How Victims Are Treated: A True Story

As more and more information about the Jian Ghomeshi scandal hits the news with uneasy regularity, I have seen more and more people on social media asking why the women who claim to have been assaulted didn’t file a police report.  I don’t know any of the women involved so I can’t speak for any of them.  What I can do, however, is share a story that might help explain a few things most people don’t understand about victims and what happens when they file a complaint with the police against their abuser.  It’s a story I know because I know both the parent and the child in this story I am about to share.

It was the summer of 2002 when this happened.  The mother — a single parent — was working a part-time weekend job (she also had a full-time job) and she needed a reliable babysitter for her 6-year-old son.  The woman’s parents had been life-long friends with another couple, and all the kids (all of whom were adults now) of the life-long friends knew each other.  One of the adult children of the other life-long friend offered to have one of her teen son’s (he was 16 years old) babysit the woman’s 6-year-old son.  There was no reason for the boy’s mother to think anything terrible would happen.  After all, this would be a third-generation friendship where the families knew each other from way back when.

But something terrible did happen.

So terrible, in fact, that when the mother returned home and the teen left, the mother noticed that something wasn’t the same about her 6-year-old.  She tried to figure out what was wrong, and after she put her son to bed that night, she called the teen’s mother and asked if anything had happened between the two boys … an argument over a video game, a disagreement over what to have for lunch, anything reasonable that could happen between a child and a teenage babysitter.  But the mother — and the teen — insisted that nothing untoward had happened and so the boy’s mother was left wondering why her 6-year-old was acting so strangely.

The next day, her son confided in a daycare worker that the teen had sexually assaulted him, and that he was afraid to tell his mother because the teen had threatened him with far worse if he told.  The daycare phoned the mother and asked her to come in right away, which she did.  And this is how she found out why her son wasn’t acting like himself.

The police were involved where a detective who dealt with sexual assaults spoke with the 6-year-old in a room separate from where the boy’s mother waited patiently in another room.  A psychologist was present as were others, and the boy told them what happened in great detail.

The detective then spoke with the mother and said that there was no doubt in his mind that what the child said had happened, had happened.  Charges were laid.

Then the nightmare began.

The teen’s family began a campaign against the mother and the 6-year-old.  It went so far as to extend to their legal counsel who spoke with the Crown Prosecutor’s Office.

And then someone from the Crown Prosecutor’s Office spoke with the mother of the 6-year-old.

She was told that the family had hired a lawyer who was well-known for his aggressiveness in court, especially when it came to witnesses.  She was told that even though her child was only 6 years old, he would be made to not only testify in court in front of his abuser, but he would be cross-examined most aggressively by the lawyer.  How did they know this?  The lawyer had told the Crown Prosecutor’s Office that he intended to do so.

She was told that the child’s age would come into play.  She was told that her marital status — divorced — and the fact that she worked two jobs to make ends meet would be introduced as a possible reason why the boy’s story couldn’t possibly be true.  She was told that her anything and everything that was part of her divorce would be used as evidence to explain why the boy’s story couldn’t possibly be true.

She was told that the teen’s parents would be held up as pillars of the community.  She was told that their 20-year-marriage would be compared to her broken marriage.  She was told that their stellar careers as high school teachers would be trumpeted while her perceived-to-be-lesser full-time and part-time jobs would be dragged through the mud along with her reputation and education as the lawyer would paint his client’s family as golden and her family as tarnished.

But most importantly, she was told that the boy would be made out to be a liar, and she would be made out to be an unfit mother.  And she was told that it was very possible that if the trial ended with the teen being found not guilty of the charges against him, that the local child protective services could remove the child from her home on the basis that they were concerned about the mother being allegedly unfit to be the 6-year-old’s mother.

In the end, it was suggested that the mother allow the charges against the teen to be stayed, and understanding that it wasn’t the Crown Prosecutor’s Office or the police or the psychologists thought her 6-year-old had lied (but rather because no one wanted the boy to be revictimized), she reluctantly agreed.   It also meant that it would look to anyone else going forward that no complaint have ever been filed against the teen when that wasn’t the truth.  The complaint would just disappear in time, and people would be none the wiser about what had happened to the innocent 6-year-old boy who had been sexually assaulted by a teen.

She cried.  This wasn’t justice.  But neither was allowing her son to be revictimized in court.  She made the best choice she could, given two very awful choices to choose from.

The boy’s mother lost her part-time job because the teen’s mother told everyone both mothers knew that the 6-year-old was a liar and that the boy’s mother was a troublemaker, which led to no parent being willing to let their teen babysit the boy.

The boy’s mother had to work around the boy’s outbursts and meltdowns at daycare and school, and both the school psychologist and the private psychologist who saw the boy said it was behavior consistent with children who had been sexually abused.

The boy’s mother lost most of her support system as people either sided with the teen and his family, or refused to be seen as siding with the 6-year-old boy who had been sexually assaulted.  But most of all, she lost her support system because the teen and his parents insisted to everyone who would listen that the charges were stayed because they were “bogus” and “made up” and “nothing but lies.”

Her own mother blamed her for the loss of a friendship that had weathered decades of ups and down, losses and gains, surprises and defeats.  Other family members insisted that it should have all been kept quiet because surely a child of 6 would just forget it eventually, and that would be that.

And then one day at school, another student told the boy that he was probably a “girl” and that’s why “boys” liked him.

The parents of the child who said this were friends with the parents of the teen.  She didn’t hold what was said against the other child (who was also very young) because it was obvious to the boy’s mother that he was only repeating what he had heard said in his home.

That’s when the mother knew that, for her child’s welfare, she would have to leave the neighborhood her son had grown to love so as to protect him.  That’s when the mother regretted letting the detective interview her son.  That’s when the mother regretted having filed a complaint against the teen for what he had done to her 6-year-old son.  That’s when the mother stopped.

She stopped and realized that everything she had done was what a good parent would do, and that what was happening was what every good parent feared would happen when others wield more power and have greater influence.

It’s been more than twelve years now since that teen sexually assaulted that boy who is now a teen.  He has never forgotten what happened to him, even with years and years of counseling and therapy.  He still wonders if the sexual assault was somehow his fault:  Did he look to girly?  Did he somehow ask to be sexually assaulted?  Did he do something wrong that made the teen sexually assault him?

The trauma continues for this victim, and the trauma continues for his mother who hurts for him as he struggles through issues that are as a direct result of the sexual assault when he was 6 years old.  I know this because I know the mother and I know the grown-up boy who struggles with his past every single moment of his waking — and sleeping — hours.  And I cry for them.

So when people ask indignantly why it was that the women who say they were sexually assaulted by Jian Ghomeshi never said a word to the police, perhaps it’s because they understood all too well what happens when a report is filed.

And maybe it’s time that people actually listened to the victims instead of pointing fingers and sniggering while they claim that obviously nothing happened or that it was consensual because they don’t know of any complaints that were filed with the police.

Elyse Bruce

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2 Responses to “How Victims Are Treated: A True Story”

  1. cairennhouse Says:

    That’s a heartbreaking story. My heart goes out to that mother and her son. Sadly, this is not the first story like this that I’ve become aware of, so I know it isn’t an isolated incident. Victims of sexual assault ALWAYS have to consider the consequences of speaking up. It never fails to amaze me how callous and cruel people can be in their zeal to “protect” those accused of sexual assault. It’s no wonder predators abound.


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