Exclusive Interview With Mandi Gray on New Trial for Ururyar

In the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby cases, survivors of sexual violence have developed permanent feelings of rejection and isolation, which is further cemented by the ruling to award Mustafa Ururyar another trial. In its search for a “fair” trial for the accused, our justice system once again serves to abandon and retraumatize survivors, in this case by asking Mandi Gray to go through the entire process once more, without any legal, social, or financial support.

Survivors have always known that the justice system is not made to defend or support us, but this current case further demonstrates how rape culture is the operating norm. Uneducated and misinformed judges are left to rely on their misogyny and bias, ensuring that rape myths are at the centre of decisions once again. The lack of training for judges and understanding of the breadth of responses to sexual violence ensures injustice under the guise of a fair trial.

Cases such as this one can make us feel as though justice for survivors is an unachievable goal. But no matter what happens, you have a community of survivors and allies to support you. We understand your pain, sadness, and frustration. Your feelings and your experiences are valid.

In the wake of this decision, Mandi Gray's strength and passion have been a shining light. Despite the emotional and financial burden of a 2 year trial, she has become a strong advocate for other survivors of sexual violence. She founded Silence Is Violence, a group that fights sexual violence on university campuses and now has 4 other chapters across the country; and is producing “Slut or Nut,” a documentary about her own rape case. Mandi, we hear you, we believe you, and we support you. No matter what choices you make, to participate in a second trial or not, they are the right ones.

As always and forever, #webelievesurvivors.

(Chris Young/The Canadian Pres)

Underneath a five-foot Ontario crest, complete with giant lion and unicorn, Superior Court Justice Michael Dambrot read his decision on the Mustafa Ururyar appeal today. The mythical being overhead was an apt symbol, as the entire case has been truly bizarre.

As the last judgment in his career, Justice Marvin Zuker found Ururyar guilty of sexual assault against fellow graduate student Mandi Gray. But he didn’t just stop there. He unleashed a 179-page decision that awkwardly cited Maya Angelou and different papers on the sociology of assault — a diatribe that immediately opened the offender’s door to bias-based appeal. If this grandstanding was meant to be his attempt at a legacy on his way out the door, it sure was — but not for the reasons he might have intended.

Justice Drambot grants the appeal. A new trial will likely occur.

In a twist almost as incomprehensible as Zuker’s decision, Dambrot then puts forth that Zuker’s rant was steeped in plagiarism, ranging from articles in the New York Times and Globe & Mail to law review articles. While this allegation does seem to have its merits this was never brought up by either the Crown or defense as grounds for appeal. But hey, I’ve come to expect nothing less than ridiculous from this case.

"The laws against sexual assault are merely symbolic. Rape is perfectly legal in this country. Look at the conviction rates."

Outside the courthouse, the skies open and the rain falls, in tune with the spirit of the day.

A reporter asks Mandi if she will go through with a second trial.

“Well, I think that assumes that victims have any choice in the matter. Ultimately it’s up to the Crown and if the Crown wants to proceed it doesn’t really matter what I want.”

They posit that she doesn’t have to be a witness.

She fires back that it wouldn’t be the first time a sexual assault victim is forced to testify. Agency and support for survivors is not a central point to the legal system.

When asked if she felt robbed of the original conviction because of Zuker’s showboating:

“I’ve never needed any man to tell me if I was raped or not.”

When pushed more about her feelings on the the legal system:

“The laws against sexual assault are merely symbolic. Rape is perfectly legal in this country. Look at the conviction rates.”

Yesterday I wrote an extensive breakdown on how cases like this happen — where a conviction is accurate but immediately rendered obsolete by poor trial conduct of counsel and judicial staff alike.

Even though I figured the appeal would be granted, I felt value in outlining the important laws that allow us all due process, and how those laws might not serve the interests of justice.

That was yesterday.

Today, I hear the echoes of Mandi's voice saying “don’t report sexual assault, don’t report sexual assault”. I open a few twitter threads to see vitriol. I reach for antacids. Today, this battle seems futile. Any legal argument that I could parse seems like an exercise in self-torture.

So I’d rather open the floor to Mandi herself. We had the opportunity to speak on the eve of this decision. What follows is an email discussion we had on Tuesday, July 18th, 2017.

I’m ready to centre survivors' stories. I can’t regurgitate any more analyses.


You’re quoted as saying that the guilty verdict in your case does not indicate progress within our legal system. What do you think will be the tipping point for courts to consistently bring forth accurate verdicts and what do you feel are better signifiers of change occurring?


I'm not sure. People seem to equate higher convictions with a system that works. If the process to get a conviction is so damaging and the rates of appeal for convictions are so high, it is wrong to assume that the system is "working". We need to redefine our definition of success — and that may have to be outside of the formal legal system given the burden of evidence is near impossible to prove given the realities of sexual violence and the prevalence of rape myths in Canadian society more generally. I don't equate the conviction in my case as "justice" — you have to remember we are still talking about rape and that action done to me cannot be undone — even if a Judge confirms that he believes it to have occurred.


The nine trillion dollar cheque to Jane Doe(s) is somewhat iconic now. While not precisely the point made by the cheque, do you think there should be remunerations for survivors and if so, in what form (social assistance, offenders paying for damages, etc.)?


Rape is expensive. Those who are sexually assaulted absorb tons of costs — this may range from moving costs, unwanted pregnancy, transportation to and from court, or time off work. For example, I was required to testify for four days - that is four days away from my work and transportation costs that I alone had to absorb for an action that was done to me by no fault or choice of my own. I also paid for therapy before and after the assault.

There is also a huge economy that profits off rape — lawyers, judges, therapists, expert witnesses and researchers have made entire careers off rape. But where are the services to benefit those who are most marginalized after a sexual assault?

There was a misconception that the cheque was intended to represent only financial costs - It was also intended as symbolic of the professional and social costs that those who have experienced rape face — this may range from loss of friendships and relationships or other opportunities.

These social and emotional costs are of course exacerbated by other factors such as transphobia within the violence against women sector, inaccessibility of services for those who do not speak English, institutional colonialism, racism, homophobia and ableism.


Do you believe that sexual violence survivors can find peace through restorative justice or is punitive justice the only way to go?


I actually don't believe in jail — I don't think it is the solution. I don't think it will rehabilitate the man who assaulted me, but unfortunately there are few options available to those who experience sexual assault. Restorative Justice may be good for some, but not all. It really depends on what the objectives of the individuals involved. For me, I wanted to return to campus and reporting to the police was the only way to make that happen without having the fear of running into the man who assaulted me while resuming my studies.


Let’s talk Slut or Nut! How’d the project start? Has it helped with the healing process? What are you hoping viewers take away from it, fellow survivors or not?


Slut or Nut started because I wanted to document the trial process. So few reports to the police ever make it to the trial. I wanted to shed light on what a sexual assault trial actually looks like — I wanted to challenge this idea that reporting to the police is "no big deal" (you know, that common response — well if it was a REAL sexual assault you would have reported?) I wanted to show people why some people don't report. Slut or Nut is the best thing that has happened to me through this process.

I wanted to provide viewers with information about reporting to the police. Some may think that this film may deter people from reporting but I want people to make informed decisions about what they are about to do.

I think I also wanted to make the film to challenge the idea about what a rape victim should be or how they ought to act. I don't think I am the "typical" or "ideal" victim. One of the most profound experiences with sharing clips of the film is having viewers recognize their own experiences within sexual relationships as non-consensual. Because the rape I experienced isn't the typical archetype in mainstream media — I was drunk, went to his apartment, I had invited him for sex earlier in the evening. I wanted to show young folks that you can be sexual, you can want to have sex, you can be drunk - and you can still be raped.


Silence is Violence - how has it been going? I know you’ve said you won’t be back to York until it’s safe but do you have a finger on the pulse of survivors/allies and how things may have changed since SiV was started?


I feel very defeated by what is happening on campuses regarding sexual assault. I am honestly at a loss as to how to continue organizing. The universities say they are doing one thing, but on the ground - it is business as usual. Literally, the university is a business and do not have a vested interest in actually addressing sexual assault in a meaningful way beyond putting up some catchy posters about consent.


Throughout your continued ordeal you’ve had the outward appearance of a total badass. Has this whole thing taught you anything about yourself?


I've learned that even badasses need time to rest. When I first started — I was running on adrenaline constantly. I really started to burn out. Now I am learning to pace myself - I had to accept that I single-handedly cannot eradicate all of the oppression within the legal system and on campus.

One of the hardest lessons on a personal level has been the inability to relate to the people I used to hang out with before the sexual assault. Of course, through this experience and being so public has introduced me to so many great, new people, many of whom have similar experiences to me - but the loss of certain friendships and relationships as a result of the sexual assault  and being public about experiencing sexual assault hurts.


The forthcoming appeal is about Judge Zuker’s supposed bias. His decision did seem unconventional, what with his Maya Angelou quote. Was that a nod to your tattoo? Do you think his polemic was necessary? Helpful? Harmful?


The decision is absolutely unorthodox — and the legal system does not like decisions that transcend the narrow boundaries of what the law should be. I don't think Zuker was biased in any way, shape or form. If he were biased, he would have shut down problematic lines of questioning that I was asked over 4 days. He would have intervened when Ururyar's lawyer compared having sex with me to having sex with a dead fish. With that being said, Zuker has expertise in sexual violence - in what other profession would we say that having too much knowledge about the topic at hand is a bad thing?

The one thing that really pisses me off about Zuker's decision is that it has caused me unnecessary harm and hardship. I was very angry at him for a long time because I was ready to close this chapter of my life.


You and other survivors who’ve reported have spoken to the problems of post-rape interviews with cops. Was there any other stage within the process where you saw serious lack of support? Any organizations that were more supportive than expected?


No. There is no support for sexual assault victims. I received 20 therapy sessions from Women's College Hospital. But I had to wait 2 months after I was sexually assaulted to get in and the sessions barely got me to the beginning of the trial. I've been in the legal system for 2.5 years now — any supports that I do have I pay for out of pocket.


Obligatory Ghomeshi question: what was it like being in the same building as another landmark rape case was being tried? Surreal? Empowering? Upsetting?


I called it the rape circus — that's exactly what it was! It was totally surreal - and sometimes I am envious that the Ghomeshi trial is long finished and I am still in the middle of the legal system with no end in sight.


What next? Life was put on hold for 2 years, are you going to drastically change your life’s direction as this comes to an end? Are you thinking of survivor advocacy as a long-term vocation or are you done with it?


I can't say that this is the end. There is significant likelihood that the appeal judge will order a new trial meaning that I could be required to go through another rape trial.

I really hope to finish my PhD within the next couple years and focus on writing comedy.


Is there anything else you want people to know about Mandi Gray, who she is, what she’s doing?


I think it’s important to remember that people like myself in the public eye and within the legal system are presented within a very narrow manner. Some of the most crucial pieces of the assault and the legal system have been misinterpreted by the media, edited out or deemed unworthy of reporting. Aspects of the assault that I found to be the most important were never discussed by the Crown. Survivors of sexual assault have very little agency within the legal system, and even less so about how their cases are reported. What you see in the media is always just a small piece of what actually happens and I think people need to remember that before offering their advice or opinions on sexual assault cases in the media.

Editor's note: There are resources available to survivors of sexual assault. If you need support and live in the Toronto area, reach out to the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape. You can obtain support through R.A.I.N.N. on the phone or online in the U.S., and online in Canada and elsewhere. And wherever you are, we offer this amazeballs colouring book. You should definitely download and print it.

by  Faryn Quinn