In Canada, Ava Williams sues to end police rape myth culture

Ava Williams today

For the past 20 months, The Globe and Mail has been investigating the ways police respond to sexual assault victims. On average, in one in five instances, the police decide that a sexual assault allegation is “unfounded.” Nationally, the rate for physical assault is one in ten. In London, Ontario, a university town, the rate of “unfounding” is 30 percent. One in three sexual assault allegations are rejected out of hand by police. In London, Ontario, less than 2% of physical assault charges are deemed unfounded. Ava Williams knows these mathematics in her bones, and has said, “No!” On Friday, Ava Williams sued the London Police Services Board and Detective Paul Gambriel for violating women’s Constitutional right to equality.

On October 16, 2010, Ava Williams was eighteen years old, a first-year student at Western University, in London, Ontario. She went to a party, got drunk, blacked out, woke up outside, naked, under a tree, and found a man sexually assaulting her. She told him to stop, she said No, he didn’t stop. People came, he ran away, two women came to her aid. They found clothes for her. She said she wanted to go home, and so they put her in a cab and sent her home. When Ava Williams arrived at her dormitory, her parents and the police were notified. She was taken to the hospital for a sexual assault examination. She was interviewed, preliminarily. Then she was sent to police headquarters for the full, and filmed, interview. That began in the early afternoon, twelve hours after the assault. Ava Williams had not slept or eaten, and was hung over. That’s how she was when she met Detective Paul Gambriel.

From the start, Detective Gambriel doubted Ava Williams’s account. He wonders how drunk she really was, how much she does and does not remember, how her clothes could have been removed without being torn. All of this, and more, according to Canadian law, is completely beside the point. Once intoxicated, a person cannot consent. Period. The law be damned, Detective Gambriel insinuated and intimated, and Ava Williams decided not to pursue the case. The police easily found the man who raped Ava Williams, and let him off with a warning. A warning. The case was closed as unfounded.

Later, Ava and her family protested the proceedings. The London Police Service Board investigated Detective Paul Gambriel, and found him innocent of any wrongdoing. Twice over, the case was closed.

Then The Globe and Mail investigated the situation of unfounded sexual assault cases, and highlighted this one. Initially, Ava Williams insisted on a kind of anonymity, only using her first name, but when the series began to run and she saw the response, she decided to come out, say her name fully, Ava Williams, and sue: “I feel like I’m in a place that I can use my voice to help other people.

Unlike an earlier similar case, in the 1990s, that of Jane Doe vs Toronto, Ava Williams is charging more than negligence. She’s protesting the violation of her civil rights as a woman. If she wins, the London Police Service Board will have to adopt the Philadelphia Model, in which advocates audit police case files looking for bias and missteps. According to Elaine Craig, a law professor specializing in sex-assault and constitutional law, “If it was litigated all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada and the Supreme Court concluded that there was a constitutional obligation on the part of the police to adopt the Philadelphia Model, that would have massive ramifications for police services – that’s shooting for the stars. But I think just bringing a claim of this sort is groundbreaking, regardless of the outcome because … it’s framing the issue as a matter of constitutionality – as a fundamental right.”

Women, as women have a constitutional right to safety and well-being. You know what’s unfounded? 30 percent of sexual assaults are unfounded compared to 2 percent of physical assaults. You know what’s unfounded? That Ava Williams has had to go to heroic lengths to argue for simple decency and equality. You know what’s unfounded? A State that abandons women.

(Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail / Galit Rodan)

Miss G Gets Gender Studies into Ontario’s High Schools

Starting in the Fall 2013, the Ontario high schools will start offering a gender studies course as part of its curriculum. This terrific news emerges from the work and play of something called The Miss G Project For Equity in Education, a grassroots feminist organization working to combat all forms of oppression in and through education organized by five fabulous feminist college students.

In some ways, The Miss G Project sits at the intersection of two stories.

The first story: It’s January 2005. Some students are sitting in a dorm room, at the University of Western Ontario, when they hear a story, one they recognize instantly as altogether too typical. There’s a high school party over a weekend. Something happens between a young woman and a young man, both students. Some kind of sexual violence is involved. Come Monday, the young woman is being “slut-shamed’ and the young man is getting props.

The university women students look at each other and decide to organize. They decide that the reason they know how to respond to this story is the information and the consciousness that they’ve encountered at university. They decide that the idea that that kind of information somehow must wait `until after the Revolution’, in this instance meaning after high school graduation and entrance to college, is worse than wrong. It’s pernicious, and a part of a general unwillingness to really address the capacity of educational spaces to intervene in oppressive structures and actions.

So, they decide to organize a campaign to get a Women’s and Gender Studies course into the Ontario high school curriculum. That was 2005. The women – Sarah Ghabrial, Sheetal Rawal, Dilani Mohan, Lara Shkordoff, and Laurel Mitchell – then set off to change the world … and succeeded.

The second story is the story of Miss G.

In 1873, Dr. Edward H. Clarke of Harvard Medical School wrote about “Miss G,” a top student “leading the male and female youth alike” at a time when women were just beginning to push the boundaries holding them from higher education. Miss G died. Clarke `explained’ her death:  “And so Miss G died, not because she had mastered the wasps of Aristophanes and Mecanique Celeste, not because she had made the acquaintance of Kant and Kelliker, and ventured to explore the anatomy of flowers and the secrets of chemistry, but because, while pursuing these studies, while doing all this work, she steadily ignored her woman’s make. Believing that woman can do what man can, for she held that faith, she strove with noble but ignorant bravery to compass man’s intellectual attainment in a man’s way, and died in the effort.”

As the organizers at Miss G explain, “We stumbled across the mysterious Miss G in a Women’s Studies syllabus in 2005 and named the Project for this righteous intellectual whose real identity is `lost to history.’ By reclaiming her from the Dr. Clarkes of the world and repositioning Miss G as the feminist educational pioneer she was, through our own activism and education we aim to ensure that her story and the stories of others like her do not go unrecognized.”

So, they organized, and pushed, and organized, and formed new coalitions, and challenged everyone, and held garden parties for women Members of Parliament and held rallies and mobilized students and others across the Province. And now, eight years later, they have pushed open a door that involves far more than the Province of Ontario and that exceeds the borders of Canada.

If this project had involved only one high school, it would have been great. If it had involved only one province, it would have been terrific. If it had involved only one nation-State, only one country, it would have been stupendous. But it wouldn’t have been enough. Coming soon to a high school near you, courses in Women’s and Gender Studies, and courses in feminist action for social justice? Coming soon to a high school near you, respect for the capacity of high school students to make this a better world? Make it so.


(Image Credit: