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The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape

by Jane Doe

Jane Doe was asleep in her downtown Toronto apartment when a serial rapist climbed in over her balcony and made her his fifth victim. Although the police knew he was in the area and that she was a possible target, they didn’t issue a warning. Women might get hysterical, an investigating officer later told Jane; a public warning might also scare off the rapist, he said. What he left unsaid was that the police had used Jane Doe, and the other potential victims, as bait.

Jane would probably object to a couple of remarks in that first paragraph. She’s not a victim, she might say, and the rapist didn’t make her his anything. And her name wasn’t (yet) Jane Doe. “Jane Doe” is the name given to women granted anonymity by the legal system. It is a way of protecting the identity of the victim, and of both defining and limiting her role in the police investigation and legal processes that flow from her rape.

The Story of Jane Doe tells how “Jane Doe” took ownership of that name, and of her crime, from the police and the legal system. It tells of her experiences at the criminal trial, and her equally bruising experiences at the civil trial against the police more than a decade later, where she was forced to listen to expert witnesses hired by the police question her mental stability. In the end she won a striking victory for victims’ rights and the police were charged with negligence.

Jane tells her story passionately and with shocking humour. “Kill it,” she says, when told by a nurse at the hospital immediately after her attack that the rapist left live sperm inside her. Readers are forced to admire the strength of character that allowed her to carry on, pissing off virtually everybody at one time or another, including her staunchest allies, by refusing to sacrifice her interests for theirs. The only false note comes when she writes from the viewpoint of the police investigators. She can’t know what she purports to know, and the element of fiction detracts from the power of her narrative.

I heard Jane Doe speak once and I found her monomaniacal and abrasive. She didn’t get the legal system, I thought. This book changed my mind. I was the one who didn’t get it.