On July 21, Justice Marvin Zuker found Mustafa Ururyar, the man who raped me in early 2015, guilty of one count of sexual assault.
A guilty verdict in a rape trial is statistically rare, and in this instance is tied to the defence’s basing its case solely on outdated rape myths in order to discredit and humiliate me as a promiscuous party girl and scorned, jilted and jealous ex-partner of the accused.
The reality also is that much of my own courtroom experience is a combination of privilege and luck. I am a white, educated, middle-class woman residing in Toronto who was assaulted in the context of a heterosexual relationship.
It’s no surprise to individuals who face numerous and intersecting oppressions on a daily basis, but the legal system’s usual brutal and cold bureaucratic response in rape cases comes as a shock to those who have the luxury of not having come in contact with the law or who have previously assumed that the police are a resource for ensuring women’s safety.
The bulk of my rape trauma is not the result of the sexual assault itself but of the brutality of the legal system. This trauma is difficult to understand for those who have not lived it.
Here are six lessons I learned from my experience.
1. Institutions like the criminal justice system don’t care about individual citizens. They are incapable of empathy or understanding personal circumstances. There may be good people within these institutions who care and go above and beyond, but this is not the ordinary response.
2. If you want to report a sexual assault to the police, do it on your terms. Don’t let anyone tell you you should or should not report for the sake of anyone else’s safety.
3. Write everything down. Take notes of every conversation, including names, phone numbers, times and locations. If you do report to the police, write down exactly what you tell them and keep this somewhere safe.
4. It’s okay to question authority figures. Most victims don’t have advocates, legal counsel or knowledge of their legal rights. Often, police and defence lawyers attempt to take advantage of victims because they’re on their own and ill-informed. And hiring a lawyer is too expensive for most people.
Recently, the Wynne government instituted a program providing four hours of free legal advice to victims of sexual assault. Of course, this will never suffice. In my view, victims need lawyers with standing in sexual assault cases, but it’s a start.
5. Be cautious about what you choose to disclose throughout the process. Anything you discuss during the administration of the sexual assault evidence kit at the hospital or with a worker in the legal system (such as the Crown or the Victim-Witness Assistance Program) may be disclosed to your abuser and used as evidence.
For example, an “off-the record” meeting I had with the Crown and the investigating detective was later disclosed to the defence.
Unfortunately, Victim-Witness workers rarely tell victims that the notes they take of their conversations with you must be given to the Crown, who has a legal obligation to disclose to the accused’s lawyer. You can and should ask how and why the information being collected will be used. The more information provided, the greater the likelihood that an inconsistency will emerge, providing defence lawyers with the opportunity to construct your story as not credible.
6. Healing takes numerous forms. I will never encourage anyone to report to the police, because of how emotionally, financially and psychologically taxing it can be. My healing occurred outside the judicial system in the form of political activism, tattooing, academic research, art and many hours of individual therapy with a therapist who has a thorough political analysis and understanding of sexual assault.
Find something that gives you the space to make sense of your assault and/or the various responses to your assault on your terms. Or don’t. The choice is yours.
Mandi Gray is a PhD student at York University.
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ANATOMY OF A RAPE TRAIL
THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST MUSTAFA URURYAR After a night of drinking with Gray and friends at Victory Café and Paupers Pub, Ururyar and Gray went back to his place, where Gray remembers sitting on his bed and Ururyar grabbing her hair and forcing his penis into her mouth and saying, “This is the last time I’m going to fuck you… and you are going to like it,” according to Gray’s testimony. Gray testified that she cried herself to sleep and woke up in her bra and tank top with Ururyar masturbating next to her. She didn’t remember taking off her pants or underwear.
THE DEFENCE Ururyar, who took the stand on his own behalf, testified that Gray was the aggressor, “groping” his thigh at Paupers and initiating sex back at his place. He testified to having sex with Gray but says it was consensual. The thrust of the defence’s case was that Gray was too intoxicated – she testified she’d had six or seven beers – to remember most of what happened, so how could she know if she was not a willing participant? The court also heard that Ururyar sent Gray a text message, described by the judge as a “vague apology,” a few days after the incident. It reads: “I am sorry things went as they did. I shouldn’t have said and done some of the things I did. I was upset and felt wronged by you, but that does not excuse my own mistakes.”
THE JUDGE’S FINDINGS
ON QUESTIONS RAISED BY THE DEFENCE ABOUT GRAY’S SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR Ururyar’s defence lawyer entered into evidence a text message Gray sent to Ururyar “to come drink and then we can have hot sex” some hours prior to the assault. Evidence of a victim’s sexual behaviour and sexual disposition are ordinarily inadmissible. The judge ruled in any event that “the ‘hot sex’ text can be read in many ways. If anything, [it] made Mr. Ururyar’s alleged guilt more likely, as perhaps providing a stimulus for his later alleged assault.”
ON GRAY’S WAITING TWO DAYS TO REPORT THE ASSAULT “Those who have experienced sexual assault develop varying coping strategies that not only differ by individual, but may also differ within the same individual by day.”
ON THE ISSUE OF CONSENT “There are many misguided misconceptions of what constitutes a ‘real’ rape or how a ‘real’ victim of sexual violence should behave, i.e., scream, struggle to the utmost and report immediately. A victim’s non-conformance with behavioural stereotypes should not impact the way we evaluate the complaint. A person’s lack of verbal or physical resistance… does not constitute consent. Some may engage in sex for fear they will be raped if they don’t participate voluntarily. For much of our history, the ‘good’ rape victim, the ‘credible’ rape victim, has been a dead one.”
ON URURYAR’S VERSION OF EVENTS “To listen to Mr. Ururyar paint Ms. Gray as the seductive party animal is nothing short of incomprehensible. He went or tried to go to any length to discredit Ms. Gray, if not invalidate her.”
In another part of his decision, the judge describes Ururyar as the “ultimate game-player.” He writes, “Ms. Gray could not meet his sexual needs. He told her that. She was vulnerable. She was scared. He pounced. ‘Forget the condom. I am in power. I am in command.’ Power, power, power. He was the boss and he loved it.”
WHAT’S NEXT Ururyar, whose bail has been revoked and will have to wait in prison for his sentencing hearing in two months’ time, has notified the court through his lawyer that he will be appealing the decision.
Compiled by NOW Staff