It Doesn’t Matter Whether I #BelieveWomen or Not
If they can’t be trusted
Nearly every woman is a survivor of sexual assault these days, so let me add a mild example to the litany of stories.
I was molested in a public swimming pool when I was about 10 years old. The word molested makes it sound far worse than it was. A man in the pool fondled my buttocks, and I swam off as fast as I could. That was it. A hot wave of shame passed through me as I made my way to the pool stairs. Then I noticed a group of girls of about my age giggling and looking over at a long-haired fellow in his late teens or early 20s: the groper. I understood that it wasn’t only me, and the giggles of the other girls dispelled the shame.
If that was the worst the man did, I hope he was able to stop and never saw the inside of a prison cell.
For years, activists told us that part of the horror for sexual assault survivors was the fear of not being believed, the feeling that one was alone with an experience no one else understood or even acknowledged. Fair enough. Now, decades into the near-constant discussion of all varieties of such assault, many quite trivial yet treated with great seriousness, women don’t seem to have become any better at dealing with the ostensible horror—quite the opposite. The unending focus on sexual victimization seems only to have created more victims.
A case in point involves the infamous sexual crimes of Dr. Vincent Nadon, a now-disgraced GP at the University of Ottawa Health Clinic, who in late 2018 was sentenced to eight years in prison after he pled guilty to many dozens of counts of voyeurism and sexual assault during a 28-year medical practice. (The exact number of charges was hard to determine, seeming to change in every report). Much of what Nadon pled guilty to—mainly the recording of women via his cellphone while they were undressing or undergoing breast exams—was a type of deeply unprofessional conduct that might have gone forever unnoticed by the victims if one intrepid woman had not seen the cellphone’s recording light winking at her from a cabinet and gone to investigate. There were also allegations of sexual assault nearly indistinguishable in their details from regular medical touching—the main distinction being that the touching was “for sexual purposes.” Witnesses at Nadon’s sentencing hearing spoke of what had occurred, in some cases many years previously, as if it had been the worst possible betrayal.
A report of the sentencing hearing described women wiping away tears as they told of “feelings of powerlessness, embarrassment and even guilt.” Others said they had become distrustful of men after learning of Nadon’s actions. One woman, having been shown by police a cellphone recording made of her in Nadon’s office, claimed that she felt physically ill and “has not been able to go to another doctor, and is uncomfortable undressing, even in front of her husband.” Another woman said she felt “violated and betrayed,” and now “looks for hidden cameras everywhere, is obsessed with locking doors, and has developed a medical condition that can be caused by stress.” Many alleged that they feared seeing videos of themselves on the internet though there is no indication Nadon ever uploaded any of his recordings.
In a separate report about fallout from the charges against Nadon, some women expressed outrage at authorities they saw as complicit in their victimization, with one woman complaining that University of Ottawa Health Services failed to “help [her] tell [her] story and come forward.” This woman, who told how she had not been provided with a gown to wear during a pap smear procedure with Nadon, was also furious at the University of Ottawa for failing to more closely monitor its health service provider. Her anger was sustained and wide-ranging: “Obviously I’m super traumatized. I feel extremely violated and so sick to my stomach. It’s really, really disgusting.” “It’s even hard for me now to find a therapist I can trust.”
I can’t get inside these women’s heads, of course, but their statements seem hysterical and irrational, far in excess of the facts, and perhaps willfully exaggerated in order to garner the maximum of attention and sympathy. It was disturbing to see such statements presented as if they proved something about the severity of Dr. Nadon’s actions. They prove nothing except the climate of alleged female sexual fragility in which we are all now forced to live.
Victim impact statements are often of dubious value in criminal justice proceedings—why should a criminal act be punished more or less severely depending on a victim’s ability to emote in public about it?—but in a case like this, with damsel-in-distress melodrama having already been stoked by multiple media reports at every stage of the investigation, the victim statements took on a particularly staged, formulaic quality. One had to make an effort to remember that many of the complainants would not even have known they were harmed if police hadn’t shown them that they were. Their pain may have been real, but it was also almost entirely self-generated.
The whole story of Dr. Nadon the beloved physician turned super-predator seems to have been largely manufactured, first and foremost by police, who were so eager to find as many complainants as possible that they repeatedly put out calls through the media for more “victims” to come forward. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, with police stating publicly that they feared there were likely more victims, and issuing “a public plea for help.” What did they expect to happen?
Many or most of the complaints would never have been brought to light without that invitation by police with its implicit (or explicit) promise that claims would be believed in advance, that a guilty man had been found (Nadon was already reported as under house arrest, his face in every local paper) and that merely to speak one’s story was to be verified as a victim. Many of these allegations must have been impossible to substantiate. Here are a few:
“In one case, Nadon squeezed the nipples of a woman who was described as a new immigrant, asking her to get off the examination table, bend over, and shake her breasts.” It’s hard to find any of this too heinous, especially when one reads on reputable breast health sites that a physician may ask a patient to “lean forward and press [her] hands together to tighten the muscle beneath each breast during [the visual examination], that the health professional “will likely press gently on your nipple to check for any discharge,” that the professional “may teach you how to examine your own breasts,” and that breast abnormalities may be more readily seen “during movement as well as by asking the patient to flex the pectoral muscles.” In other words, everything Nadon was alleged to have done criminally was a standard part of an ordinary breast exam.
“Nadon also performed pap smears with one hand ungloved, and in some cases inserted his ungloved hand into patients’ vaginas.” It’s not clear how any patient could have known that the doctor’s hand was ungloved during the pap smear procedure, in which the patient’s raised knees prevent her from seeing the doctor’s hands. I would expect that the insertion of a man’s hand into a woman’s vagina would cause extreme pain and visible abrasions, a strange thing for any woman to allow without complaint while many nurses and other doctors were in the vicinity (this was a busy multi-room clinic). “He also performed a medical exam that was described as being not necessary. Nadon asked a woman who came in for a psychological referral to remove her clothing and touched her naked body, the court heard.” Well, who knows? Doctors do touch women’s unclothed bodies.
There are two possible explanations for the exaggerated quality of many of the victim statements. The first is that some or many of these women claiming assault and elaborate post-assault trauma were simply fabricating. They heard the call for victims to come forward, and they wanted to be victims. One doesn’t need to offer a complicated psychological explanation: the rewards of abundant official sympathy, media attention, and the confirmation of their sexual desirability as women are quite obvious. The possibility of a financial settlement in a class action lawsuit (now underway) may also have been an incentive.
There are well-documented cases of women who faked their own kidnappings in order to garner attention and concern. These were elaborate and risky fabrications with a high possibility that the women would be caught lying and charged. Imagine the greater temptation to tell a story that cannot and will never be disproved. (One complainant praised police for accepting her story so readily. “When I came to the police station, they really took it seriously. I didn’t feel I had to justify. They were very supportive.”) Nadon’s failure to contest any of the allegations was, I assume, a necessary part of his plea deal.
The second possibility is that all these women believed what they said. Being asked to bend over and swing her breasts was experienced as a sexual assault by a new immigrant. Discovering that Nadon recorded her on his examining table caused terrible trauma for a woman who became unable to undress in front of her husband. Sincerely pained by what they experienced, these women genuinely believed that only the incarceration of their violator, along with the permanent suspension of his license to practice medicine, could begin to heal their injuries. Their lives were deeply damaged by learning what Nadon had done to them and others.
This second explanation is, frankly, as worrisome as the other, with its evidence of excessive and disordered response. I am dismayed by the thought that these women are, or may become, social workers, teachers, administrators, office managers, researchers, lawyers, journalists, or lawmakers. They don’t seem to have what it takes to do responsible, stressful jobs properly. They lack common sense and self-reliance. Their frailty and over-emotionalism are debilitating. They seem devoid of self-control, certainly of resiliency or a sense of proportion. They seem to have surrendered to incapacity, unable to bear up under even a mild duress or remembered/imagined duress. Whether they lie or not, I can’t trust them.
I have been interested in Nadon’s story since it first broke because I was a patient of Dr. Nadon’s for over 10 years, during which time I found him a competent and professional physician. He helped thousands of people with serious health issues, as the many enthusiastic testimonials on “Rate My MD” demonstrate, and it seems a shame that his expertise will never be used for medical good again.
The thought that Nadon might have recorded my breasts or any part of me during a medical exam, and then presumably masturbated to the images, or looked at them for whatever reason, has never caused me a moment’s unrest. Sure, it was wrong, but why would I care? I don’t particularly care if he examined me without a glove or if his recommendation about how to do a breast self-exam seemed over-enthusiastic. Far more troubling would have been if he had gathered the pap smear incorrectly. I cannot comprehend the extreme responses of his self-declared victims or their satisfaction in a prison sentence longer than that for some murderers. I cannot comprehend their belief that the University of Ottawa and the University of Ottawa Health Services owe hundreds of millions of dollars for failing to prevent what no organization on earth could prevent. I cannot comprehend their determination that they are deeply scarred by a voyeur.
Whatever pundits might say, none of this is about healing or accountability. It certainly isn’t about female bravery and strength, though tributes to these alleged virtues accompanied many of the news articles. This is about the corrosive victim-power that we have granted to women to destroy men’s lives, a power that deeply harms women psychologically in its encouragement to vindictive hysteria and narcissistic posturing. Many other examples abound in the behavior of the tearful avengers of Harvey Weinstein, Brett Kavanaugh, Al Franken, Bill Cosby, Jian Ghomeshi, and many others. Victim mania will not lose its power until we insist as a society that women must choose: whether they wish to be treated as emotionally mature adults or as volatile, helpless children. They can’t be both as it suits them.
Postscript. Vincent Nadon was fully paroled in 2021, not quite three years into his sentence. I don’t know enough about our criminal justice system to say whether his successful transition to parole suggests that some members of the correctional system may have had quiet doubts about the magnitude of his wrongdoing.