Sunday, June 19, 2016

"JANE DOE JANUARY" BY EMILY WINSLOW: NARRATIVE OF SILENCE!

Since I couldn't find my copy of this book, I went back to the bookstore yesterday, read a copy of the book in the store, and then returned it to the shelves.  My thanks go to Carol, the store manager, for letting me do this!

My first reaction to this book was to recall another similar type book published in 1999 entitled "After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back" by Nancy Venable Raine. 

Just as a sidebar, what always struck me about the title of Raine's book is that it appears to refer to one of William Butler Yeats' greatest love poems, "Speach After Long Silence". I have never been able to reconcile combining one of the the greatest love poems of all times with the title of a book on rape. I think this is the basis for a deeper discussion within another context. Suffice it to say that what these two books on rape have in common is the theme of being silenced. 

For instance, in "After Silence" Ms. Raine states, ""Silence has the rusty taste of shame. The words shut up are the most terrible words I know. . . . The man who raped me spat these words out over and over during the hours of my attack--when I screamed, when I tried to talk him out of what he was doing, when I protested." In the second book "Jane Doe January", the author Emily Winslow talks about how when she tried to scream, the rapist put his hand over her mouth and nose and almost suffocated her. 

Brutality against women, physical abuse, and violence towards women, each of these actions always appears to be accompanied by the demand that women be silent, that they just shut up. The silencing of women's voices is a major issue in our culture. When it comes to women we want to shut them up, drug them up, cover them up, and beat them up. 

Through the words of "Jane Joe January" I feel the nature of that cultural imperative here in America for women to do just that--be silent. For if there is one thing that Emily Winslow wished for and feared at the same time it was that she would have her opportunity on the stand to speak out about the crime committed against her so that she could put the perpetrator in jail. Regrettably, as you find out in the course of the narrative, she is denied this opportunity through a legal technicality that I end up believing results from a male dominated system of justice that historically, and in this particular case, did not wish to prosecute the crime of rape and thus released a serial rapist, her rapist, back onto the street to, for all we know, continue to rape again since that's what serial rapists do. 

This book covers the period of time when Emily Winslow was contacted regarding the discovery of the rapist through DNA databases set up in 1994 (well after her rape) on through the year that followed when the case was ultimately dismissed and the rapist released back into society unpunished and seemingly unrepentant.  After a year of buildup and preparation, to find out that the whole legal proceeding has been cancelled within days of trial based upon some nonsensical loophole, I find rather appalling.

This book brings to the forefront the issue of the tens of thousands of untested rape kits that remain in warehouses all over the country. After Ms. Winslow's description of how difficult it was for her to undergo the procedures that resulted in the creation of her rape kit, I can only call such neglect and disinterest in these rape kits utterly appalling, but only to be expected of our rape culture that neglects the interests of women in general. 

In her book, Emily Winslow makes a few observations which I find somewhat telling as a family court activist. For instance, she goes into a lengthy discussion of the fact that she has observed that the transcripts produced by the court reporters in hearings in the case are frequently not accurate and do not reflect what was actually said. She also points out where the printed word, even when it does accurately reproduce what was said, still isn't able to convey the actual interaction that took place in court. This is a concern that many litigants have addressed with our court systems and it still has not been adequately addressed. 

One aspect of Emily Winslow's book that seems somewhat on the icky creepy side is how she painstakingly collects details regarding the rapist's past history from various courthouses and goes on his sister's Facebook page looking at photographs and essentially bringing to life the rapist as an individual. 

This highlights an interesting psychological aspect of the rapist in that the first time he raped a woman at age 24, he immediately went to the police station to confess. Subsequently, he avoided and resisted prosecution, What her investigation unearthed is essentially a man who went from rape to rape, burglary to burglary, drug conviction to conviction for a life time. Ms. Winslow attempts to understand why that happened to her rapist by looking at his life and commenting on his socioeconomic status, but I'm not sure that is a satisfactory exercise. Rapists come from all walks of life. 

Another striking aspect of this story is its international flavor. At this time, Emily Winslow has been living for over a decade in Cambridge, England. The author spends a considerable time discussing her pain and confusion at the distant way in which her social acquaintances, friends, and church family respond to the news in regard to her past rape.  She appears to find it hard to grasp how socially speaking and in terms of how people interact, Americans generally respond differently to Ms. Winslow's crisis than the British would. I have a bi-continental family myself since my mother is British, so I understand these subtleties. The British are simply emotionally restrained and very opaque in their reaction to crisis, and that is just a fact. It isn't that they don't care, but simply that they leave you to your dignity as a kindness. An American brought up with the candor and effusiveness of American culture could easily and wrongly misinterpret that restraint as indifference. Much of this book reflects Emily Winslow's attempts to come to terms with these cultural differences and provides much of the central interest. 

Another central issue Emily Winslow struggles with that many readers will relate to is how do you find a way to come to terms with a horrific and torturous past while you are living in a happy, mundane, fairly normal present. How do you find a way to put those two realities which you have lived together in your mind and find a measure of healing and forgiveness. How do you prevent the corrosive memories of the past from destroying whatever joy you have in the present? 

Of course, this book is complex and multilayered, so I can't mention all of the issues that it addresses, but clearly it is worth reading. It provides a considerable amount of material for discussion and debate and continues to raise, as did its predecessor "After Silence" important concerns regarding how American culture continues to tolerate and excuse violence against women and demands that victims stop complaining and get over it already.

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