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A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

I Might Be Nothing

Journal writing

Lara Gilbert

Reprinted from "Trauma and Victimization" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 3 (3), pp. 20-22

stock photoJuly 18th, 1993

I’ve heard the opinion, in general and with regard to myself personally, that people abused as children often develop depression as adolescents or adults. I don’t argue with that theory at all, but I think my ideas about depression fit in perfectly with this cause-effect hypothesis. The fact that my grandfather forced me to have oral sex and anal intercourse with him, and that my father fondled and raped me until I got the guts up to move in with my mom—these events pretty well tore those rose-coloured glasses off me and allowed me to see the real world, early on.

Some people speak of lost innocence, but if anything was lost, it was the ability to close my eyes to the negative aspects of our existence—I mean existence in a collective sense—us as a species, as a planet, as a solar system, as a/the universe. Innocence is a delusion, but a necessary one. Maybe my eyes are wide open to everything, but the effect of this has been to incapacitate me. Instead of facing the challenges life presents, I’ve lost motivation and energy and interest, while still being aware that those challenges are there. I feel guilty for not even putting the effort into the small things—I can’t even do the laundry and cook, let alone organize my life and contribute in some way to society. All I’ve been doing is taking, taking, and here I am again in the hospital, taking up a bed and nurses’ and doctors’ time and causing worry and pain for my mom. I’d be better off dead, and I wish my family would understand this so that when I am successful with my suicide, I won’t have caused them even more problems… […]

December 16,1993

Age 21

I am so enraged at the people with power, usually male, who get away with anything; and at the justice system that turns a blind eye while other people suffer.

I wonder what to expect will happen next month at the sexual assault hearing involving that male nurse. Even without my full medical records documenting my dissociative experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder and my brush with prostitution—which gives the defence plenty of material to come up with reasons I might not be telling the truth—even without all my previous allegations of my grandfather, father, and the rape of last November, they could pretty easily acquit him with the “reasonable doubt” criterion. It’s my word against his, and my word will not count for anything.

I will get to speak, at least. I will be able to tell the truth about his attempt to seduce me and his subsequent rape of me after failing at the seduction. The truth. No one in the courtroom has to believe me, and many probably won’t. But being believed is a lot harder to achieve than I used to think.

My dad still strongly denies that he abused me. I got a letter from my half-brother saying he wanted to help however he could; he wanted to be my big brother. He couldn’t make the choice of whose story to believe, but he feels for how I’ve suffered, and he says his relationship with our father has been strained for the last five years. My father makes it hard not to believe him, my half-brother says.
I can imagine; he’s a natural arguer. It’s good to know that my half-brother is supportive of me anyway. But it still boggles my mind how most of that family is trying to ignore the issue. Grandma practically admitted to me in her letters that she is aware of what happened. But no one will hold my dad responsible for what he’s done. It’s me, not him, who’s left the family circle. […]

July 8, 1994

I wonder if I’ll ever enjoy sex again. It’s hard to imagine those feelings ever returning to my body, after thinking about this upcoming preliminary hearing. The defence lawyer is going to try to make me look like a slut, a whore—and one with a mental disorder. I dread the inevitable questions regarding my (slim) experiences with prostitution. The Crown prosecutor has warned me that this will definitely be brought up, and his objections may be overruled so I must be ready to go into the “story.”

The way the male nurse asked me to have intercourse with him and later to give him “a blow”—I felt like I was a prostitute whose services were being requested. It was so demeaning. So I told him that I’d had experiences in the past involving unethical sexual relations and that it was damaging. I was hoping to dissuade him from continuing his disgusting line of “conversation” with me, but it didn’t change his mind, and now that submission of mine gives strength to his side of the story by letting everyone known something humiliating and demoralizing about me that they need not have found out about, if I’d kept my mouth shut that day in the hospital. My worst fears are not that my history will throw my credibility out the window (although this would be painful and angering) but that Bob and Jan (who both plan to come to the hearing) will come into the courtroom despite my insisting that they remain outside the room. I said I would be more nervous if I saw anyone in there I knew.

If my boyfriend and best girlfriend find out what a slut I’ve been, I don’t think I’ll be able to stand the humiliation. I’ll feel like less than a real person. And if in court I’m asked why I tried prostitution, I’ll just have to admit that no, it wasn’t for the money—I wasn’t penniless or wired on drugs—it was because I longed for a sense of power and control that was lacking in my life. Offering myself to men for a price gave me a feeling of worth and importance, and an exchange that was business-like and for me, unemotional. “Safe” sex. The power and worth, of course, are illusions. The defence attorney is going to ask how I could be so stupid or mixed-up not to realize that from the beginning. And how can I expect to be believed that the male nurse raped me when the court knows I was a whore, and whores always want it, right?

I’m fed up with being female. And frigid.

Anyhow, aside from the above stresses, things are going quite well for me. I love my job, I love feeling like I’m doing something worthwhile, and working in the same hospital that gave me back life back last year. And I love these hot summer nights. The realization is gradually sinking in that despite the challenges and difficulties ahead, I am ready to deal with them—with anything. I know how to fight, and with my mood solid as a rock. I can plough my way through whatever tough times I run into. It’s hard to accept this because it gives me no excuse to give up, give in. If I am capable of surviving, I simply must survive….

March 4, 1995

I’m actually optimistic; I just can’t stop crying. This has been the hardest week I’ve had—well, maybe not ever, but one of the top five of my hardest weeks ever. Testifying was difficult, the cross-examination being much more grueling than at the preliminary hearing last July. But I was prepared. I’ve been watching all the proceedings and I feel like I’m living in that courtroom. I don’t want to miss a minute of it, because I want to know exactly why the jury makes the decision it eventually makes. I sit there at the back, watching the witnesses answer the lawyers’ questions, watching the judge at His Lordship’s desk, watching the expressions on the faces of the jury, staring at the back of the accused’s head in the prisoner’s box. When I can’t stand to look at anyone, I stare at the royal crest on the wall above the judge’s head, and pray to God and to the justice system in Canada. I’ve decided to believe in both this week.

There have been ups and downs—the Crown and my lawyer were successful at the disclosure hearing in preventing any of my medical records from being entered; the defence lawyer is very good at what she does, and has pointed out some inconsistencies in my statements to the police, as well as focusing relentlessly on my prostitution issue. (I dreaded this—the humiliation I feel while listening to her belittle me publicly is overwhelming).

When the video of the male nurse’s confession (that is, to “consensual” sex to the police was played for the court, I started feeling much better. He is one twisted man, verging on psychopathic, and I think this is very apparent to the jury.

The problem remains that it is unclear (from a legal point of view) whether I consented to sex, because I just “allowed it” and cried while he raped me in my hospital room. If the Crown can apply one of the laws involving sexual relations with a person in the position of authority or caregiver, this will help. But from the arguments I’ve been listening to between the lawyers, the law is very vague regarding a situation like mine. Perhaps this case will set a precedent.

March 12, 1995

Last Wednesday night at 9 pm after 16 hours of deliberation over two days, the jury announced their verdict: Not guilty.

Hearing it was crushing. It felt like telling me I had not been raped; I made a fuss over nothing; I wanted to have sex with a strange man while committed to psychiatric unit because of suicidal and dissociative thoughts.

It still hurts me to think of this verdict, although the Crown has assured me that the jury believed me; they did not like him at all. They sympathized with me and wanted to be able to convict him. The problem was the law.

I did not resist the assault (after declining, in our conversation about ethics) because I implicitly trusted he would not assault me; he was in a position of authority, and his breach of trust was shocking and overwhelming to me so that I felt frozen. I managed to retreat into the bathroom and eventually to say “Stop it, stop, it hurts.” But in the eyes of many people, including the judge, the defence lawyer, the accused and at least some of the jurors, I allowed the rape to occur.

For the sex to have been nonconsensual, the law says he must have “exercised his authority” (not enough evidence he exercised it, whatever that means) or been “reckless or willfully blind” by failing to take the necessary steps to ensure I was consenting. (Defence argued that he did take these steps and I agreed to sex—in fact, said “Okay, where can we do it?”)

The justice system does not work. The resolution I expected to feel at the end of this trial is missing.[...]

About the author

Lara was educated in Vancouver, British Columbia, receiving her BSc (Honours Biochemistry) from the University of BC in 1995. Lara took her own life in 1995 and her journals were published nearly a decade after her death


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