On Reporting · Preliminary Trial · Shame · Things That Are Not Funny

Once More Without Feeling

Sorry,” the judge interjects, “could you repeat the last statement. I didn’t quite hear you.”

The mic in front of me doesn’t amplify my voice – only records it – but I still lean forward to answer. “Sorry,” I repeat. We are all so polite. (It has not begun to bother me yet how polite we all are.) “He tried to put the pool ball inside of me,” I say for a second time, “but it didn’t fit.”

It is October of 2017, and I am inside the Dawson City courthouse for the preliminary trial of the man who wielded that pool ball. Kris himself sits in the front row of seats, head turned to one side so he can stare out the window at the perfect, fluffy snow.

Nobody in this room of suits and shuffling papers has the decency to wince at what I’ve just said…why would they? None of them are imagining how such a thing might feel – the initial relief (more on that later), the almost-soothing cool of plastic against bruised skin. Discomfort giving way to pain giving way to panic as he pushed.

It’s hard to keep myself from describing that, from trying to make them feel it, but there is no room here for feelings. No room either for decency or for imagination; we are in the business of facts.

I want you to remember that, about the business of facts. It’s important.

First, though, a note about preliminary trials: they’re meant to save time. If a case lacks credibility or evidence, the reasoning goes, better to spend one day in cross-examination to discover this, rather than needlessly go through a full trial. In sexual assault cases, a preliminary trial has another purpose: to show the star witness (that’s me, folks!) just how unpleasant this whole thing can be. It’s an effective tactic, and one that will have me on the phone with the crown prosecution in a matter of weeks, tearfully begging them to drop the case.

But that’s later. For the moment I am trapped in this courthouse, replaying in excruciating, embarrassing detail, exactly what this man did to me.

And nobody blinks.

Thank you,” says the judge.

And the defense continues.

Here’s something I’ve noticed about being a victim of sexual assault: a lot of people have feelings about my feelings.

In the days leading up the preliminary trial, the lawyer for the crown called me up. Some things, she said (and I’m paraphrasing here), while they’re definitely your truth, aren’t necessarily the truth. We’re not saying your feelings aren’t valid, but they’re also not relevant to the facts of the case.

I don’t think I rolled my eyes during that phone call – I remember thinking it was the politest version of that statement I’d heard yet. By then I’d been getting it for years, from everybody from my ex boyfriend to internet strangers, and it had almost stopped being insulting. I’d almost stopped wanting to respond with snark. “My rape was not a lobotomy; my rapist did not implant a new personality into my skull via his penis; I still swing for Team Fact.” People aren’t listening for an answer. I’ve learned to just nod.

By the time of the preliminary trial I have so internalized this mantra – stick to the facts, the facts, the facts – that it takes me several hours to realize that Kris’s defense lawyer isn’t playing by the same rules. He is intensely interested in emotions.

And not just mine. Near the beginning of the cross-examination, the defense asks me, “Did Mr. Craig indicate his feelings for you at that time?” (Mr. Craig and I are, at that time, a half hour away from the first “no” he’ll disregard. The pool ball looms large in our immediate future.) And, “What were your understand [sic] about his feelings towards you?”  A moment later, “Did he discuss his feelings with you that day by the river, though?”

It throws me off, this line of questioning, but it keeps happening. The subject of feelings – mostly mine, after that first exchange – will come up a total of fourteen times in the trial transcript. I’m discombobulated, but that’s nothing compared how I’ll feel in a few hours.

There’s no easy way to say tell you this next part, so here it is: I learned something about myself during my rape. This ties into facts and feelings, I promise, and when we get back to the courtroom the defense will question me about it ad nauseum.

I made a choice.

If you had asked me five years ago what I would choose between physical pain and sexual violation, I would have said, “I pick the pain. I’ll pick the pain every time.” That was something I knew.

It’s been a source of deep shame and discomfort to me that I was wrong about that. Remember the relief I talked about earlier? When Kris went from hitting me to trying to penetrate me…I was glad the pain had stopped. I didn’t fight or struggle. I made encouraging noises. And when I did that, when I decided not to fight him, my body responded.

I try not to hate myself for this. I try not to feel like it was pathetic, gross. I try to remember that my physical response doesn’t mean I wanted what was happening, or that I liked it. Sometimes I even succeed in remembering these things, and that is a monumental triumph.

On the stand I am questioned repeatedly about this very thing. Six times, the defense asks me whether and to what degree I enjoyed my rape, mostly in the context of some emails I sent to a friend in the aftermath of that day.

I’m going to screenshot these exchanges, because I want you to know I’m not editing the transcript. Here’s the first time:

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And again:

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This seems to be the crux of Kris’s defense, the thing the lawyer comes back to again and again over the course of these three hours:“Part of you enjoyed that.” What happened, the facts, are not put under much scrutiny. Sure, we talk about the clothes I was wearing, and whether I screamed, but we don’t dwell there. What we actually debate, over and over again, until I’m tired and confused and shaking with rage, is how I felt about it. Not whether I said no, not whether Kris beat and penetrated me anyway, but whether I enjoyed it.

And that? It flies in the face of what everyone had been telling me in the three years between reporting my assault and testifying about it. It flies in the face of what I know to be legally true: my feelings about what happened are irrelevant. Kris broke the law when he hurt me, and he did it again when he violated my consent.

When we tell ourselves the that emotions have no place in the law, when we tell witnesses to check their feelings at the courthouse door, we are indulging in a fantasy about our legal system. It is a comforting fantasy – I liked it too. But the truth is, the way we cross-examine victims of sexual assault is not only grotesque and unnecessary; it is also irrational. Emotions are brought to the surface and manipulated not as an unfortunate but necessary evil, but directly for the sake of doing so.

Please don’t shy away from this. I think it’s important to look it in the face. This is our system of law, our business of facts: a woman on a witness stand, being quizzed on her understanding of her rapist’s feelings.

And nobody blinks.

Do you?

 

 

 

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