Rip it open

Men worry a lot about being falsely accused of sexual assault. The stigma attached to a sexual predator is so immense that the slightest insinuation is enough to ruin a life. Best say nothing until you’re sure.

If you’ve actually done the crime, that’s the only defence you’ve got, really. You out-victim the victim and don’t ever let up.

If you’re not guilty—or far more likely, if you recall the events differently—then you find yourself regretting the damage done to others, but feeling that there’s no way to defend yourself without casting doubt on your accuser.

That’s how a lot of men will see it, anyway.

I don’t.

I was falsely accused of possession of child pornography by the actual owner, and let me say unequivocally that I would have given anything for a proper investigation.

Instead, I lost my job, and about half my friends, and in the end I was run out of town.

It happened in Iqaluit, a couple of years before it became the capital of the Nunavut territory. It’s a tiny place, with a population about 4500 when school was in session, and barely 4000 when it wasn’t.

Some of the people involved are still alive, and some aren’t, and out of respect for them all, I’m going to be deliberately vague.

I was one of a handful of people in town who knew anything at all about computers. I was working late one evening, recommissioning a server that had been in a colleague’s possession for over a year. I’m going to call the guy X, because I can’t bear to associate any human name to that animal.

The computer had a bunch of personal files on it, and I browsed through the folders quickly to make sure nothing essential would be lost when I reformatted the drive.

I found the images in a folder named ‘Family Photos’.

I was sexually assaulted when I was a child. I don’t think I’ve ever actually written those words before. I only do it here to demonstrate I knew what I was seeing1.

It’s not possible to describe the revulsion I felt at that moment, or my horror when I realised I’d have to look again to make sure I wasn’t mistaken.

I did, though. Then I called my boss, the owner of the company, an Inuk man my age. X was this guy’s mentor; he’d looked after him since childhood. My boss listened to me, then admitted that he’d long suspected him of abusing girls.

He confessed to me that his younger sister had committed suicide when she was 12. He was a teenager at the time. He told me he still had her private journal, and said that two pages of it directly incriminated X in her distress. He was clearly conflicted, and equally clearly, couldn’t reconcile his affection for the man with his suspicions.

That was my first step in his twisted world. There are no straight lines. Anyone who suspects becomes complicit. From the moment they choose to ignore even the mildest signs, they’re caught. It costs them more and more to maintain the fiction over time, but the pressure to excuse increasingly glaring evidence only enmeshes them deeper.

The worse it gets, the further you sink. It’s quicksand.

I couldn’t let it go, though. My boss intimated that we could beguile X, lure him into self-incrimination and turn the tables on him once we’d got him dead to rights. I didn’t dissuade him, mostly because I was still processing the realisation that he’d known about the matter for years.

But I removed the disk from the machine, and took it home.

Back at our apartment, I put the hard drive onto the coffee table, and in fits and starts, explained to my partner what was in it. It became clear to me that I had two options.

The first was to take the .30-30 calibre Marlin rifle out from under my bed and shoot that fucker dead. His house was out near the edge of town, and it would be trivially easy to stake him out from behind a rock in the endless tundra, then put him down as he walked to his car. People hunt caribou all the time, and the herds regularly stroll right into town. A stray bullet would be easy to arrange.

I was perfectly at home with this option. I’m still okay with it. I would put him down like a dog if I thought it would fix things.

I sat there, staring at that drive, for about three hours, undecided. Finally, I phoned the police.

It came down to this: If I did for him, no one would know what he’d done. He’d get what he deserved, but the rest of the community would not.

I trusted the staff sergeant of the local RCMP detachment. He’d been quite good about a brutality complaint that I lodged against a constable I’d witnessed beating a handcuffed man. I felt I could trust him to see this through.

He sent a corporal around, and she took possession of the drive, but seemed nonplussed about what to do with it. This was the ‘90s, and not many people there had seen the inside of a computer before. They took the drive back to the station, but didn’t take a statement, or take any step that I could see to confirm chain of custody.

The next morning, they called X in to take his statement. He told them that only two people had ever touched the contents of that computer, and since he would never have put illegal materials onto the drive, it must have been me. He said he felt bewildered and betrayed. He couldn’t explain what would motivate me to attack him this way.

A week or so later I lost my job. I got a disciplinary letter for removing company equipment (the hard drive) from the premises without permission. It was clearly—I’d say pointedly—written by X. The next day, my boss showed up, and went off on me, angrily listing all my shortcomings. When I started to reply, he lost it. He repeatedly screamed at me to fuck off, and to get the fuck out.

So I did. It was the only time in my life I’ve been fired for cause, and I don’t regret it.

The moment he started shouting, I realised what was happening. I recognised how tortured the guy was, how he was willing to do anything, anything at all, to avoid dealing with awful truth.

It didn’t stop there. The whisper campaign had only just begun. Quite literally, the town wasn’t big enough for the both of us. X pulled out all the stops. An accomplished manipulator, he managed to poison about half the friendships I had in that close-knit community. I didn’t even try to find another job.

Over the next six months, I bore up, but the writing was on the wall. I sent out applications for employment back in Ottawa, secured a decent consultancy, and moved.

It broke my heart. I love the Arctic, the people and the land. It should have been my home. I was there during an historic moment—the creation of the first territory in North America to be governed by its indigenous people. The challenges were huge, and I’d have given anything to help.

More than anything else, I felt bruised in my soul, knowing that X, that monster, had skated. I’d been exiled. But he remained, likely still preying on the innocent.

He killed that little girl, and got away with it. The fucker. He got away with it.

He got away with it.

That’s what ate at me every day. I didn’t do enough. I didn’t get him. In the years since then, I’ve told this story to a few trusted friends, but I’ve never written it down. It was just too hard. I could explain everything, or nothing. One way or another, we all become enmeshed in the lies.

The story ended well, by the way. Maybe not for me, but for the town.

About two years after I’d moved down south, I had to meet the Iqaluit flight to pick up a friend. Standing in arrivals, I was startled to see another acquaintance approaching. We’d always been cordial but distant. He shook my hand (not everyone did) and said, “Hey, I bet you’ll be glad to hear this: X is in jail.”

The boil at the heart of that town had finally been lanced. It turned out that the talk didn’t stop after I’d left. Within a year or so, three adult survivors came forward. Canada had recently removed the statute of limitations concerning sexual and child abuse. He was placed on trial and convicted for crimes he’d committed many years before.

I don’t know if it was my accusation that started things. It might have been, it might not. But the prosecution succeeded because the the law was changed to allow abuse survivors to report in their own time. No matter how many years had passed.

I have an idea how Christian Porter must be feeling now. But what I can’t understand is why he would want anything but justice. And justice means openness. When I was falsely accused, I wanted nothing more than for every single fact to be exposed.

I desperately, futilely wanted to step in front of the people shunning me and yell at them to accuse me to my face so I could prove my innocence. But the poison of sexual abuse doesn’t allow that kind of behaviour. It’s all shadow games, mistrust piled on distrust.

It’s lies all the way down.

I believe the only way to deal with this is to rip the scab right off2. Tear the whole thing open. Let the world see every hideous bit of it. The last thing in the world I wanted was for people to shut up. I wanted to shout my innocence from the rooftops. I wanted to confront every one of those faithless so-called friends who believed me capable of such hideous cruelty. I wanted to shove my innocence down their throat.

If Christian Porter is innocent—and he claims he is—then he has an opportunity. He literally writes the laws. He can find a way to establish the truth of the matter. Yes, the accusation has cost him immensely. I understand exactly how that feels.

What I cannot understand is how an innocent man could want anything but the entire truth. For himself, for the poor woman, for all of us. There is no way I would not want everything laid bare.

It’s the only way we can ever get past this.

1 Don’t ask me to discuss the details. I won’t. Not with you. This isn’t my story. My story is done. It wasn’t a family member. The guy who did it died long ago. I’m alive, and he isn’t. And that’s all I need.
2 Yes, I can see the paradox. This is from the guy who for over half a century never told a soul about his own assault. And refuses talk about it even now. I get it. This is precisely why survivors deserve the right to confront the truth in their own time.