Violence Against Women: When Facts Won’t Subvert Justice
Sometimes, it’s a case of He said. She said. Sometimes, He and She say the same thing.
In National Post this past week, Christie Blatchford details the case of Ralph Gutkin, a disgraced lawyer who almost stabbed a woman to death, a woman he supposedly loved. . Here’s how Blatchford describes the attack:
In the early hours of July 26, 2012, the 52-year-old woman with whom Gutkin was involved (she has grown children who are struggling with what happened to her and has asked that her name not be published) awoke to his hands strangling her.
She was also stabbed multiple times in the chest (one thrust of the eight-inch chef’s knife Gutkin used punctured the lining around her heart) and suffered seven fractured ribs, a lacerated liver, the tell-tale broken capillaries in her eyes that indicate strangulation, bruises all over her legs, a broken tooth, and, of course, a throat so bruised she couldn’t speak.
Gutkin admitted to the attack, but pleaded not guilty. He claimed to not know why he attacked his victim (he also called 911, likely “saving” her life). It is important to note, here, that Gutkin did not plead not criminally responsible (or insanity in Law-and-Order-ese). He agreed to the facts as laid out by the prosecutor. He admitted to strangling and stabbing the woman. He even agreed to the conviction. And he offered no possible excuse.
He could have been sentenced to up to 14 years in prison. He was sentenced to four, and pre-trial custody that turns into another 13 and a half months. The judges reasoning was… interesting, to say the least:
Sentencing requires a judge to weigh so-called “aggravating” factors against “mitigating” ones, and, again strangely, Judge Grossman counted Gutkin’s disbarment on the mitigating side. Ditto his acknowledgment of the facts and his agreement to the conviction, which, the judge said, made a trial unnecessary and saved the woman from testifying.
But in fact, she wanted a trial — pleaded with the prosecutor to proceed with the original charge — and the catharsis of testifying.
And it’s usually a person’s guilty plea which is counted in their favour, not a not guiltyplea, with the airy claim that yes golly, he did it, but who knows why – it’s a mystery!
There is an immense degree of contempt for a woman you love–and, really, for women–to believe that you can strangle and stab her nearly to death, admit it, and still deserve to walk free. It demonstrates even more contempt for women to reward a man for such hubris, and claim–as the judge did–that attempted murder is merely the everyday troubles of a marriage.
But, despite the wretched statements of the judge, at least there is no grand movement to try to excuse Gutkin for his admitted crime. The same can’t be said for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the case of convicted rapist Lyle Howe.
Lyle Howe is also a disgraced attorney, though his disgrace was committing sexual assault rather than defrauding 57 clients. He went on a date with a friend and a woman they picked up at a local grocery store. Drinks turned into a trip to his office, more drinks and then a trip to her apartment, where Howe claims he had consensual sex with the victim.
Well, he says that. His defence says something strikingly different.
Howe was accused of administering a “stupefying agent” to the drunk woman, and then having sex with her while she was drugged. Unfortunately, there was no evidence of a stupefying agent (though there was some evidence of codeine). It is unfortunate (and dumb) that the crown attorneys decided to put so much weight on the notion of a stupefying agent. They had no evidence of such a drug, but they did have evidence that the woman was drunk.
And when you’re drunk, you can’t consent. It’s the law.
The jury rejected the assertion that Howe administered a stupefying agent. The fact that the woman was drunk was enough for them to convict him of sexual assault. At this time, you might wonder what evidence there was that she was drunk. Was this just another He said. She said. incident?
Nope, there was ample evidence, including evidence provided by the defence.
Howe’s lawyer had lined up an expert to testify to the woman’s blood alcohol level. He stated that on the night of the assault, the woman’s blood alcohol level would only have been between .11 and .135. She would have been anywhere between 37% and 70% over the legal limit for driving. This testimony jibed, roughly, with the prosecution’s experts.
So, again, we have a man (either on his own or through his legal defence) admit to a serious crime against a woman and yet still assume that he should just be acquitted.
And Howe is not the only person angling for his freedom. There is a whole movement dedicated to getting him off* (and slut shaming the victim). They’ve protested, marched and harassed. They’ve claimed that the woman was just regretting a night of sex.
But regret is not a substitute for consent, and it takes a disturbing level of misogyny to claim that regret negates rape.
It is good, no doubt, that both Howe and Gutkin were convicted. We should commend the justice system for coming to these conclusions, the only conclusions that lead from the evidence. However, in one case, we have a judge who thinks, apparently, that the attempted murder wasn’t that bad. In another, we have a sizable community who think the appropriate response to rape is to shout “slut”.
When activists claim that there isn’t structural or systemic sexism in our society, don’t believe them. When they say that we live in a post-feminist world, scoff. Even in situations where society, through the justice system, seeks justice for a woman, there will still be forces trying to repel the progress society has made.
*It should be noted that Howe is black and Nova Scotia has a bad history when it comes to racism. There is an argument to be made that Howe wouldn’t have been convicted if he was white. That’s a legitimate complaint. But Howe isn’t guilty because he’s black, he’s guilty because sexually assaulted a woman.