Sexual assault takes a physical and mental toll—but what effect does it have on your bank account?
It’s a question that’s been on Mandi Gray’s mind for some time.
The 28-year-old York University PhD student first reported her sexual assault to police on February 2, 2015. Her name made headlines the following February (after she waived her right to a publication ban) just as Jian Ghomeshi’s trial was unfolding—because she too was sitting in the same Toronto courthouse as him, testifying in her own case against fellow PhD student Mustafa Ururyar.
As her trial unfolded, Gray filed a human rights complaint against her university alleging discriminatory policies in the wake of her assault. Gray and York University reached a settlement but were unable to come to complete agreement on many of the issues she raised. According to a statement on the university’s website, York did agree to “collaborate with sexual assault centres to provide specialized counselling to sexual violence survivors from the York community.”
A few months later, in July 2016, Ontario Court Justice Marvin Zuker found Ururyar guilty of raping Gray and sentenced him to 18 months in jail. Zuker also ordered Ururyar to pay Gray $8,000 to help cover her legal costs, known in legalese as a restitution order. But far from settling anything, the ruling extended Gray’s ordeal. Ururyar appealed the conviction to the Superior Court of Justice—and the hearing for his appeal began last week. A ruling is now expected in June.
On March 14, to coincide with the first day of Ururyar’s appeal hearing, Gray organized a RAPEnomics 101 rally with 20 survivors and allies outside the courthouse. Gray herself was unable to speak at the hearing (because she’s a witness and not party to the proceeding), but she wanted to make sure her voice was heard. An organized demonstration seemed like the perfect way to amplify it.
Her mission? “We want to show the courts just how much sexual assault costs those who experience sexual violence,” she wrote on the Facebook event she made to spread the word. In the invite, she also included a link to a survey she created—Cost of Sexual Assault—asking people who have experienced sexual violence to approximate how much their assault had costed them. The survey listed things like legal fees and medical expenses, as well as less obvious items, like money spent on counselling, Plan B medication, subway fare and safety measures such as self-defence classes or replacing locks.
Within a day she had received 100 responses, and by the end of the week that number climbed to 185. “It was overwhelming and unexpected to see how much the survey had resonated with people,” Gray says. “At first I was shocked. As a social science researcher, I know how hard it is to get people to fill out surveys, especially ones that require a lot of quantifying.”
Each and every one of the responses Gray has continued to receive has been heartbreaking. “One woman said she had to buy a new mattress, because she couldn’t bear to use hers anymore after her assault,” she says. “A family emailed to ask how they could incorporate funeral costs, because their daughter had died by suicide following her assault.”
“It takes a lot to trigger to me now, but I did experience profound sadness as the survey responses came in,” says Gray. “Even for things like unwanted pregnancies—10.7 percent of our first 100 respondents had experienced it. And my first thought was, ‘Damn. That’s huge.’ Then looking at the amount of fees in lost tuition that were reported—it’s shocking. Almost 50 percent of respondents had indicated that they lost money, either due to dropping out, failing classes or taking longer to finish school, as a result of their assault—and of those respondents, they lost an average of $14,000.”
Of the people who reported losses related to their careers, Gray notes that “some respondents reported that they were forced to use all their sick time and vacation days to deal with their assault, and that many of their bosses weren’t understanding.”
Numbers like this show inadequate funding isn’t the only issue at play here, but also discriminatory university and workplace policies.
As for the cost of her own assault, Gray calculates it in the upward range of $100,000—tens of thousands of dollars more than the $8,000 in restitution fees her judge initially ordered. Among that estimated fee includes the costs she incurred to hire a lawyer, her travel expenses to and from the courthouse over a 10-day period, the sessions of therapy and counselling she required that fell outside the amount covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), relevant medications and the many major delays to her PhD studies she experienced as direct result of what happened. (Since her assault, the Province of Ontario has started a pilot project that offers victims of sexual assault up to four hours of free legal advice, but legal representation is not provided beyond that, meaning a lawyer is not available to speak on a victim’s behalf in court. This service was not available to Gray at the time of her assault.)
At the RAPEnomics 101 demonstration, using a giant novelty-sized cheque she designed with a friend, Gray summarized her costs and the incredible financial burden shouldered by many others in similar situations. The cheque displayed a sum of $9 trillion—the biggest number she said she could fit in the amount box—made out to “All the J. Does from the Bank of Patriarchy.” In the memo line, beside a copy she created of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s signature, it read: “We Failed You.”
“People who have experienced sexual assault have been failed by the systems that should be in place to support us,” says Gray. “Going through the legal system does require a lot of resources—and it doesn’t often end well. Even as someone who did receive the conviction that is so statistically impossible to achieve, it didn’t undo the sexual assault that was done to me. I often struggle to equate a conviction with any feeling of justice.”
As part of her act of justice, Gray says she plans to keep the survey up and active until March 31, and then she says she will request a meeting with members of both the federal and provincial governments. Gray says she would like to see the government provide more resources to those who have experienced sexual assault. She would also like the provincial government to ensure workplace and university policies are not discriminatory toward survivors of sexual assault. While Gray acknowledges that Ontario’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Board can provide funding to victims regardless of a conviction (it does not cover legal fees), in her case she says they will not investigate until the courts wrap up—a process that could take another one to three years.
Currently Gray is drafting individual invoices based on each survey response, along with two organizers from Silence Is Violence—a survivor-led collective that Gray co-founded in 2016. She plans to bring every single one with her to the federal and provincial governments.
As they say, money talks–in this case, the sum in question has already hit $7 million (the total dollar amount tallied from the first 156 survey responses Gray collected). How much longer can the powers that be afford not to listen?