I’m about to spend a few paragraphs sounding like I’m defending Pat Hickey, or at least like I’m letting him off the hook. If you know who I am at all, you’ll bear with me secure in the knowledge that that isn’t where I’m going with this, and that things will get vitriolic soon enough.
I’m writing this right after listening to a radio interview in which Mitch Melnick and Dave Kaufman of TSN990 interview the Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey about his now-notorious column. If you want the full context, the link is below.
[SEVERE TRIGGER WARNING - Victim-blaming in action]
I’m not listening to that awfulness a second time to mine for quotes. Suffice it to say that Hickey sticks to his guns and carries on blaming victims. (Directly. There’s a brief call-in segment at the end, in which Hickey more-or-less accuses a survivor of enabling his sister’s abuse.)
That’s the context. That’s my starting point.
I’m about to say something you probably won’t like.
I don’t think Pat Hickey is 100% wrong. As Mark McKenna wrote:
"Abuse thrives on silence. In some cases, […] the silence of third parties gives perpetrators license. But victims’ silence also plays a huge role.” (emphasis mine)
I think, if you dig down through the dirt and find the essence of Hickey’s point, you’ll find that same sentiment. And you know what? I understand.
I only recently came out as a victim, after hiding it for thirteen years. And it’s a fact that my silence was contributing to the culture of shame and silence which I hated, and still hate, so very much. The same culture that I spend hours a week ranting about and decrying.
So it’s easy for me to see where Pat Hickey is coming from. I know what it’s like to look at someone and want to say, “You’re a hypocrite. You should have done more.”
I see that someone in the mirror every day. Sometimes I can’t meet her eyes.
But here’s the twist. Victims don’t choose not to speak up. We want to speak up. The secrets feel like poison. And sometimes, they’re just as deadly.
The problem is that too often, we can’t speak up.
A few weeks ago, I opened my mouth to tell my story - literally opened my mouth - and froze catatonic, lost in a flashback I didn’t know wasn’t real. I eventually came to, folded into a little ball, and started crying. It’s been thirteen years, and this still happens to me. I’m used to it.
The damage that so many of us live with is not merely painful. It’s debilitating. And Pat Hickey doesn’t understand. He accuses Theo Fleury of hypocrisy for demanding that the law protect society from Graham James, despite not having done so himself. And that looks like hypocrisy to him because he fails to perceive a relevant disanalogy: The legal system does not do enough; Theoren Fleury could not.
Pat Hickey is ignorant. But ignorance doesn’t make you a bad person. I’m glad that Pat Hickey has the privilege of being ignorant. I’m glad he gets to not know what it’s like.
Okay. I hope you’re still with me. Because that was all set-up.
Now I’m cutting loose.
Because this isn’t just ignorance. This is culpable ignorance. It’s a journalist climbing up on his ignorance and saying things he should know better than to say; things he would know better than to say if he had put forth the effort to do his job properly.
The last caller to that radio interview asked Pat Hickey if he felt he’d made things better, or made things worse; if he felt he’d encouraged victims to come forward, or deterred them. For what felt like the first time in twenty minutes, Hickey didn’t interrupt. He let her speak, and when she finished, he said: “I don’t know.”
You don’t know? You didn’t think about that before you published it in print and online? You didn’t talk to a victim, or a counsellor, or anyone, to get a feel for the impact your words would have? Are you insane?
Since we’re speaking of hypocrisy, allow me to summarize:
Pat Hickey writes an article in which he blasts Theo Fleury for not speaking out before he was ready (for which read “able”). The article directly contributes to a culture in which victims are terrified to come forward, in part because they might be attacked for not having “stepped up” (Hickey’s words) sooner.
Pat Hickey goes on public radio in response to charges of victim-blaming. A victim calls in to the show, and Pat Hickey accuses him of facilitating the abuse of his little sister.
Pat Hickey bemoans the silence surrounding rape and victimization. When asked how he thinks he is affecting that silence, his answer is: “I don’t know.”
What the fuck?