The file “The Julien Lacroix affair, two years later: scars and regrets” published in this newspaper has caused a lot of ink to flow. We salute the courage of the women who dared to testify in the context of this investigation and we recognize their experiences. We express our solidarity and our empathy towards them.
We are concerned about a violent backlash that we are witnessing in the media and digital public space with regard to the speaking out of victims who have denounced attacks during the waves of the #metoo movement. Following the publication of this article, on social networks, the denunciations of victims of sexual assault are ridiculed, denigrated and insulted. They are called hysterical, crazy and extremists. It seems that certain nuances are squeezed out of the discussion. Indeed, we believe that the article is used to reinforce certain stereotypes, myths and prejudices regarding victims of sexual assault and the #metoo movement. It’s unfortunate.
Regrets, guilt, ambivalence
In the article, none of the women interviewed say that the facts reported in 2020 did not happen, but rather they relate that they have progressed. The testimonies show that their will to denounce has evolved over the past two years and that some perceive differently what they have suffered.
Ambivalence among victims of whistle-blowing sexual assault is quite common and widespread. The perception of sexual violence suffered varies according to social, economic, cultural and psychological factors. This intimate relationship evolves depending on the trauma experienced. Each person is unique and reacts differently. It is not uncommon to see the identity construction of victims change, even going so far as to reject their victim status. This is why there are as many possible reactions to a sexual assault as there are victims.
Mélanie Guenette, sexologist and sexual violence liaison and intervention officer for the Montérégie Crime Victims Assistance Center (CAVAC), affirms that “questioning is not surprising when one think that the feeling of guilt is present in a recurring way in people who have experienced sexual violence, all the more so if they are women (because of their socialization, in particular)”. Here again, the article published in The Press is invoked to claim that a contradictory path in the identification of the victims would be something suspicious. This idea conveys a bias, portraying victims as unreliable and untrustworthy.
The article relates the journey of one of the whistleblowers who, today, no longer identifies as a victim after being kissed against her will. This shift in posture is part of the normal—and frequent—ambivalence discussed above. This woman has complete freedom to self-identify, we fully support her in her approach.
In the same breath, we wish to specify that a kiss without consent constitutes, under criminal law, a sexual assault. The inclusion of touching in offenses that can be punished by criminal law, almost 40 years ago, is an important step forward which recognizes that this sexual violence is unacceptable and that it can cause serious consequences for the victims. .
However, the story of this whistleblower has been brandished to fuel the trivialization of this sexual violence. Remember that the “stolen kiss” of one person will constitute, in another, sexual violence with serious wounds.
A broader conception of justice
#metoo was born on the fringes of a justice system that is not always designed with victims’ needs in mind. After being disappointed with their experience within the system — to which many first turned — women spoke out in the public space.
In Quebec, these waves of denunciation have imposed a collective reflection on the justice system. Let us remember that it is in response to these demands that the National Assembly undertook, on a transpartisan basis, an in-depth reform of the administration of justice. These women who were blamed for undermining the judicial system are the ones to whom we owe the establishment of a specialized court across the province today.
The whistle-blowing movement has also highlighted the limitations inherent in the traditional justice system: imposing a prison sentence on an individual does not lead very far when trying to end the culture of rape. Nor does the confrontation of cross-examination and pleadings meet the needs of those who hope for a sincere apology and recognition of the wrongs caused.
If there is one message from the whistleblowing movement that has been muted, it is this: justice must not only punish. She must also heal.
Indigenous legal orders have long relied on restorative justice to sanction and repair the consequences of sexual violence. Rather than punishing offenders, restorative justice aims to make them take responsibility for their actions and repair the harm done to victims. It thus offers the parties affected by a criminal act — the victim and the aggressor — a settlement that lends itself to reparation.
We advocate this avenue and we invite our current government to add this solution to the traditional forms of justice. Organizations like Équijustice1 are already working in this sector, but there is a lack of financial resources (and will?) for this avenue to be democratized.
Admittedly, the Julien Lacroix affair leaves many scars and regrets. Let’s hope that some hasty generalizations that stem from the reactions to the publication of this article do not further undermine the significant gains made by the #metoo movement. Once again, it will be the victims of sexual assault, scarred, who will end up being silent.
* Co-signers: Béatrice Cloutier-Trépanier, doctoral candidate in art history at Queen’s University; Dominique Gingras, social worker.