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Comparing the Treatment of Women in Contemporary Rape Trials to that of Women in Ancient Witch Trials

by Hillary Di Menna

The persecution of witches is thought to have ended hundreds of years ago. Witch trials are looked back on as barbaric and ludicrous. And yet, today, we see similar persecutions of women as a means of social cleansing and moral regulation by patriarchies. As witches were defined and vilified by their society, so are women who have experienced sexual assault and rape today (Gibson, p. 4). Contemporary victim blaming mirrors the infractions of ancient witches, like how women now are said to be too easy, too prudish, to be wearing the wrong things, hanging out with the wrong people and outside of the home at the wrong time. It is a common assumption that their experiences of violence are not only deserved, but also asked for. In both the examples of witch persecutions and rape culture women are presented as ‘out to get men’. The idea that men are natural aggressors unable to help their sexual needs has justified violence against women for centuries. As Holly Johnson and Myrna Dawson write in their book Violence Against Women in Canada sexual assault trials are about disqualifying a woman’s experience and celebrating men. They describe the injustice of the institutional process as a secondary victimization (pp. 108-109). Like the women on trial during witch persecutions, the sexual violence against women today is justified due to a woman’s class, health, race, religion, sexuality, and culture. And like the history of witch trials, it is a patriarchal story that is told in today’s justice system. During western rape trials, in cases where men rape women, women are forced to prove the violence that happened against them, just as women persecuted as witches were made to prove their innocence. Today, sexually assaulted women are forced to weigh the benefits and costs of reporting to the police, knowing that they will be the ones on trial, needing to prove that a crime against them actually took place (Johnson and Dawson, p. 117). “The criminal justice system at all stages is imbued with hostility toward women who have been sexually assaulted and attempts to reduce these biases through law reform have been systematically undermined in the courtroom” (Johnson and Dawson, p. 106). In this paper I will argue that western justice systems treat women who have experienced sexual assault and rape the same way so-called witches were treated in ancient judicial processes.
In this essay I purposely do not use the terms ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’. I believe women who have experienced sexual violence may identify as they wish and it is not up to anyone else to define their experiences. Words like ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ can define a woman based on their relationship with the man that assaulted them. Women are already too often defined by labels linking them to the men in their life instead of being defined by their life’s own complexities. In regards to ‘survivor’, in particular, the word has been co-opted by mainstream society to perpetrate anti-victimization, telling women there is only one right narrative to healing. The few times these terms are used it is in reference to social constructs, or how individuals have chosen to identify. Similarly, when writing about ‘witches’ I use the term sardonically as it had been constructed to refer to women who upset patriarchy in any way; from having no sex at all, to whatever is deemed too much, for reaching puberty, being too old, for being too rebellious, and even for being too quiet.

Victim Blaming
Johnson and Dawson write, “A substantial proportion of the population adheres to negative attitudes about rape victims” (p. 106). Patriarchal ideals have constructed men’s power as being unquestionable, leaving women to be subjugated. This social construct has been accepted as what is normal. For centuries, people have not wanted to hold men accountable for their actions. Instead, discriminatory myths are perpetuated to justify a man’s violence that place the fault on the woman he attacks. This victim-blaming attitude is so prevalent that even one quarter of sexually assaulted women believe that male aggression is normal and the blame should go towards the woman assaulted (Johnson and Dawson, p. 103). As women were believed to be guilty of witchcraft immediately after being accused, women who have experience sexual violence are assumed to be lying until proven otherwise; meanwhile the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty (The Built Environment). Just as witches were accused of being seduced by the devil, women today are told they asked to be assaulted. ‘Her Majesty the Queen v. Mustafa Ururyar’ is a trial that has had for five dates spanning from February to May, the verdict will be given in late July. The woman raped, Mandi Gray, was on the stand for three of these days being interrogated by Ururyar’s defence lawyer, Lisa Bristow. Part of Bristow’s defense focused on why Gray not walk away when Ururyar began acting angrily. The defence noted that although Ururyar may have raped Gray, he did not hit her. Although throughout the trial Gray says that she was not an active participant in her rape, Bristow points out that she never verbally said no. The fact that Gray knew and had consensual sex with Ururyar in the past acted against her; her familiarity with the devil made her a witch. Additionally, the defense noted in the first days of trial how Gray was out late at night. This is something that witches have always been persecuted for.
Keeping with the Rape Myth Catalogue, as coined by Jennifer Lofft for the Crown on Day 5, Bristow made a point of determining the exact number of drinks Gray consumed the night of her alleged rape. Though Ururyar was also drinking that night, there is a societal double standard when it comes to victims of sexual assault and rape for women who have been drinking. A male perpetrator’s responsibility may be reduced by the fact that he was drinking, whereas a woman is found to be more culpable and more sexually available after drinking (Johnson and Dawson, p. 96). Almost immediately after her rape Gray experienced this double standard first hand. She says that the detective she spoke with was adamant that her consent was implied when she drank alcohol and went to his apartment (Volume 3, p. 46). “I think this is going right down Rape Myth 101,” Lofft said on the second trial date, February 2, 2016, pointing to the defence’s obsession with Gray’s sex life, drinking, and supposed flirtatious behaviour.
There is an understanding that our society casually perpetrates violence against women by supporting the act of rape through victim blaming and rationalizing (Johnson and Dawson, p. 76). Women know this and are rightfully intimidated of going through the court process after being assaulted. As mentioned, the process can be a second victimization. Women may be left wondering what defence lawyers, the media, and society in general wants them to say after being relentlessly bombarded with intentionally confusing questions meant to discredit their claims. Again this relentless bombarding and attacking has happened for centuries. Questions provided to witches during their trials would give the witch clues as to what her answers should be, by definition of the court (Breslaw, p. 117). Defence lawyers still do this to women have experienced sexual assault and rape, starting sentences with “I suggest,” and then saying the exact opposite of what these women are saying happened. For example, when Gray says she is raped the defence lawyer says “You were satisfied that you got the hot sex that you wanted” (Volume 2, p. 162). Some witches would refuse to confess, even if it was implied that they would be free after doing so. They would not confess because they believed, and rightfully so, that all talk of witchcraft was dangerous and would be misrepresented no matter what (Gibson, p. 22). Other witches would ‘confess’ by telling the story that was expected of them to tell (Gibson, p. 9). These past histories are the makings of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ victim archetypes our society relies on today. A good victim is middle to upper class, white, heteronormative, and virginal. She cries at the right time, and her perpetrator fits the bad guy mould – usually working class and/or a person of colour. The bad sexual assault victim is everybody else, which is the majority of women. Johnson and Dawson write that, “It is codified in law that sexual assault complainants are not reliable and are prone to fabrication” (p. 107). This was demonstrated on March 24, 2016, when Ontario Court of Justice Judge William Horkins said that we need to be vigilant in avoiding the dangerous false assumption that sexual assault accusations are always truthful, and found Jian Ghomeshi not guilty (CBC News). Horkins’s words are similar to those of the 17th century lawyer and historian, Sir Matthew Hale, who believed accusations of rape to be a matter of private vengeance (Geis, p.42). His statements are based off the work of Kramer and Sprenger, who said that women are ‘liars by nature’ and are ‘more carnal than men’. King James I wrote in his dissertation Daemonologie, published in 1597, that women had been lured into witchcraft by three passions: curiousity, a thirst for revenge, and a greedy appetite (Geis, pp. 35-36). In court cases like Gray’s, it is the defendant who is allowed a lawyer, and time to prepare. The assaulted woman is a witness and evidence for the Crown. The defence’s job is to destroy the evidence (The Built Environment). By destroying the evidence they are destroying the woman, as was done with burnings and hangings in witch persecutions.

A Man’s Inability to Control Himself and the Women Out to Get Him
For centuries it has been made clear that women are at fault for a man’s inability to control their actions. During the 17th century men took advantage of the climate of suspicion surrounding women. Whenever men wanted to be absolved of raping women, or hurting women in any other way, they would accuse her of being a witch. Officials would accept these accusations and carry them out to witch trials (Federici, p. 189). “It made sense of the unfortunate and eerie,” writes Stacy Schiff in her book The Witches, “the sick child and the rancid butter along with the killer cat. What else, shrugged one husband could have caused the Black and blue marks on his wife’s arm?” (p. 8). Men’s aggressive and sexual behaviour is commonly understood as biologically natural. Men and boys are assumed to have no control once aroused, and women are expected to understand and cater to this so-called inevitable truth (Johnson and Dawson, p. 31). Witches were often accused of arousing men against their will (Federici, p. 191). Gray was accused of these things. In court she was accused of groping Ururyar’s despite his telling her not to. At around 3 a.m. on January 31, 2015, Ururyar insists he did not rape Gray. Instead, he says that once the two were at his apartment it was Gray who got under the bed covers, inviting him to join her. He says it was Gray who climbed on top of him and performed oral sex, and that afterward, as he describes her like an animal, as witches often were accused of being, she got “on all fours” (Volume 5, p. 21).
It was said that witches stole penises. This was later changed to witches used magic, referred to as ‘glamours’, to render a man’s penis invisible (Dworkin, pp. 134-135). This could explain the instances of impotency Ururyar spoke of while on the stand (Volume 5, p. 67). Women were said to turn to witchcraft after being a cast-off mistress (Dworkin, p. 135). Ururyar’s defense lawyer retells this old narrative in court, saying Gray is angry with Ururyar for breaking up with her, and she is now out for revenge.
One of Bristow’s key arguments has been that Gray is trying to assert revenge against Ururyar for choosing another woman over her. Gray responded with how ridiculous a suggestion this is, “Sorry, it’s just so absurd to me. I would never destroy my life or someone else’s life and put everything on hold for an entire year for someone I had known for two weeks” (Volume 3, p. 24). Women who have come out about their abuse have often been accused of simply being out to get revenge, or for wanting fame and fortune. The supposed inherent greed of women is how society has justified gender-based violence for hundreds of years.
Accusations of witchcraft became popular with the rise of capitalism. The poor were under attack, as they are today, and refusal of charity was seen as a trigger for witchcraft (Gibson, p. 4). Olivia Garona is a woman who has experienced sexual abuse and rape and has been part of a high profile case. Garona says, “The people who infer that having someone charged with rape will bring them fame and fortune have never endured a rape trial.” She adds that after the great emotional cost of enduring the scrutiny of a rape trial, the only fame a victim may receive is typically negative and does nothing to further a woman in her position of life, “After all is said and done, many months or years have gone by and the accused will usually walk … What fame comes from being attacked in a so called just system?”

Indigenous Women
The Salem witch trials of 1692 started with an accusation of a woman of colour and ended with the persecution of a woman of colour (Federici, p. 237). The former was a woman known as Tituba. Because of the hegemony of white supremacy, and the racist white/non-white binary, there has been question as to whether Tituba was an Indigenous woman or a Black woman. Elaine G. Breslaw examines the most probable roots of Tituba in her book Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem and says that Tituba was an Indigenous woman of Arawak heritage.
Tituba is thought to have lived in Salem since the 1670s, when it was legal to rape a slave (Breslaw, p. 56). The rape of poor women in general was already decriminalized in the 15th century (Federici, p. 47). In her book Women, Race and Class Angela Davis says that these laws were to protect the men of the upper classes, fearing their own wives and daughters would be assaulted (p. 172). This fear is what still fuels victim blaming today, good things can not happen to good, meaning white and rich, people.
Throughout Federici’s book she connects the disrespect for nature to capitalism. Nature provided not-yet privatized resources and accommodated communal living. In order to make nature look evil in itself witches were often linked to animals and the wilderness. Witches were said to have lived in the woods and had the ability to morph into animals. Colonizers used these charges of witchcraft used in European trials to justify their actions in murdering and enslaving Indigenous people from all over the world.
In our earliest known cultures societies were matrifocal and prayed to mother nature. However, once societies became less nomadic and began settling down this stopped. Through agriculture nature was appropriated into a man’s possession instead of something to be respected. Societies that treat the environment with respect tend to also treat women with respect (O’Reilly).
While colonizing Andean societies Spaniard persecuted women as witches because these societies practiced old religion, which included healers, priestesses and the earth-mother goddess (Federici, pp. 230-231). Daniel N. Paul writes about similar reasoning, in We Were Not the Savages, when Europe was attacking Mi’kmaq communities, “The healthy attitude about nudity, like their sexual attitudes, tended to reinforce the perception in puritanical European minds that the Amerindians had pagan and animal-like habits” (p. 24). There was a time when Puritans believed there to be “friendly Indians” but between 1675 and 1676 Puritans no longer believed Indigenous peoples could be “civilized” and there were no more attempts to Christianize these populations for a while. Come the 19th century, Canada opened residential schools to again attempt to “civilize” Indigenous peoples through severe violence. This treatment, which ended only in the late 90s, is similar to how children were whipped as they watched their mothers, deemed to be witches, burn (Dworkin, p. 143).
When it comes to the treatment of Indigenous women in cases of sexual assault and rape, the institution still treats women as less than human. Any rationalization will do, like in the case of Pamela George, where, in 1996, both the Crown and the defence insisted that George’s sex work need be considered when deciding if her brutal rape and murder was wrong or not (Razack, p. 124). More recently, in March 2015, during the trial of raped and murdered Indigenous women Cindy Gladue, her actual reproductive organs were used as evidence in court. Julie Kaye, an assistant professor of sociology and director of Community Engaged Research at The King’s University in Edmonton told CTV that the use of Gladue’s preserved vagina as evidence brought to the courtroom was another violent act, “I think it’s important to recognize that, as her body was placed on display, that was seen as a very dehumanizing act.” The prime minister of Canada at the time, Stephen Harper, refused to do a national inquiry into the nation’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women, saying it was unnecessary and not on his radar (CBC News).

Racism and poverty continue to exacerbate the vulnerability of women of colour (Johnson and Davis, p. 148). The act of rape itself is a way for white men to perform acts of hate violence against women of colour (Davis, p. 177).
In Europe, during the 1660s, new laws demonized relations between white women and Black men. Such relationships were said to be between witches and the Black devil (Federici, p. 108). Davis writes, “The myth of the Black rapist has been methodically conjured up whenever recurrent waves of violence and terror against the Black community have required convincing justifications” (p. 174). Black folks have been compared to animals for centuries and are said to have no control over their actions. In the 1650s Europeans visiting Barbados saw African slaves dancing at night. According to the Europeans this dancing was “diabolical magic” (Breslaw, pp. 47-48). With this vein of thinking, Black women have long been hypersexualized. Davis writes about a Southern politician who once said there is no such thing as a “virtuous coloured girl over the age of 14 (p. 183). In talking about the SlutWalk movement in particular, a The Crunk Feminist Collective blog post titled ‘SlutWalks v. Ho Strolls’ reads,
I believe Black women’s histories are different, in that Black female sexuality has always been understood from without to be deviant, hyper, and excessive. Therefore, the word slut has not been used to discipline (shame) us into chaste moral categories, as we have largely been understood to be unable to practice “normal” and “chaste” sexuality anyway. But perhaps, we have come to a point in feminist movement building where we need to acknowledge that differing histories necessitate differing strategies. This is why I’m somewhat ambivalent about accusing my white sistren of being racist. If your history is one of having your sexuality regulated by the use of the term “slut” for disciplinary purposes, then SlutWalk is an effective answer.
What becomes an issue is those white women and liberal feminist women of color who argue that “slut” is a universal category of female experience, irrespective of race.
The reasons behind heterosexism today are not that different from its existence centuries ago. The idea that queer families cannot raise healthy children has always been an argument. In the time of witches it was suspicious if a woman did not have a child, for any reason. It was thought, and arguably still is, that a woman’s only role is to reproduce. This reasoning is what led to accusations of infanticide and eating babies. The idea that women, deemed rebellious for not having children, murdering children is still linked in feminism; just look at the famous quote by televangelist Pat Roberts in 1992, “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” Homosexuality was said to be a part of witches’ rituals. Witch persecutions were lead by the Christian Church. The Church condemns homosexuality, however this may have initially been a political move more so than a moral one. Heretic religions condoned homosexuality, so the Church used this as a reason to charge them, as they believed themselves to be the only true and good religion (Norton). Even if it was a political move, the hatred bred by heterosexism takes forms on moral grounds today. Sexual assault can be used as an anti-LGBTQ hate violence attack (NCAVP). Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual have a higher prevalence of experiencing sexual violence than those identifying as heterosexual. Bisexual women are disproportionally impacted (NISVS). Just as there are ‘good victims’ and ‘bad victims’ violence that does not include heterosexual victim and attacker is taken even less seriously than violence that does (OWJN). Queer women make for ‘bad victims’.

Health and Ableism
By accusing women healers of witchcraft, in the 19th century, men were able to appropriate the medical profession. Healing became a commodity and men would not allow women to practice as official doctors (Ehrenreich and English, pp. 41-42). This silencing may have been better than the alternative, which was death. According to Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English in Witches, Midwives and Nurses, ‘wise women’ and healers were burned as witches (p. 6). If anyone continued to see women healers they would have been socially scorned. Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger were German monks who wrote the Catholic Church’s official text on witch-hunting after being named Inquisitors by the pope and asked to define witchcraft. The text, called Malleus Maleficarum, or, The Hammer of Witches, was based off of philosopher Aristotle’s logic and used for three centuries (Dworkin, pp. 125-127). These monks were opposed to witch healers and to those who used them, “For they who resort to such witches are thinking more of their bodily health than of God” (Ehrenreich and English, p. 36).
Today women are still punished for healing themselves. An example of this is with disassociation. While working with women and girls who experienced sexual abuse as children and teens, psychotherapist Dr. Patti Feuereisen says girls have spoken with her about disassociating from the sexual abuse they were experiencing as it happened. Gray also noted during her third day of trial that she did the same. However, instead of allowing these women and girls to control some part of their healing, patriarchy has medicalized disassociation as a problem, (Feuereisen, p. 77).
It was said that women were easy targets for the devil due to their feeblemindedness. The same reasoning was used when new immigrants to Canada, in the 19th century, were confined to asylums (Razack, p. 16).
According to DisAbled Women’s Network Canada (DAWN) disable women and girls are at a higher risk of gender-based violence than those without disabilities, including institutional violence (DAWN). This institutional violence was made especially clear after May 2011, when a young woman with an intellectual disability was barred from testifying at her own sexual assault trial. Her perpetrator, her mother’s male partner, was found not guilty as the woman’s competency was questioned based on her disability. After advocacy work by groups like DAWN and Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) the Canada court case R. v. D.A.I set a worldwide precedent: women with mental-based disabilities, who have experienced violence, should be allowed to testify like anyone else. Still, what is on paper and what is acted on are two different things, “The justice system hasn’t caught up with the evolving definitions of mental illness,” says Bonnie Brayton, DAWN’s national executive director.
Moral Regulations of Sex
As mentioned in ‘SlutWalks v. Ho Strolls’ while women of colour have always been hypersexualized, white women were prized for their chastity. Since the 10th century it has been said that good Christians do not have sex (Dworkin, pp. 121-122). ‘Good girls’ are still supposed to refrain from sex, which is why it is easy for society, using this mentality, to blame women and girls for their own sexual assault and rape. Jane Doe makes reference to other women who were raped by her rapist in her book The Story of Jane Doe. With one woman specifically police found she had sex toys in her apartment. These toys were used as evidence that this woman had had sex before and probably enjoyed it, and so, her case was not taken seriously. This mentality has not changed for centuries. In the 17th century it was so hard for Puritan inquisitors to accept when women said they enjoyed sex that it was decided that these women were hallucinating from false memories planted by the devil. And if the witch’s mark, which was any dark marking like a freckle or a beauty mark, was on a woman’s genital area it would be exceptionally incriminating (Schiff, pp. 61-63). Promiscuity is associated with the working-class (Phipps, p.674) and according to middle-class respectability, that means working-class women and girls cannot be ‘good victims’.
Sex workers are especially vilified. During western witch persecutions it was said that the devil used witches for sex. Witches were unable to summon the devil, but he could summon them, functioning as their owner and master, pimp and husband at once (Federici, p. 187). Before this narrative the Church saw the devil as someone powerless beneath them, much like our society based in middle-class ideals sees racialized and/or working-class men.
The Canadian government is still pushing their moral-based agenda, even if that means endangering the lives of women in sex work. The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, known as Bill C-36, passed into law November 4, 2014. It has been more honestly referred to as the “anti-prostitution” law by government (Casey and Topping). The intentional conflation between sex work and exploitive human trafficking implies the government was protecting sex workers. With this law still in place sex workers are not allowed to work together, under the guise of saying they would be living off of the avails of another’s sex work. This idea echoes the times of witch persecutions when friendships between women were to be feared.
Witch prosecutors demonized friendships between women. Such friendships were seen as witches acting as partners in crime (Federici, p. 186). It was said that women have slippery tongues and were unable to conceal what they knew of the evil arts from other women (Dworkin, p. 131). In sexual assault trials friendships amongst sexually assaulted women can be construed as collusion. This belief that women are plotting against men, trying to deceive the justice system is institutionalized misogyny. This is another attack on women finding ways to heal on their own terms and through their own methods. Garona says there is a clear distinction between bonding with other survivors and plotting to lie. She believes allegations of collusion are usually a blatant attempt to discredit sexually assaulted women as well as discredit the value in sharing thoughts, feelings, and anger toward their abusers, “Deciding how a victim should and shouldn’t act, what they should and shouldn’t say is all subjecting them to rape myths.  This is our challenge.”

The Hegemony of Patriarchal Narratives
The inquisitors of witch trials wrote the records of witch trials. Nothing written by witches was officially recorded and so, we are left only with the patriarchal version of events. Historians like Cotton Mather wrote materials propagating misogynistic bias and the fear of witches. These historians influenced judicial systems the way patriarchal ideals do today. Girls are told from a young age that boys will be boys, if a boy hits you, it is harmless, and he likes you. High school dress codes tell girls that they need to dress in a way that will not distract the boys, as boys are supposedly incapable of controlling themselves and their sexual needs. Western society’s willful ignorance influences the judicial system when it comes to cases of sexual assault and rape. Institutions are based on moral codes of the societies of the time. We like predictable, convenient narratives with clear good guys and bad guys (Gibson, p. 5). It is no wonder it is difficult to collect data on women who have suffered such abuse, “Survey designers face numerous methodological challenges in developing tools that encourage accurate reporting, measure women’s experiences comprehensively, and produce valid and reliable information” (Johnson and Dawson, p. 38).
Media today sensationalizes, while at the same time ignores, sexual violence. This sensationalism is much like the pamphlets written on witches by men in political and religious positions of power. Sexual violence becomes a spectacle and portrayed as an irregular event while in reality it is a prominent part of women’s everyday lives. Media uses co-opted language like the term ‘survivors’ to ignore the trauma women deal with, while making it sound like a nice, tidy, empowered narrative, where the violence ends as soon as the TV is shut off (The Built Environment).

Between 1505 and 1650 witch trials peaked whenever the price of food went up (Federici, p. 175). Women would be most affected by the elite’s withholding of food. Women had families to care for and in retaliation would lead what was termed the food riots. Similarly, in 1524, when the Spaniards launched a war campaign to subjugate the Chiapanecos, a priestess led the troops against them (Federici, p. 232). “Women and girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence during times of war, political conflict, humanitarian crises, and displacement during post-conflict situations” (Johnson and Dawson, p. 99).
Today it is women who have experiences sexual assault and rape who are supporting each other and advocating on their own behalf, as society seems disinterested and purposefully detached. And yet, despite this method of using activism to heal and make change, survivors are being punished for it. Just as women who would embrace the title of witch in order to become healers or to sell charms for food would be punished.
“I became the troublemaker, the big mouth, the feminist,” writes Doe (p. 45). The feminist joined women’s groups like Women Against Violence Against Women, distributed flyers about her rapist despite the police telling her not to, and shared her story with media outlets. This was all seen as the bad way for a victim to act. Gray has faced the same kind of scrutiny in court.
After her rape Gray founded Silence is Violence, a survivor-lead group advocating for the rights of those sexually assaulted on campus. Like Doe, she has shared her story with media outlets and is open about her advocacy for women’s rights. Organizations like Ryerson Feminist Collective and Toronto Rape Crisis Centre have been vocal in their support for Gray, as have activists like Doe. Her story has been in Toronto newspapers like Now Magazine and The Toronto Star. A documentary is being made of her experiences in court and advocacy called Slut or Nut? Is this, the defense asks, how a good victim acts? Bristow claims that Gray is profiting of the violence she experienced, as part of her feminist agenda, saying Gray’s behaviour is disrespectful in court and she simply loves the attention she is receiving (Volume 4, p. 22). Like in cases where women and girls dissociate from the violence, Gray’s activism has been deemed unacceptable healing behaviour. “[Activism] wasn’t my intended agenda,” says Gray, “but it has been a part of my life as I’ve been processed through this system, both here and at the university, because I found it as a way of like dealing with this, everything” (Volume 4, p. 14). Throughout the trial Bristow often accuses Gray of getting the body of the court excited, similar to how accused Salem witches Sarah Good and Sarah said to have bewitched members of the court. Witches, and women who are open about the violence they have experienced, have never been allowed to act just as everyone else. When faced with vitriol these women are never allowed to act rude, hostile, or aggressive (Geis, p. 38).

Mandi Gray is a witch. She has had sex before, but has no children and is not married. It is on record that she has, at least once, been out all night drinking, and enjoying the heretical feelings of general merriment. She keeps track of her menstrual cycle. A cast-off mistress she has sworn revenge against a man. She was familiar with the devil before, and so when she says he raped her she is not to be believed. It is easier instead to believe that she is simply a loud, troublemaking woman. It is easier for our rape culture perpetuating society to sleep at night, knowing that Gray asked to be raped, that she seduced Ururyar- she should have known that he could not be expected to control his own actions. Gray has formed friendships with other women like herself, rebellious women who insist that their stories are told and not appropriated by patriarchal media to tell instead. Gray is a woman who has experienced rape and is now in a position where she needs to prove that she is not lying, within a system that prioritizes the comforts of men first and foremost. Gray is also university educated and white. She is well spoken and has a formally educated general understanding of the Canadian court system. These privileges are helping audiences digest her story easier. Still, the judicial system, the media, and rape culture has tried to reduce her to a piece of evidence to be used in a trial made to prove her dishonesty. Gray is going through a modern day witch trial.
According to Federici witch-hunts are still happening in Africa and Latin America. She says these persecutions are rarely reported in Europe and North America, in the same way ancient witch-hunts were of little interest to historians (p. 239). Though actual witch-hunts are still being practiced today outside of North America, it cannot be denied that those who have experienced sexual assault and rape, and dare report it, are being treated the same way women accused of witchcraft were centuries ago. To say otherwise in comparison to literal hunts outside of North America is to practice western supremacy and to employ ridiculous theories of relativism.
Interestingly, on June 7, 2016 witchcraft and rape in America were directly linked through one global event. Through social media witches connected, planned, and followed through with hexing the now famous Stanford rapist, Brock Turner. The event organizer Melanie Elizabeth Hexen told Broadly, a channel of Vice, “There must have been a huge need for this for it to blow up so fast. We all felt so much injustice and anger and sadness and the need to connect on a psychological level with other people who felt the same and could do something about it.”
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1 Comment

  1. Reply


    Extremely good!
    Applies to all western legal systems, not only those of the Latin variety.
    Have no social media, would like a newsletter.
    Left to saving this article and coming back to this site some times.
    An European

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