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Exposing the system: an interview with Jane Doe.

In 1986, Jane Doe was sexually assaulted by a perpetrator who was known to Toronto police as the Balcony Rapist. When she discovered that police knew about the perpetrator, but failed to warn area residents--he had raped four women already with a similar modus operandi--she sued the police and won.

Her riveting, inspiring and often hilarious book, The Story of Jane Doe (Random House 2003), documents the story of a woman who refused to be victimized by the court process or by the police. She won the right to sit in on the hearings of her perpetrator, instead of outside in the hall, and what she documented in Jane Doe is a scathing, humorous, feminist critique of the players in the justice system. One year after the release of her book, we asked Jane what has changed as a result of her expose.


HERIZONS: Your book, The Story of Jane Doe, includes a scathing commentary on the justice system, and in particular the Toronto Police department. After you were raped, what were your biggest beefs with the police, whose job it is to protect citizens and apprehend the 'bad guys'?

JANE DOE: I think it was, it is, the very culture of policing that allows its members to identify like that, that allows the majority of civilians to see police officers as our protectors, the 'good guys.' I wish it were that simple, and I'm not talking about individual police officers, many of whom are good people. (Although true, it's interesting that I feel compelled to say that, to somehow undermine individual responsibility.) I'm referring to the institution of policing itself, which is militaristic, paternalistic and designed to create an 'us versus them' relationship between police and other citizens.

It prohibits outside influence and prevents 'good' officers from affecting change from within. The cops I dealt with in 1986 and the ones I deal with today honestly believe that they are doing the right thing, the best thing for women who experience rape and assault. They believe that they are 'sensitive' to our needs and know more than women who are experts in the area of anti-violence. The truth-the facts that they are untrained, sexist and highly invested in other oppressive behaviours--conveniently eludes them. Augment that mindset with guns, helicopters and enormous budgets, and we're in a lot of trouble--still.

What lessons did your relentless pursuit of justice for women teach the Toronto Police Department?

JANE DOE: I don't think it taught them much at all. There is considerable mythology about what my case accomplished. As a result of 'Jane Doe' it is now possible to sue the police for their actions in the investigation of a crime--any crime. That is the legal precedent which was set. The myth of Jane Doe is that the police changed or were obliged to change their protocol regarding sexual assault investigation or the manner in which they treat women who experience that crime. That has not changed at all. In fact, the sexist bias and systemic discrimination for which they were convicted continues to inform policing in Toronto and across the country.

You weren't your 'typical' rape victim--if there is such a thing. Your book contains a chapter. "Why Men Rape," in which you observe that "They Rape Because They Can." Is the difference here that you were a feminist to begin with?

JANE DOE: Absolutely. It's what saved me, kept me safe, and kept me strong. I understood rape to be a political act and I was able to translate that into a feminist political action also known as "Jane Doe v the Toronto Police." My case and the evidence led were based on providing the court with a feminist understanding of sexual assault. (I was greatly assisted in that by my 'preferred' race, and class, and sexual identity.) It was an incredible piece of work, very exciting at times, and I regret that so much of it was 'disappeared' in media accounts, appropriated by the legal community--especially the manner in which my case is taught in law schools. Jane Doe belongs to the women's community, to feminism. I tried to write it that way.

In your book, you are clear about the fact you're a feminist. You say that "We suffer under the delusion that patriarchy no longer exists." Who are your feminist heroes?

JANE DOE: I love that question. We never get to talk about our heroes, the women we admire most. I would have to start with women who work in shelters and rape crisis centres, who manage to maintain a feminist politic despite the ongoing institutionalization of those agencies. I'm also in awe of women who work in bureaucracies, who struggle against enormous odds to be feminist. Those are my heroes, the women on the ground, the women we do not know. Another group is women who are mothers who raise political children, despite any social or other support to do so. There are more: Artists like Shary Boyle, who created the illustrations in my book, young women who organize, the countless women who are raped and beaten and overcome, continue to live their lives.

Has feminism--or, specifically, the way sexual assault services are provided--changed since the book was originally written?

JANE DOE: I fear that it has changed in ways that do not benefit women who experience the crime. Medical and social work models have replaced feminism in many of our services. It is no longer required or even necessary for workers to demon-strate a feminist analysis or commitment. Current intake procedures and recent legislation require us to treat women who experience violence as ill, or criminal, or 'other.' Feminist agencies must deal with funding cuts and long waiting lists. We are in crisis, and yet there is no place or language to speak about it publicly, or with each other.

You have done a lot of public speaking since you decided to take the police to court. Is "Jane Doe" a term for every woman who's been raped, or is your identity a secret to the public?

JANE DOE: Both are true. I cling still to the anonymity of "Jane Doe," although I'm conflicted about it. I would prefer to use my real name, as I am proud of my work, proud of my book--but it's simply not safe for a woman to identify as raped. There is immense stigma attached to it, socially and legally. A rape victim is caught somewhere between Madonna and whore, absent of agency, joy, rage, or analysis. The word itself demeans her, requires us to pity her--she is different from normal or unraped women. I refuse to be identified that way. I think that the Jane Doe option is the only safety net the courts provide to women who report, and yet it works against us, too, keeps us hidden, secret.

Remember, too, that I and most women who report are subject to attack through revelation of our past sexual, medical and family histories.

Those are my 'secrets,' and I choose to keep them relatively private as a Jane Doe.

I'm sure our readers want to know, How is Jane Doe? They know you as a feminist of great courage. Are you a different person today compared to the woman who wrote the book?

JANE DOE: I am--and that is something that continues to evolve for me. I'm smarter and stronger than I was. I am ever curious, have more fun. I am sometimes peaceful, almost not crazy. Writing is a self-revelation, fearsome and liberating both. Experiencing violence and living though it, going back and examining it, figuring out who benefits from it--in a book, through art, or in therapy--is a victory. And we must grab our victories where we can, and hold on tight and plan the next ones.

One final question: The portrait by Shary Boyle you chose to accompany this interview seems like an unusual choice for a survivor of rape to select. Can you explain?

JANE DOE: It's pretty wild, isn't it? I could explain the way I read it: the artist would have a different reading: and you might see something else. One reason I like it is that it's not what we expect from a "rape survivor" or a "rape victim"--terms I never use, words that paint me and other women who experience crime as helpless or marked. This portrait flies in the face of all of that, turns rape upside down, makes us rethink it, revisit it. What needs explaining, I think, is that we are startled by such a representation. What should a woman who has been raped look like?

Thank you very much for sharing your experience and your thoughts.

JANE DOE: Thank you. Um. Can I just say one other thing? I wanted to talk a bit about humour--and joy--and their power to help us to understand difficult situations, to speak the unspeakable. I relied on humour to live my life long before I was raped, and I used it to understand the monster that is the legal system. We all do. I also used it to write my book, and I am always thrilled to hear that women laughed while they read it. It is a victory I hold dear.


EDITOR'S NOTE: An excerpt from The Story of Jane Doe, appeared as a guest column in the Winter 2004 issue of Herizons. Herizons contract with Random House stated that Herizons would send a layout of the article to the publisher for final approval. However, we neglected to do so. Also, three footnotes that accompanied the text in the book were omitted and we did not reproduce the book jacket in its entirety, as the contract stated. Herizons apologizes to Jane Doe and Random House for these errors. We have reproduced the excerpt below, from the chapter "Civil Trial Journal." The Story of Jane Doe was released in paperback in April.


by Jane Doe

Okay so I'm still here, shoot me why don't you. Please shoot me. I'll pay you to shoot me. But I'm going soon. How can I not watch Kim Derry's opening act? And it's worth it because get this: Derry has his notebook from the Balcony Rapist investigation but all the other documents, the volumes of working files, profiles and investigative strategies he said he used are missing. So, he will use an aide-memoire that contains his recollections of these things. Sean objects but the judge says she's going to let it in for now. I can't stand it. I've got to phone Lee Lakeman (1). She can advise rape counsellors across the country that the whole therapy notes issue has been solved! Call them aides memoire. Why you could write things that would assist the woman you are counselling. After the fact! Kim's entire testimony is an aide-memoire.



I like the way Finlay says it: "ayde-memoirrrr."

Kim is more subdued than I thought he would be. As if he's been hauled in. He delivers his testimony although very little he says can be corroborated by any document or by any other evidence. Just his notes and his memory. The judge is to believe that, although there is no paper trail, intensive work was going on continuously in the month before I was raped, because he (now an acting superintendent) says it was. Continuous, intensive activity that left no permanent written record, only Kim's "recollections," based on his recent "reconstruction" contained in his aide-memoire. This contrasts starkly with police documents we have that state that in 1986 Derry worked extensively throughout August on a case called Two Toes (2), until I was raped on the 24th.


One of his recollections of the investigation, delivered under oath: "We didn't want to drive him away. We were sort of close and yet far. We had determined that he was in the area but we hadn't narrowed it down to that was the only area of attack."

In addition to his aide-memoire, Kim has come with a giant blow-up of a map of the area in which the rapes occurred. It is an impressive map that sits at the front of the room, as if it belongs there. Must ask Sean if we can have a map. I would like a map of how to get to the cafeteria, which is hidden in the basement, buy a coffee, drink it, and then get back into the courtroom in fifteen minutes.

Kim goes on: "It was a low-key investigation ... Our feeling was that although the Annex Rapist investigation was successful, he fled ... so we didn't want to drive this person away ... we tried to ID him through whatever means we had ... We were in possession of the Oliver Zink book ... We pursued the strategy of not moving the rapist. We had this feeling or whatever that if we mounted massive media coverage, he would leave. Think the heat's on. Criminals are not a stupid person."

God help us all.

More aided memories from Kim: "We elected to talk to a specific group which was previous break and enters."

Translation: We went at night to the homes of single women who had previously reported thefts of small objects and who, based on the rapist's MO, were likely future rape targets, but we didn't tell them that.

On the rape of Jane Doe: "The urgency that this suspect has now changed his MO ... four out of five were near the end of the month. He was dark-skinned but not Negro. If we started knocking on his door, word was gonna spread and he was likely to move and we would put other people at risk ... By moving him to a new area, people in the Church-Wellesley area wouldn't know that he was in their area."

Translation: It's easier when the criminals are black.

If we put out a warning, the rapist would flee. (3) "If we could stop the break and enters, we stopped the rapist and that was our plan. We talked to the prostitutes on the track about kinky tricks" and "There were little bits of mud like spaghetti. So I took some of that and put it in a plastic bag." And my favourite: "We just sort of drove around, looked and talked."

Translation: We didn't know what we were doing.

Excerpted from The Story of Jane Doe by Jane Doe. Copyright [c] Jane Doe 2003. Published by Random House Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

(1) Lakeman works with the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC). She is also on staff with the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, Canada's oldest shelter and rape crisis centre. She is one of many women who have fought the seizure of therapy and medical records by the courts.

(2) Two Toes was the major armed-robbery investigation that Kim and Bill completed just before I was raped.

(3) The "rapists flee" mythology rests on the notion that men who rape are transient, live in the bushes and elude detection by teletransporting themselves throughout the city. This excuse is regularly served up by police when explaining their decisions not to issue warnings. The thinking is rarely borne out in stranger rapes and never in the majority of occurrences, in which women know the identity of their attacker. The Annex Rapist actually left Toronto for his family home in Vancouver before a public warning about him was issued.
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Author:Mitchell, Penni
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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