I was reading Raincoaster’s story about her experience with Robert Pickton (if you’re not from around Vancouver, the dude’s a serial killer) tonight with great interest. Strangely this is only one of several stories I’ve heard from people recently about their altercations (luckily with no result) with serial killers, which kind of contradicts my view of the Lower Mainland being a safe and wonderful place.
I remember seeing flyers up, sometime in the 90s, showing pictures of missing prostitutes and complaining that the police were turning a blind eye because they were prostitutes. I don’t remember exactly when that was, but it was many years between that and my first hearing about Pickton, so God knows what damage was incurred because nobody in authority wanted to pay attention at first.
If some prostitutes came forward with accusations of rape and torture, and the police ignored them, I don’t think it was just because of the women’s career path, but also because people of authority want to pretend that everything’s okay when it comes to sexual assault. Pretend it doesn’t exist, and it magically disappears, right?
When I was in high school, there was this dirty old man gym teacher. He was Czech or something like that, and had a thick accent, and was old but hard and wiry. And he had a reputation for touching the girls. I got him in Grade 10, and I had already been warned of him, though thankfully he seemed not to find me attractive enough.
I don’t know if it ever got beyond him “correcting our posture” and “demonstrating the exercise” in front of the class and with his hands on the girl’s torso. But it gave a lot of girls the creeps, to the point that I remember some of them hiding behind the group, keeping their distance from him, and refusing to do anything which put them within reach.
Time and time again, for who knows how many years, girls would go to the school counselors and complain that Mr. S. was giving them the No Feeling, because we were all taught in elementary school to go and report that sort of thing. And the counselors would go to Mr. S. and tell him to stop touching the girls, which would result in him continuing to touch the girls, but saying at the same time he was touching them that he was only doing so for the class demonstration. Because saying that makes it true, and makes it okay. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for…
I remember at the time thinking the girls were overreacting a little, probably because I wasn’t one of them. It turned out I was oblivious to similar behaviour years later in Air Cadets. But I’ve carried this memory of that gym class the second half of my life, as a joke to tell during road trips. And it’s only dawned on me recently how utterly stupid and wrong it was that we girls were forced to have this guy as our teacher, and that his antics were considered a slight embarrassment but otherwise harmless. Then again, my high school was all about its reputation, so if they pretended it didn’t exist, it magically disappeared.
I don’t want to equate a dirty old gym teacher with a mass murderer, or the experiences between the women involved, but the situations have some basic similarities. The female goes to the person in charge and tells them she’s been hurt and she’s scared of some man; and the authority figure does nothing. So the female is taught that there’s no point in reporting anything, because nobody will take her seriously. Or worse, if young enough, she might believe the person telling her that she was overreacting, and from then on will question her own intuition when bad situations come along in the future.
And all this, after the female spent most of elementary school being taught via hand puppets and videotapes and ABC Afternoon Specials that you should always go to an adult you trust when anyone touches you where they shouldn’t. The teachers meant well, but they forgot to send the memo to the rest of society. Anyone for a glass of mixed message?
I don’t really know what the point of this post was, now that I’m at the end of it. I guess I have some latent anger about situations where “adults” promised to be there, and weren’t. And I worry about the damage such situations have put on the women, physically or emotionally, either directly from the trauma or from the message the authority figure gave them. I’m glad for my friends who escaped from “bad men”, and I’m glad that most of my childhood traumas were minor (and boring) in comparison. But maybe all of us were in some way damaged, in learning the futility in reporting such things to the authorities. And we pretend it doesn’t exist.