Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.
Robyn Doolittle is the reporter behind the “Unfounded” series, a Globe and Mail investigation which found that 20 per cent of sexual assault complaints were being dismissed by police officers who did not believe the assault happened. Doolittle recently published Had it Coming, a book which reflects on her investigation and the #MeToo movement.
In her book, she attempts to rise above what she refers to as the “call out culture” of social media and the nuanced understanding of the complexities behind the movement.
She writes in her introduction: “I could have taken that Molotov cocktail of resentment, lit it on fire and lobbed it into the world, screaming, ‘Burn it all down!’ That’s a book that would have earned me a lot of love on Twitter, but that is not the book I’ve written.”
The book is used both as an outlet to express her personal growth and understanding of sexual assault, as well as to document the events that led up to and followed the #MeToo movement.
The first chapter, entitled “Kobe Bryant and Me,” discusses the details of NBA player Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault case, and also focuses on the attitude that her and many others had toward this case at the time. Namely referring to the idea that the young woman who had gone into a hotel room with the NBA player should have known what was going to happen: “I felt safe in my sense of superiority that I’d never be so foolish. Or weak.”
She writes about her experience in the “Unfounded” series, and how it led her to develop her understanding of sexual assault cases. She concludes that laws are not the problem in Canada, but rather, it’s how judges and police officers handle these cases — they have little understanding of how these things work.
For example, trauma can have a huge effect on memory, which is why some survivors often have hazy memories when delivering their statements, something that needs to be taken into consideration in the courtroom. Furthermore, judges and police officers have very little understanding of how consent law even works. In one of the most infamous examples of this, Alberta Judge Robin Camp asked a sexual assault complaintant why she couldn’t “keep her knees together.”
Doolittle takes quite a shift in the second half of the book, and a large majority of it discusses the issue of men and redemption. Doolittle takes the stance that changing the way that sexual assault cases are handled will have to involve changing the minds of the people who are handling these cases.
She spends a chapter discussing Robin Camp, and poses the question of “how much better off the system actually was without him?” She points out that after the controversy, Camp received sensitivity and legal training, and spent time with experts discussing stereotypes, and how men and women are socialized differently.
Although Camp received a lot of backlash and controversy for his questions, and displayed outdated, victim-blaming viewpoints, he now likely has a better understanding of consent than most judges currently hearing cases. “To me, his flawed thinking seemed rooted in ignorance, not malice. Getting rid of him did nothing to address all the other ill-informed judges still hearing cases. And there are plenty of them,” Doolittle writes.
She also discusses the role of men in activism, and the importance of making them feel welcome in the conversation. She spoke in a youth forum regarding the repeal of the updated Ontario sex-ed curriculum, in which one of the organizers — the only man organizer — commented that “young men nowadays are increasingly more conservative.” He went on to say that it’s not about men taking over the conversation, but rather that this is a moment when men need to listen, though they should know that they have a role and are valued.
The final chapter of the book goes over the role that social media plays in the conversation. In it, Doolittle laments the polarization of the current political climate, and attributes it to the rise of social media.
She references a study that analyzed the tweets of political candidates and found that politicians who used more emotional language were associated with a double digit increase in retweets per word. This finding contributes to what is referred to as the ‘echo chamber’ effect, which suggests that people will only interact with people who they believe agree with them, or see as being part of their group.
Given that much of the discussion around the #MeToo movement does not constitute illegal or criminal acts, but rather ethical behaviour, reform will come from changing societal attitudes and practices. Belittling and dragging people who may hold outdated views is unlikely to change anyone’s mind — “Otherwise, #MeToo is just a hashtag,” Doolittle concludes.