We’ve seen way too often how members of the criminal justice system victim-blame sexual assault survivors, and often, re-traumatize them through the strenuous judicial process. In order for a victim to be “believed,” the burden of proof is often very high, and victims of sexual violence (mostly women) are forced to justify their every action on the day in question.
Luckily, one Canadian judge not only believes victims—he decided to speak up for them.
Justice Marvin Zuker of Toronto, Ontario, delivered a 179-page decision last Thursday, outlining the case of Mandi Gray, a doctoral student at Toronto’s York University, who said she was raped by fellow student and shortterm flame Mustafa Ururyar. Zuker ruled that, based on the evidence presented by the two people involved, Ururyar did in fact rape Gray. But his decision didn’t simply explain his ruling: It was a full-out condemnation of how rape victims are treated and what the very system he represents puts them through.
“The myths of rape should be dispelled once and for all,” Zuker wrote in his decision, shared by the Guardian. “It doesn’t matter if the victim was drinking, out at night alone, sexually exploited, on a date with the perpetrator, or how the victim was dressed. No one asks to be raped.”
Gray and Ururyar had been casually dating before the night of the assault. From his telling, it was consensual; from hers, it was not. So often when there are no other eyewitnesses to provide additional testimony, the benefit of the doubt is given to the accused. But Zuker believed Gray when she said she had been assaulted.
“For much of our history the ‘good’ rape victim, the ‘credible’ rape victim has been a dead one,” Zuker wrote. “There are many misguided conceptions of what constitutes a ‘real’ rape or how a ‘real’ victim of sexual violence should behave (ie scream, struggle to the utmost and report immediately). No matter how sophisticated the law is, any allegation that derogates from the stereotype is likely to be approached with a degree of suspicion.”
It’s been nearly two months since Judge Aaron Persky of California handed down a jail sentence to Brock Turner, a former Stanford student convicted of raping an unidentified woman on campus. The six-month-long sentence was universally criticized for sending a message to both victims and perpetrators that rape convictions are not taken seriously—especially when the accused is a white male of privilege.
But unlike Zuker, who is being heralded for his feminist and frankly humanist stance, Persky’s ruling has led to serious repercussions. Multiple efforts to have him removed from the Santa Clara County bench forge on, with one petition started by a Miami nurse garnering more than one million signatures.
Despite receiving a ruling in her favor and being fortunate to have such a woke judge presiding over her case, Gray released a statement after the ruling to express her disgust over societal attitudes towards sexual assault. She wrote:
I am tired of people talking to me like I won some sort of rape lottery because the legal system did what it is supposed to.
My experience is regarded as a demonstration of progress in sexual assault cases in Canada. I am expected to feel good because a few people within the system believe me. If we are told to be grateful for receiving the bare minimum, and that we should simply allow for social institutions to further oppress us and violate our rights, I am incredibly concerned.
Accepting things simply as they are because “it could be worse” is the antithesis of progress.
In the statement, which she shared on her personal Facebook page, Gray went on to say that she recognizes the privilege afforded to her as a white, heterosexual, highly educated woman with knowledge of the legal system. She even recalled the way one detective on the case tried to talk her out of pressing charges because she had "implied consent" by drinking alcohol and going to Ururyar's home. Luckily, she knew better.
Still, Gray doesn't feel hopeful that her case will encourage other victims to come forward because of "the police and a lack of accountability within the courtroom." In her statement, she calls on police to be removed altogether from sexual assault cases. She also called out Ururyar's attorney with a laundry list of the ways she mistreated her and mishandled the case. In the meantime, Ururyar is being held until his sentencing on September 14th.
Despite the reported applause in the courtroom during Zuker's decision, and the Toronto Star saying it “changed the landscape of sexual assault and the criminal justice system,” Gray's points are more than valid. This was just one small step for humankind, and we have many more paces to go.
Marisa Kabas is a Sex + Life reporter based in New York City. She loves baseball, bunnies and bagels.