far-fetched events included merely for the sake of novelty. Or grabbing a piece of headline, I’d suggest.
This isn’t to minimize the assault on Ms. Collins. I do not disbelieve, although the perpetrator is dead and can’t defend his name. But I look warily upon some of those who’ve taken to the pulpit of victimhood now that sexual assault is trending.
Nor do I understand the public absorption with Bill Cosby’s alleged drugging and intoxicating of young women before pouncing on them in Hollywood half a lifetime ago, a reveal that has driven cable TV news in recent weeks and landed America’s surrogate dad back on magazine covers. Comedy club dates have since been cancelled, though Cosby’s three upcoming gigs in Canada are still a go as of this writing.
Even flaky actor Shia LaBeouf a few days ago claimed he was raped during his “performance art” gig at a Los Angeles gallery early this year.
But it does seem like everybody from Sheila Copps to pop singer Kesha has been leaping onto the victim carousel, raking up ancient episodes of assault and violation, seeking “relief” from the courts or simply unburdening via the public confessional. The whole world has turned into one big Oprah’s Couch. (And she was raped at age 9 by a relative.)
You can say — correctly — that these high profile divulgences speak to the wretched commonness of sex crimes. You can say this is about a reckoning too long deferred. There’s no statute of limitations on sexual assault crimes. I say it’s also about the intrinsic titillating nature of matters sexual. And I can’t decide which is worse: Trivializing sexual assault or amplifying sexual assault as a cause célèbre.
North of the 49th Parallel, of course, the dirt has been roundly dumped on Jian Ghomeshi, charged last week with three counts of sexual assault over incidents that occurred more than a decade ago. That Ghomeshi is a bad-date creep, in the here and now, few would dispute, given the disclosures made by, now, more than a dozen women to the media (three of them subsequently to the cops) about the former radio host’s violent proclivities. In his since-deleted Facebook posting, Ghomeshi admitted to his taste for “rough” and “adventurous” sex — romancing the slap, punch, choke, etc. (“I want to hate-f--k you” as he purportedly told one CBC staffer), but only with consensual partners.
The cloak of compliance will be measured in court, though Ghomeshi has already been fitted for the village stocks. There’s no sympathy for him in this corner. Public shaming might be the most effective punishment in his case.
But do not for a moment think that Ghomeshi’s appointment with sexual Samarra has changed the landscape for victims. This was primarily a product of the intense media glare, which takes scant notice of all the many women (and, in rarer circumstances, men) who trudge into witness stands across the country, bracing for character assassination from defence lawyers and too often allowed to swing in the wind by judges.
A reader wrote me: “Perhaps if I had been raped by Ghomeshi . . . I would have gotten some other response than, ‘I’m sorry that happened to you,’ and that was said to me by a female officer. I was 12 years old. Why did I not matter? I had my mouth stuffed with Kleenex and a necktie was used to gag me further, my hands tied behind my back with another necktie, and yet I spoke. I want my life back and I won’t ever fully have that, until I am heard.”
It matters a great deal, which is why the societal reflection triggered by The Ghomeshi Monologues is a valuable undertaking. At the same time, however, Ghomeshi is a distraction. The details of his mistreatment of women are too narrow in scope, yoked as the allegations are to a niche BDSM appetite. It feels too much like Fifty Shades of Grey — and somebody please explain to me why that crappy novel became a publishing phenomenon, coming soon to a Cineplex near you. Rape myth as erotica and vicarious thrill.
There are too many stubborn myths still out there, at both ends of the spectrum: From women who cry rape the morning after (they don’t, hardly ever) to sex-assault activism that tosses around misleading statistics as if deliberate exaggeration is required to make the point.
One in four women will NOT be sexually assaulted in Canada, as most of us understand the term. This is the most commonly repeated truism dropped into media reports these past few days, wrongly leaving the impression of countless girls and women, your daughters and sisters, being raped by your sons and brothers. We are NOT a country populated by millions of sexual predators.
That deceptive figure derives from a Statistics Canada report that correlated self-reported victim-data (as opposed to police-reported data) from 512,200 Canadians aged 15 or older who said they’d been victims of sexual assault in the 12 months preceding the 2004 survey.
Put another way: 1,977 incidents of sexual assault per 100,000 population.
But 81 per cent of those sexual assaults took the form of unwanted sexual touching. Unpleasant, no doubt, but not traumatizing. Females aren’t dainty creatures incapable of handling vexing occurrences — another stereotype that needs burying.
That’s Level 1 sexual assault as defined in the Criminal Code: An assault committed in circumstances of a sexual nature such that the sexual integrity of the victim is violated. Level 1 involves minor physical injuries or no injuries to the victim.
Sexual Assault Level 2 covers assault with a weapon, threats or bodily harm. Level 3 (aggravated sexual assault) results in wounding, maiming, disfiguring or endangering the life of a victim.
The survey noted that 94 per cent of incidents of sexual touching go unreported — versus 78 per cent of sexual attacks — because the victim felt the incident was not important enough (58 per cent), the matter was dealt with in another way (54 per cent), or they did not want to get involved with police (41 per cent).
I don’t raise these statistics to undermine the very real problem of sexual assault. None of it’s OK. But we need to be clearer about what’s under discussion.
That’s a conversation which shouldn’t be hijacked by the travails of Jian Ghomeshi or Joan Collins.