Can men stop raping?

Deepa Mehta's Anatomy Of Violence – and related panel discussions – asks how we breed male predators

ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE directed by Deepa Mehta. Opens November 25 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. 93 minutes. Panel with Senator Ratna Omidvar, the Diversity Institute Ryerson’s Wendy Cukier, former deputy police chief Peter Sloly, CAMH chief of forensic psychiatry Sandy Simpson and CAMH psychiatrist Suvercha Pasricha follows 6:30 pm screening on November 25. See listings. 

As the world reels at the fact that a serial sexual abuser is about to take up residence in the White House, there couldn’t be a better time for Deepa Mehta to release her docu-drama Anatomy Of Violence. The film looks into the life and minds of the six men who raped and killed a woman on a bus in Mumbai in 2012. 

But Mehta doesn’t leave the film to do the talking. She’s assembled a series of panels, one on Thursday (November 17) for the press and another on the film’s opening day, November 25, which I’ll be moderating after the screening at TIFF.

She made the film because she felt that unless we examine the motives and conditions of perpetrators, we’re not going to end the abuse.

When I ask panelist Sandy Simpson, chief of forensic psychiatry at CAMH and the University of Toronto, what we can do to end rape, he answers, “You mean apart from removing the president(-elect) of the United States?”

He’s laughing, but he’s actually on to something. Seldom has there been stronger evidence of rape culture than Donald Trump’s admission that he liked to grab women by the pussy and the fact that close to 50 per cent of America’s voting population cast their vote for him anyway. A collective shrug at rape as a fact of life?

Simpson allows that rape culture is a factor in perpetuating and promoting sexual assault – consider that men could legally rape their wives until only about 30 years ago – but he focuses more on the toxic mix of poverty and deprivation that breeds abusers. 

“The higher the level of income inequality, the greater the level of distress, hopelessness and directionlessness,” he says. “You learn that assaulting women is how you get what you need from the world. It gives you power, predictability and agency.”

Creating income equality, he says, is the best way to end sexual assault. Suvercha Pasricha, who runs the women’s in-patient unit at CAMH and is also a November 25 panel participant, says Mehta’s movie takes the right approach.

“She focused on what these boys went through, how their boundaries were breached and how they were given no respect in their households. What happens then is that, having had their own boundaries breached, they think that’s normal.”

Do not, she says, assume that are genetically disposed to this kind of behaviour. Simpson, too, debunks the theory of the “warrior gene,” insisting that there’s no one path to violence. 

And there’s no one psychological profile of an abuser. In dealing with hundreds of cases involving perpetrators, former prosecutor Anne Fitzgerald was able to identify only one as a true psychopath. 

The rest inflicted violence because they themselves were traumatized – and/or simply because they could.

“I gained an understanding of perpetrators’ circumstances, of how society builds violence and supports secrecy in ways that make it hard for women to get help before they’re harmed.”

At a time when Ontario’s new sex ed plan is still far from a sure thing, both she and Pasricha say education is crucial. Let people know, says Pasricha, about the impact of trauma. Teach kids about sex early on so they have the information they need to protect themselves.

“I was raped before I understood what sex was,” recalls Fitzgerald, which meant she couldn’t make sense of what was happening to her.

Pasricha appreciates the White Ribbon Campaign because, she says, “the truth is that men will listen to men. They take the learning better.”

And we have to lose our obsession with stranger rape. It’s the men close to us who are much more dangerous. “We teach kids to be afraid of strangers,” says Fitzgerald. “Strangers aren’t the problem.” | @susangcole

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