Book: The Story of Jane Doe

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The Story of Jane Doe: A Book about Rape

Author: Jane Doe
Publisher: Random House of Canada Ltd.

Startling, incisive and surprisingly funny, this is the true story of a woman who challenged stereotypes, the justice system, the police—and won.

On an August night in 1986, Jane Doe became the fifth reported woman raped by a sexual serial predator dubbed the Balcony Rapist. Even though the police had full knowledge of the rapist’s modus operandi, they made a conscious decision not to issue a warning to women in her neighbourhood. Jane Doe quickly realized that women were being used by the police as bait. The rapist was captured as a result of a tip received after she and a group of women distributed 2,000 posters alerting the community. During the criminal proceedings, Jane Doe became the first raped woman in Ontario to secure her own legal representation—allowing her to sit in on the hearings instead of out in the hall where victim-witnesses are usually cloistered. As a result, Jane heard details of the police investigation normally withheld from women in her position, which revealed a shocking degree of police negligence and gender discrimination. When the rapist was convicted, the comfort was cold. In 1987, Jane Doe sued the Metropolitan Police Force for negligence and charter violation. It took eleven long years before her civil case finally came to trial—the rest is history.

This extraordinary book asks the diffcult question: Who benefits from rape? Popular ideas about rape still inform the way police and society behave around raped women. Despite decades of trying to rewrite the myths, the myths still exist, and they tell us that women lie about rape, that women enjoy it, that women file false rape reports to seek revenge and money. They tell us rape canbe non-violent. They tell us that women can make good or bad rape victims or that women cannot be raped at all. They tell us nonsense—and Jane Doe gives us a unique view on why.

This is a book about rape that is not about being a “victim.” It’s about a woman who wanted to ensure that she, the person most involved, directed her case and the course of her life. It’s about external elements colliding to provide a small window of redress for women who experience crimes of violence. Jane Doe was a test case—the right woman in the wrong place at the right time—and she made legal history.

In The Story of Jane Doe, she asks us to challenge our own assumptions about rape and, in the process, surprises us with a story that is by turns sweet, tragic and fantastical. But most of all, this book celebrates what is most common in human nature—our ability to overcome.

“Rape stories are not new stories. They are as old as war, as old as man. Many bookstores have sections devoted to them, and I read them. I read them “before,” too. I have found most rape stories to be either chronicles of fear and horror, victim tales that make me want to run screaming from the page (although I do not). Or they are dry, academic or legal treatises on why rape is bad, written in language I must work to understand. Both are valid. But both somehow limit me from reaching a broader understanding…No book has ever reflected my lived experience of the crime.”
—Jane Doe


Reading The Story of Jane Doe—a female rape-victim’s account of the crime committed against her and her subsequent, Herculean legal battle against the investigating police—it’s hard to believe we live in the 21st century. The statistics presented amid Jane’s harrowing personal experience are startling: one in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Her personal effects (sex toys, for instance) and past history can be used to discredit her. Certain rapes can be classified as non-violent. And yet women in Canada can’t actually file rape charges. Charges have to be sourced by the police and filed by a Crown attorney, giving the police enormous power. Handled poorly, as in the case of “Jane Doe” and other women brutalised in the summer of 1986 by Toronto’s so-called “Balcony Rapist,” that power leads to institutionalised sexism and extreme trauma for the victim. But thanks to Jane Doe and her landmark case against the Toronto police force—who neglected to warn women of a serial rapist in their midst despite knowing his modus operandi, thus using them as bait—we also see that sometimes wrongs are righted, or at least brought to light.

Written from an unequivocally feminist standpoint, The Story of Jane Doe is equal parts life story, battle cry for change, crime drama, detailed account of a civil trial unlike any other, and sad exposé of the myths that stubbornly surround rape victims. As Jane tells it, the social and emotional rape begins when the physical one ends. The injustices routinely dealt to rape victims are infuriating to read, but Jane—articulate, darkly funny, and deeply conversant in her subject—compels us. “In Ontario, only four per cent of all reported rapes that reach trial result in guilty convictions. Does that stat sound too low for your comfort level? If only half of all charges reported result in convictions, something is very wrong. At four per cent, we have disaster, farce, permission to rape.”

While the social audit of police conduct which followed Jane’s civil trial win must be seen as a step toward ending violence against women, her book makes clear there’s still an awfully long way to go. As the author points out, if those same stats applied to other segments of society—say, one in four Canadian men being maimed in their lifetimes—it’s doubtful our legal system would be so maddeningly lax, or that the police could continue to operate with such unaccountability and insensitivity. Jane’s passionate and persuasive arguments augur well for a serious rethink of an abomination too often dismissed as normal male lust run amok. —Kim Hughes,

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