Review: The Story of Jane Doe

The Story of Jane Doe
The Story of Jane Doe
Credit: 
Vintage Canada

Title: The Story of Jane Doe

Author: Jane Doe

Publisher: Vintage Canada

Imagine filing a civil lawsuit against the Metro Toronto Police accusing them of negligence and human rights charter violations. Winning sounds almost impossible, right?

Now imagine being raped and finding out you weren’t the first, but sixth in a line of women raped by one man. Imagine finding out that the police could have issued a warning, but chose not to, because they didn’t want to cause hysteria among women.

Think about the implications of these assumptions. Would you do nothing?

Jane Doe, as she has come to be known to the public, was the sixth woman to be raped by a serial rapist—later dubbed the Balcony Rapist—on Aug. 24, 1986. Though the criminal case came to a close in just over a year, it would take another 11 years for her civil case against Toronto police to reach its conclusion. But she would win. And she would win big. She would set a precedent for making police accountable for things they chose not to do.

The Jane Doe Story: A Story About Rape incorporates Doe’s personal experience within the context of the women’s movement, as it critically examines the policing and justice systems in Ontario and Canada. Packed with astounding statistics and information about rape and the Canadian legal system, the book is a journal, memoir and scrapbook—blending newspaper clippings, documents, cartoons and other art in a very personal story full of raw emotion and an indomitable spirit.

After a brief introduction, Jane Doe’s story opens with the first entry from her trial journal; Doe then takes the reader back to a time when she didn’t even think about rape. She expertly weaves the tale of her life before and after the rape, walking the reader through her experience of the criminal trial and then on to the years in between where she and various lawyers worked to build a case against the Metro Toronto Police Service.

As the book progresses, Doe provides background information on the women’s movement and the Canadian judicial system within the context of rape. The historical framework that is provided demonstrates the systemic nature of sexism in our society and how it relates to the rape and sexual assault of women. Her examination of the interrelationship between race, class and gender in issues of violence against women is superb.

Doe often discusses the history of rape law in Canada, admonishing provincial and federal governments for their poor definitions and the more recent disgraceful tendency toward leniency when dealing with rapists. She blasts the 1984 changes to rape laws that categorized rape and reduced maximum sentences for some categories so that “more men would accept responsibility for the crime, plead guilty and avoid lengthy trials.”

Both her shocking exposition of police protocol for rape cases, and her examination of rape laws as they exist today evoke feelings of anger, frustration and incredulity, which is precisely the point of writing a book about her experience. This is a book to inform, to expose, to teach and most importantly, to create hope. Doe also aims to inspire male readers to commit to change and to understand the systemic causes of violence against women.

Many people will feel compelled to do something, to effect change.

As Doe states, feminism once again carries a stigma with it. Men may sneer or pat a woman on the head when they hear her say something that might be considered feminist in nature. Undoubtedly, some will look upon this work with disdain and scorn, and there will be individuals who see Jane Doe as nothing more that a first class bitch, a man-hater, a shit-disturber. It’s unfortunate, but true.

Nevertheless, there will be others. There will be individuals who will be so moved by this captivating story that they will become the next generation of feminists, the next round of women and men demanding equality on all levels. This book cannot and will not simply fade into the background; it’s too great a force.

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