Late last week, amid the growing scandal surrounding Jian Ghomeshi, buried under the reprehensible politicking and partisan bickering over the handling of sexual misconduct allegations on Parliament Hill, was a remarkable moment of bravery and candour from well-known political commentator and former Parliament Hill staffer Ian Capstick.
A regular contributor to CBC’s Power and Politics media panel, Capstick, while discussing a history of troubling culture experienced by many on the Hill, revealed that as a young staffer he was repeatedly sexually harassed by one MP, and sexually touched by another. Both perpetrators were men, and in neither case did he report the abuse.
Echoing the sentiments of many who posted to the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag – a movement started jointly by retired Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias and Montreal Gazette justice reporter Sue Montgomery – Capstick remained silent due to a sense of powerlessness.
“You feel absolutely without power,” Capstick explained, “to be able to report somebody who is 30 or 40 years your senior, and is perhaps at a status where you just simply, as a 21-year-old, can’t challenge that person.”
Asked by host Evan Solomon what prompted him to divulge such a personal, clearly painful, experience, Capstick cited Zerbisias and her online movement, noting “the bravery of women who have had to go through much, much worse than I ever have,” and that telling their stories allowed for “a very different style of conversation.”
Indeed, what has emerged as a light amid the deluge of trauma is the empowerment of sexual assault survivors — the coming forward, and coming together, of those who’ve long shouldered a common, deeply private burden, and the collective shedding of shame, defiance of stigma, and reclamation of power.
What’s been created is a rare opportunity for constructive dialogue: to discuss boundaries, educate on consent, and shed light on unwelcome behaviours that are often overlooked, seen by many as harmless, not because they’re acceptable, but because they’ve become so commonplace.
This cannot happen, however, when the terms of discussion are dictated by a small, but passionate, segment who, through sweeping assertions that “all men” are equally predatory and are de facto responsible for the behaviour of everyone sharing the gender, unwittingly marginalize an entire group of victims: male survivors of sex crimes.
Men, too, are victims, and are often met with a greater skepticism when allegations of assault – especially at the hands of a woman – are made.
Case in point: Most-“liked” comments under a recent report of an ex-NFL cheerleader’s indictment on charges of raping a minor: “Headline should read: Teen’s Fantasy Fulfilled!” “Raped by NFL cheerleader! Where were they when I was young?” “ Kids have it too good these days!”
Man or woman, gay or straight, old or young, independent or disabled — no survivor is responsible for having been victimized, nor is he or she culpable for whatever societal grievance abusers use to justify their crimes.
A Y-chromosome shouldn’t be an original sin for which carriers must forever repent. No, all men are not responsible for the actions of some.
But all men do, indeed, have a part to play in fighting rape culture, combatting everyday, casual sexism, fostering equality, and teaching their sons – the next generation of men – to do the same.
A deeply ingrained, outdated patriarchal culture can only be uprooted through a collective, unified effort; there can be no substantive change without unwavering, persistent efforts from both sides of the gender divide.
The atmosphere which empowered Capstick to share his experience is precisely the environment needed to advance beyond hashtag-activism toward real-world change. We must shift from talking past each other and begin talking to talking to each other – allowing for input, welcoming questions, listening to concerns – and base the merits of any contribution on its substance rather than the gender of the contributor.
Only then can the seeds of change finally begin to take root.