Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Two stories

I want to start with some of my recent stories that confuse me still.

2008 was not an easy year for me, and the week I was called for jury duty came pretty close to being its nadir. My only goal in going to court was not to get called. I've always wanted to be on a jury, and I kind do feel a duty to do so. But at that moment I was so exhausted, that I deliberately gave myself permission to try and get out of it. I wore a t-shirt that shouted my politics. I went into jury selection fairly sure I would be challenged in the unlikely event I was picked.

There was only one jury trial in the Wellington district court the week I was called, and I made it through the pre-ballot. It's strange for me, being at the district court alone. I associate the district court with being a group, sometimes stressed group, but a group where someone's always got some chocolate. That day it was just me and my knitting.

I began to get nervous as we packed into one of the smaller court rooms. What if I was called, what if they'd used up their challenge? I didn't have the concentration span to follow an episode of Buffy at that point, how was I going to follow a trial?

And then they read out the inditement.

I'm not going to post what I remember of the indictment, it was too graphic, too upsetting. The charge was illegal sexual connection with a woman with a significant impairment by a man who was caring for her, and in the inditement they described the sexual connection.

I watched the women before me head towards the jury box. A young girl with a university sweatshirt was challenged by the defence lawyer. A woman who had the same hair cut as my mother, and so many other middle-class liberal women of a certain age, was challenged by the defence lawyer. The jury that resulted was dominated by men, and the only women who weren't challenged by the defence looked very conservative. Because in the jury process looks are all the lawyers have to go on.

I gave myself permission; I practiced what I'd say to the judge if I was called. But I felt more and more guilty, as more women got challenged. I felt like if I could get through I should. Which was ridiculous, because if they got challenged byt he defence I would get challenged.*

What I wasn't thinking was prison. This is very unusual. District Courts make me think of prison, and there were prison guards next to the defendant Just a few days before I'd cried at the sight of prison guards, as they lead a prisoner through the hospital.

I've known where I stood on this for years. I still believed in prison abolition when Clint Rickards was found not guilty, even though the empty hole of disbelief at the verdict soon filled with rage. My rational argument for this gut reaction, has always been that women who go through the court system should be believed, even though the effect of that is jail, which helps no-one.


My flat has very thin walls. My next door neighbours are a couple and they're very loud. When I said to them "You know last Sunday night when you played your music at two in the morning and it kept me awake." They replied "Yes, the walls are very thin."

But sometimes I'd hear other things. I'm never quite sure what they are. But as I'm drifting off to sleep there's thudding and shrieking that makes me wonder what's going on. That sound like he could be abusing her. I didn't know what to do and I asked a friend who had worked for women's refuge if she had any ideas, and she said to call the police.

And I didn't know what to say, but I knew that I couldn't do that. That I'd go over there myself, in my pajamas to ask them what was going on, however dangerous and ineffectual that might be.


So I know some things for certain. And until now that has been enough for me, the boundary lines in my gut. But I think there is a lot more to say. For starters, because a lot of people don't draw their lines in the same place as me. I think it's important to articulate why I wouldn't call the police, and why prison isn't going to stop men abusing women. Then I want to go backwards, to the accepted ground of what protection orders and so on offer women (and don't offer women).

Because it's only by acknowledging the contradictions exist, that we can hope to resolve them

* When I read, later about hte information about potential jurors that the crown had access to, I could only imagine the file the crown had on me. I wonder if they would have challenged me. Because on any case but a rape case I'm the crown's nightmare juror, and that's reasonably easy to deduce from my police file (my known associates list would be full of people the police think are terrorists). But it'd be equally easy for the prosecution to see from my police file that I'm not very fond of rapists.

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