The day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States I stood in an empty high school gym with a teacher acquaintance and we cried.
I cried because the world was not the place I thought it was. She cried because she had to explain why Donald Trump won to her daughter, a girl she has hopes and dreams for. I suppose we were crying for the same reasons.
It’s not as if I was naïve. I was well aware of systemic misogyny like the pay gap and insidious misogyny like the eye rolls from some men in board rooms and at dinner parties.
It’s possible to walk away from that, at least in the short term. But Trump’s win was evidence western society wasn’t headed forward.
In response thousands of women picked themselves up and dusted themselves off to don “pussy hats” in Washington and to give notice we aren’t going back to the kitchen metaphorical or otherwise and no one’s pussy is up for grabs.
It started a movement and best of all it didn’t die. Which meant a year later those of us who are slower to get up, got a chance to walk toward something instead of walking away.
I have never been a marcher and slogan chanter but I was compelled to join the Waterloo Region Women’s March on Saturday.
I couldn’t stay home this past Saturday because I’m way too pissed. About this time last year The Globe and Mail ran a series called “Unfounded.” That series exposed police departments across the country that have been dismissing sexual assault allegations baseless for years.
When I was a reporter I worked often with Stratford Police Services and OPP. They both have abysmal unfounded rates of 48% and 34% respectively. The Stratford police unfounded rate is nearly three times the national average. At what workplace in the universe is it reasonable for an employee to decide a job has no merit 48% of the time? Most bosses would be asking some tough questions.
When an ATV is stolen from a farm it’s not an alleged theft and it’s not dismissed. People who leave the keys in their pick-up trucks only to find them stolen can expect to be taken seriously when they file a report with police. I can’t count how many news releases regarding stolen vehicles with the keys left inside or stolen items from unlocked cars have been issued to Stratford and area media from police. They started an educational campaign about it called “Lock it or Lose it.”
Far too often women who are sexually assaulted get shown the door. And the thing that keeps me up at night seething is that those women had no idea how many other women were ignored. They thought it was just them.
They mustered the courage to come forward and tell their stories and they were shut down by the very people who should have offered them some kind of compassion and justice.
Police investigators—the people charged with protecting all of us—pick and choose who they protect and who they don’t protect. Without that stellar reporting from Robyn Doolittle and The Globe and Mail the status quo would have continued unchecked.
To be fair, not every police force has exceedingly high numbers. The Toronto Police Service’s unfounded rate is seven percent. Winnipeg police dismissed sex assault complaints as baseless two percent of the time.
When the “Unfounded” story broke it was like a light had been switched on and there were a lot of people standing around with their pants down. Police are well-schooled at assuring us that we just don’t understand police procedure and protocol but because of that story they were forced to concede that maybe the numbers weren’t great. And maybe there’s something to look into. And maybe they would look back at individual cases. They promised to look into it, they promised to work with groups like women’s shelters and hinted that they might solve the problem.
I’m not overly optimistic. Here’s one of the reasons: former and current members of the Waterloo Regional Police Service have begun the process of filing for a sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender-based discrimination class-action lawsuit against Waterloo Regional Police.
Among the instances cited in the claim, a superintendent in WRPS is accused of sending a picture of his penis to a woman sergeant. That same superintendent was appointed to the Unfounded Sexual Assault Task Force to tackle the 27% unfounded rate in Waterloo Region.
Douglas Elliott, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, likened the sexualized environment of the police service to a frat house. He told the media Chief Bryan Larkin and the Police Association have failed to acknowledge the issue.
Also named as a plaintiff is Barry Zehr a retired superintendent who says he repeatedly tried to raise the issue but he was ignored.
James H. Bennett, a lawyer representing the police services board, denies the accusations and noted the women will be “cross-examined under oath.”
The very concept that sexual misconduct could take place in a police station among colleagues isn’t even surprising. It should be. It should be outrageous and hard to believe but it’s not.
This is what has shaken me out of complacency.
I marched on Saturday for women who have been dismissed when they had something to say and for the women who had the courage to seek justice where there is little. I marched for every woman who said #MeToo.
This is what has turned me into a chant-yelling marcher and it felt good to be there. It won’t change everything instantly but if the number of women who came out to the march—young women, seniors, moms with daughters and sons, or the women and men who went nuts honking their car horns—are any indication, there is reason to hope.
When I got home I scrolled through Facebook and saw pictures of the Women’s March held in Stratford, where I used to live and work. Among the faces in the crowd on that march I’m sure I saw the face of the teacher I cried with the day after the election.
I think we have found our feet.