Journalist Robyn Doolittle’s latest work of non-fiction is an in-depth look at sexual politics and rape culture in the wake of the #MeToo movement, including the ramifications on the Canadian justice system. Extending the research from her Unfounded series of investigative pieces for The Globe and Mail, Doolittle examines the systemic barriers affecting the ways sexual assault cases are handled in this country. In so doing, she uncovers an uncomfortable truth: Canada has the most progressive sexual assault laws in the developed world, yet these laws are not enforced by the people sworn to uphold them.
Doolittle writes with lucidity and heart, directly addressing the challenges posed by a book that delves into a topic that often leads to knee-jerk reactions and polarizing debates. Instead of capitulating to these impulses, she chooses to explore the questions of the moment with the nuance and detail they deserve. The author interrogates how trauma clouds the memory of victims, looks at conversations across generations reflecting on the #MeToo movement, and analyzes the impact social media has in influencing these discussions.
In the process, Doolittle proves her tenacity as a fair-minded investigative journalist, revealing her own insights and feelings about the topics she takes up while also maintaining her journalistic integrity. She explores the ramifications of rape culture and power dynamics, the ways in which the law is not upheld by police handling sexual-assault cases, and the uncomfortable conversations women engage in about victim blaming and the need to protect themselves from vulnerable situations.
At one point, Doolittle writes about receiving emails from older women concerned by the amount of alcohol rape victims consume, believing this leaves them “vulnerable” to being taken advantage of. While Doolittle firmly agrees that placing the responsibility on women to protect themselves from their own victimization is a backward approach, she also acknowledges her conflicted personal feelings in this regard: “The truth is, no matter how many times I say that women should be able to get as drunk as they want – wherever they want and as often as they want – I know I’ll feel differently when it comes time to talk to my own daughter about this issue.”
One of the most fascinating sections in the book revolves around the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. Doolittle systematically breaks down the legal factors that led to his exoneration, including information his accusers withheld from legal counsel prior to the trial and the various ways the victims were unprepared for a case this public, and painful. Doolittle writes, “Jian Ghomeshi twice tried to come back from his sexual assault scandal and twice failed after neglecting to show genuine contrition. People didn’t believe that he was sorry about anything except losing his status.”
But Doolittle is not content to leave it there. She goes on to ask tough questions: “But what about a person who has done serious harm and who later shows genuine remorse and apologizes? Are we willing to reconsider our assessment of that person?” Instead of shying away from complexity, Doolittle does the opposite – she sits down to interview former justice Robin Camp, who infamously questioned a rape complainant by asking her why she didn’t keep her knees together. By rigorously searching for nuance and truth beyond hashtags and Twitter trends, Doolittle renders Had It Coming a must-read for all Canadians willing to face up to their own biases and deepen their understanding of how rape culture impacts us all.