HAD IT COMING: RAPE CULTURE MEETS #METOO: NOW WHAT? by Robyn Doolittle, Truth to Power/Steerforth Press, 287 pages, $16.95
When the #MeToo movement began bringing down men in the fall of 2017, conversations about rape culture went mainstream. Women were talking openly about assault, harassment, and other sexual misconduct. And, for what felt like the first time, men had to listen. There was rage on both sides, with women demanding to be believed, no matter what, and (some) men terrified that past behavior could suddenly ruin their lives.
When news broke that numerous actresses had accused movie producer Harvey Weinstein of rape and other sex crimes, Canadian journalist Robyn Doolittle had been investigating how her country’s justice system handled sexual assault allegations for almost two years. Doolittle’s article was published in The Globe and Mail in December 2017. She published a book-length work in 2019 that addresses the early aftermath of the cultural moment, Had It Coming: Rape Culture Meets #MeToo: Now What? A U.S. edition is now available.
Doolittle knew that writing a book in which she used her research to advocate for “burning it all down” would be cathartic and easy to promote. Instead, she brings journalistic rigor and balance to a heated discussion. Had It Coming is a welcome respite from endless think-pieces about toxic masculinity that do little to change hearts and minds. Through interviews with scientists, doctors, scholars, and legal professionals, she focuses on laws governing sexual assault investigations and how they are enforced; law enforcement training on questioning victims and collecting evidence; the neurobiology of sexual assault and its effects on memory; and questions of redemption.
Regarding redemption: Doolittle isn’t asking anyone to forgive convicted predators like Weinstein or buy into what she views as the self-serving contrition of Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi, who in 2016 was tried and acquitted for multiple rapes. She wonders if men in the legal system who have mishandled investigations and trials can authentically learn a new perspective. She interviews Robin Camp, a former judge in Alberta who resigned after a disciplinary panel recommended his dismissal from the bench for asking a rape complainant inappropriate questions during the trial, including why she hadn’t kept her “knees together” during the ordeal. [p. 190]
Camp’s background is in contract and bankruptcy law, and when he was appointed to the bench, he received no training in Canadian sexual assault law. Doolittle sees his flawed thinking as rooted in ignorance, not malice, and finds his subsequent efforts to educate himself about sexual assault law and victim psychology authentic.
“Camp said that he slowly began to understand that deep within himself, he harbored … beliefs that a victim who doesn’t immediately report is likely lying; that a woman should fight off sexual advances,” she writes. “Camp had never heard about the neurobiology of trauma. And since he’d never really considered the ways that women are socialized to be accommodating to men, he couldn’t understand why a sexual assault victim wouldn’t immediately scream for help if others were in earshot. Now he did.” [p. 200]
Camp’s openness to radically shifting his understanding of women and sexual assault is refreshing. And so is Doolittle’s capacity to separate Camp’s individual ignorance from women’s collective anger at how long it’s taking men to learn what we’ve known since the beginning of time.