Nearly one year after the Ghomeshi verdict was read, have we shifted our perspective on sexual assault?
The Decision features a pre-recording of six women reading excerpts from the courts ruling, discussing what it means to them line by line. They go on to recall painful memories of their own experiences with sexual assault and reiterate why it’s unfair that it’s often the victims of this crime who appear to be on trial.
“We’ve created this scenario that women are supposed to change their behaviour,” says O’Connor. “Become better witnesses, change their clothing. Or not go out at certain times. They’re supposed to alter their lives. Maybe the answer isn’t women changing their behaviour; maybe it’s men changing their behaviour.”
“I feel like there’s not a woman on the planet who has not experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment,” adds Roslyn Black, one of the members of Euphonia who also lent her voice to the project. “But watching the court process, I learned a lot about how vilified those victims were publicly, and how strong they had to be to withstand some of the social media backlash they faced. And I learned about how much powerful, socially beloved men could get away with.”
The impact of the verdict went beyond this one trial: it started a much-needed discussion in Canada about reforming the justice system to better arm sexual assault victims to face the gruelling trial process. The Decision is just one more reminder of why it’s important that this conversation continue. The main message is simple: Violence against women is a man’s issue; it’s up to men to help solve it.
“I have a really young son, so I’m very aware of these issues,” says Black. “We’re taught from a young age that when a boy pulls your hair or knocks you down on the playground, it’s because he likes you, which I think is completely backwards. We should be taught that if someone is throwing sand in our faces, it is bad behaviour and we shouldn’t accept it.”
“It’s about creating a way to understand ourselves as men that doesn’t include violence,” says O’Connor. “A lot of men understand themselves through some sort of aggression, or having dominion over others. We know our behaviours through habits. We are not deconstructing what it means to be a man. We’re kind of going on autopilot. And that’s where violence become ubiquitous.”
The last time The Decision was performed, audience members lingered for two hours afterwards, talking. “That’s really unusual,” says Black. “There was quite a lot of emotion, understandably. I want this to encourage more discussion, because the more we educate ourselves, the more we learn to fight back.”