Women in struggle

On December 19th, Ontario Court Judge Doody dismissed all 19 charges against Joshua Boyle, in a verdict that took him three hours to present.

Boyle, as many of you will recall, was charged with a number of offences against his wife, Caitlin Coleman, shortly after they and their three children were released by the Taliban, who had held them in captivity for five years.

In many respects, this case is like too many involving violence against women: the lack of third-party evidence and the trauma of the survivor just don’t provide strong evidence. The presumption of innocence and the need to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt are critical cornerstones of this country’s legal system, but we must find a way to accommodate the unique issues presented by violence against women cases. If we do not, women will continue to be beaten, raped and killed by men who profess to love them.

Credibility

In issuing his verdict, Judge Doody did not beat around the bush, saying:

“I do not believe her.”

He faulted the inconsistencies in her testimony as well as her memory lapses, both of which are classic symptoms of the trauma to be expected in someone who has lived through five years of captivity, during which both her captors and her husband abused her, and she gave birth to three children.

Judge Doody also noted that he did not believe Boyle’s “controlling” behaviour made her fear for her safety, despite powerful evidence, including a list of horrifying rules that Coleman was required to follow.

It is disappointing, to say the least, that Judge Doody did not take closer note of the testimony provided by expert witness Deborah Sinclair, who explained the impact of abuse on victims, when he considered Coleman’s inconsistencies and memory lapses.

Reactions

Lawrence Greenspon, Boyle’s lawyer, indicated to the media that his client was pleased with the outcome and that “the acquittal is the ‘first step’ to Boyle’s ultimate goal which is to gain access and eventually custody of his four children.”

Coleman’s lawyer, Ian Carter, commented that:

“the case is an example of the challenges that a complainant faces in coming forward with allegations of sexual assault or domestic violence.”

Burning down the house, Zapatista style

The women of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation don’t beat around the bush either in their most recent call to action:

“Thus we are calling for a Second International Gathering of Women Who Struggle, focused on one theme only: violence against women. We want to address this theme in two parts: to denounce the violence and to discuss what we are going to do to stop the massacre. . . .  governments are not going to do anything other than make declarations and insist that they are going to find the culprits. But by culprits they don’t mean the murderers, rapists or kidnappers; they mean the women who break windows or graffiti statues out of rage. . .  

We want you to come and make your denunciation, not for a judge or a police officer or a journalist, but so that you may be heard by another woman, by other women, by many women who struggle. That is how, companera, sister, your pain will not be yours alone but will unite with other suffering, and from that suffering comes not only a very big and deep pain, but also a rage that serves as a seed. If that seed is cultivated with organization, then pain and rage can turn into resistance and rebellion . . . first, to stop the violence against us, and then to win our freedom as women.

The system would prefer that we limit ourselves to screaming our pain, desperation, anxiety and impotence. It’s time to scream together, but now out of rage and indignation. . . . to find the way to scream a new world into being . . . to burn down the whole damned patriarchal capitalist system.”

May all of us who struggle to find our voice in this patriarchal capitalist system, who feel like we are screaming into a non-responsive abyss, be inspired by these words. We may not all be able to join the Zapatista women in Chiapas for the gathering, but together we can make our voices louder and can find the strength for one more day, week, month and year of fighting back against misogyny.

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