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After nine consecutive days of silent protest, on Monday, Oct. 5th, folks gathered outside of the Supreme Court steps on Duckworth Street in St. John’s to learn that after a mistrial in the sexual assault case of Jane Doe vs. Snelgrove, a third trial would take place in March 2021.
The next day, on Oct. 6th, people gathered again on the steps of Confederation Building to show solidarity for people who have experienced sexual violence. These events were organized by women, working on their own, not intended to be a two-day outcry against violence against women. They were well attended and covered by media.
We know sexual violence is happening, and why, and against who and how. It’s well researched and well documented.
Folks bravely shared in these spaces experiences of violence but also of resilience and healing. Many said it was their first time at a protest or sharing their story out loud. Over and over again they disclosed how and who they sought help from and the multitude of ways they were let down by the institutions meant to support them. The public discourse of events like these tends to conflate the justice an individual is claiming for themselves and the justice offered by reporting a crime in hopes that it will make it to court. The first gives autonomy and the second promptly takes it away.
Support services, the school system, courts, law enforcement and many others all have a role to play in preventing and addressing sexual violence in our community, but a woman’s vulnerable re-telling of her rape should not be the reminder of that role. We know sexual violence is happening, and why, and against who and how. It’s well researched and well documented.
The provincial government’s Violence Prevention Initiative reports that “Of the 217,900 women over the age of 15 residing in Newfoundland and Labrador, approximately 108,950 (1 in 2) will experience at least one incident of sexual or physical violence throughout their lifetime.” Only 10 per cent of them will report this to the police.
While those systems fail victims and survivors, and advocates are stonewalled, folks will gather on steps in the rain and say what they need to in order to find justice as individuals. Folks telling their stories, Jane Doe’s included, is not for me or you, our political leaders or even organizations that support survivors of sexual violence. There is a certain kind of justice in speaking truth and our role as community members is to show up and remind those who do speak up and speak out that we have their back. Especially when the “justice” system does not. Shoring up the means of finding justice for ourselves and our community is essential because systemic justice is painful at best and most often non-existent.