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FOLLOWING LINDA:

           Musings on a Demonstration for Survivors of Sexual Assault

May 16, 2016

Words and photography by Paul Salvatori

Friend and first witness of the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial, Linda Redgrave, sitting across from me at Nino D'Aversa's, an Italian bakery and restaurant in Vaughn.  I invited her here for lunch, as a token of appreciation for courageously sharing her difficult courtroom experience on The Dark Room, only days after she publicly came forward to reveal she was the trial witness.  Linda tells me over pizza there is going to be a demonstration in support of survivors of sexual assault outside Old City Hall the next day, where Ghomeshi is scheduled to sign a peace bond.  It will effectively allow him to avoid being prosecuted in a second sexual assault trial.

   

 

 

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I decided to join Linda the next day to show my support for the survivors.  Shortly after I arrive, Linda is preparing a sign to hold, reminding us of the importance of having someone's consent before engaging in sexual activity with them--sadly ignored or overlooked too often in our society, further perpetuating sexual assault and especially against women.

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A moving moment for me.  Linda takes a break from preparing her sign to share a warm embrace with fellow sexual assault survivor and friend, Viktoria Bitto.  She is the co-founder of the Sexual Assault Action Coalition and helped organize the demonstration.  

 

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I get to speak to Viktoria after she is finished talking to the journalist on the right.  When I ask her what she believes is wrong with the current judicial system, she tells me it "prosecutes" survivors of sexual assault.  I agree: countless in the system, from police officers to judges, unfairly try to discredit the actual truth of their testimonies.  Her words remind me that as a society in denial of the full scale of sexual assault we have ways to go to before we properly care for those wrongly (and violently) harmed.

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Women standing in solidarity.  I am inspired by their courageous display and feel that we men have an important role to play in eliminating the culture of rape they are fighting against.  We have to discourage our peers from believing that women are our property.  They belong to no one but themselves.   

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An endearing moment when even the little guy on the left knows it is high time to recognize the basic truth of the sign. Like all of us at the demonstration, he seems frustrated we are yet to see the obvious.

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A passerby (right) stops to inquire about the purpose of the demonstration.  Her cautious words and timid curiosity tell me she is not used to seeing an event like this one.  I wonder if we are doing enough as a society to make heard the collective voice of survivors of sexual assault and even why they do not make the mainstream news more often.  

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Viktoria (left) ties her balloon to a barrier in honour of survivors of sexual assault.  The weight of the chain I feel is an appropriate metaphor for the injury or trauma they bear, even years after the violation has occurred.  

 

 

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Ghomeshi arrives and it is chaos.  I feel this photo captures what his mood was like entering Old City Hall--a mixture of nervousness and relief, maybe because he was glad to make official that he would not face a second trial but afraid he would reveal that to a public still suspicious of him.  His awkwardness here is certainly at odds with the smooth Ghomeshi I enjoyed listening to on the CBC.

This is the closest I get to Ghomeshi.  The chaos intensifies as he walks slowly towards the entrance of Old City Hall. Some demonstrating  yells "shame" and "rapist" at him, while another man beside the entrance doors calls out "free up Ghomeshi."  The moment is very Canadian: everyone is having their say; no one is getting hurt.  

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This is what Linda ended up doing most of the time outside Old City Hall--answering a barrage of questions from reporters about her trial experience.  I admire Linda's courage and wherewithal to meet their continued requests for on-the-spot interviews, encouraging other survivors of sexual assault to publicly come forward.  I am only saddened that this did not allow her to hold the sign she made.    

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I promised Linda's friend, concerned for her well-being before she left the demonstration, that she would stop exhausting herself with more interviews.  And that is what I did here.  Please forgive us Linda but we needed you to take some time for yourself, in order to maintain that energy you have to empower others.  

Click here to listen to our cast with Linda Redgrave

The messages on the balloons echo those on the signs the women are carrying.  Some of them pop and the explosions reverberate between the high walls of surrounding buildings.  But like many survivors of sexual assault they mostly refuse to be destroyed.  I never thought balloons could inspire me.    

This is the moment media waited for all morning: a statement from Kathryn Borel, protected by the peace bond just signed by Ghomeshi.  Her powerful words about how the CBC was complicit in allowing him to sexually assault her confirm her bravery and also frightens me.  I wonder how it is the society's most well-respected and prestigious institutions keep violence against survivors of sexual assault alive when they, as powerful entities, are in a position to crush it.