Thoughts on “Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial”

One of our members had the opportunity to attend an early screening of the documentary “Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial,” which documents York University student, Mandi Gray’s, personal, legal, and social experiences following the report of her rape.  The following are her thoughts on the film.

According to criminal lawyer David Butt, the strategy for the Defence in a rape trial can be boiled down to the phrase, “Slut or Nut.” For anyone who has followed rape cases in the past, the ways in which accusations of rape against a man are quickly overtaken by allegations against the victim are unsurprisingly common and follow either of the two directions (or both):

  • She’s an immoral woman without values or decency who must have welcomed the sexual assault, and is therefore lying about what happened i.e. a slut, OR
  • She’s a crazy, unstable, attention-seeking woman whose version of the story therefore cannot be trusted i.e. a nut

This strategy is often successful in giving the judge or jury the reasonable doubt they require to find the accused not guilty of rape.  Given the nature of sexual crime, there is often little evidence left that is useful for conviction under the current system, and when it comes down to a man’s word versus a woman’s, we live under circumstances where the man’s will always take priority.  

I understand the difficulty that exists when it comes to prosecuting a case with little hard evidence.  However, I am struck by how rarely I hear people say, “He may very well have done it, but unfortunately there is not enough evidence to prosecute under the rules laid down by the court of law.”  Instead, we hear: “She is ugly, she is a liar, she is a whore,” which is illustrative of just how fair these trials are and how consistent society’s commitment is to the “innocent until proven guilty” principle.  There seems to be a lack of a good-faith search for further evidence or any willingness to adamantly listen to the victim and understand her perspective.  What follows the report of a rape is quite often the opposite: a concerted and organized effort to silence the victim and disparage her. This tactic serves to protect systemic male violence by thoroughly shaming sexually assaulted women in hopes of silencing victims in the future and discouraging groups of women from organizing to overthrow a system because the nature of these verdicts seem inevitable.

Despite the fact that there are so many repercussions for speaking out, we are seeing more women come forward, like Mandi Gray, who bravely face and address this issue. I admire Gray’s willingness to publicly document her process and disclose information on what happened to her, which (to be expected) has her receiving wildly disproportionate amounts of vitriol.  While I wasn’t blown away by the documentary, it provides a good overview of the way victims are treated when they decide to seek justice.  And while I was distracted by some of the stylistic choices made by the creators of the film (e.g. a cartoon fox used to represent “Jane Doe,” an anti-rape activist), I was pleased to see Gray pursue important material surrounding rape trials and make tangible criticisms on what the victims of rape and sexual assault have come to expect.  She sheds light on the need for mental health programs and counselling services, the economic costs of rape (so damages can be taken seriously in legal cases), and challenges several York University policies for their ambiguity.

People defend the system as it stands by appealing to the rule of law and due process, but as long as women are expected to walk among rapists, the system is broken.  I’ve noticed that in having conversations about rape and sexual assault, people express a very visceral disgust at the thought of a man being falsely accused of rape while they actively avoid the thoughtful consideration for a woman who has been raped.  This asymmetrical empathy shapes the legal and social experiences of victims, and manifestations of this attitude are apparent throughout the entire documentary.  

The film left me thinking about how to address the reasonable objection to adjusting standards for criminal conviction.  I worry that this could backfire on women and present a danger for black people and Aboriginal people who are already overrepresented in prison. However, with the way things currently stand, criminal conviction for rape is very rare, and men are still agitated when the balance of power leans too far in favour of the victim.  In many instances, men will complain about their vulnerability due to the social backlash they receive if accused of rape (the assumption that these men are all innocent remains unquestioned– an assumption apparently not extended to women).  So what is it really for, then, that we are so willing to accept that some guilty men will walk free, when men can’t even accept some minor social backlash (which never lasts) as a potential punishment?  Especially when statistically it is likely that they deserve it (and much more)?  And when currently, women like Mandi Gray are exposed to all sorts of harassment themselves for coming forward?  It is easy for men to repeat “innocent until proven guilty” in the context of a crime they are statistically unlikely to be victimized by.

The documentary’s tagline is “This is the documentary film rapists don’t want you to see.”  Indeed, the film addresses the medical, legal, and social avenues and options for assaulted women, which can provide awareness and help toward making informed decisions when taking action.  However, I am left with an uneasy (but not absolutely hopeless) feeling about what can be done on the societal level.  I am in agreement with Gray that victims deserve more comprehensive services and better resources, but for women to be fully liberated, we must whole-heartedly acknowledge the patriarchal system that enables rape culture and the current legal system that supports it, in order to prevent rape and to prosecute all rapists.  The answers to these questions are understandably outside of the scope of this particular documentary, but my hope is that the film will pave the way for these crucial issues to be addressed by future pieces of media.  I believe the answers to these difficult, structural questions are the only way for the radical feminist vision of a rape-free society to be realized.

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