Brian & The Boys: A Story of Gang Rape
Rick Boulton was a Contributing Editor, TV Guide.
Siggins, a former reporter with the Toronto Telegram and author of a biography of media magnate John Bassett, has written a tough, chilling, and mind-numbing tale of gang rape, exploring the backgrounds of the six gang members and the two women they victimized in separate incidents which occurred on April 23 and May 15, 1979, in Toronto. Using a breezy, anecdotal writing style which lends a sense of urgency to the narrative, Siggins provides an abundance of detail about the ordeal — and who among us does not read these increasingly more detailed and titillative accounts of brutes sexually violating their victims? Indeed, the author began with a sensational Toronto Sun headline — “Judge jails ‘animals’ for gross gang rapes” — and the intention of painting a picture of a typical gang rapist. What she found, however, during the research and writing of the book, was that it was as difficult for her to believe the victims’ accounts of what happened as it was to credit the men’s stories, and that at least one of the gang members is serving six years in jail — the six convicted men were sentenced to an average of twelve years in prison — for a crime he never committed.
Siggins not only makes us question the jury’s verdict, but also offers new insights into the ideas of “aggressor” and “victim” and analyses how the Canadian justice system worked in this particular case. Basing her book on court testimony and on follow-up interviews with all but two of those involved, she attempts to give balanced weight to all sides by basically giving three versions of what went on during those two spring nights: the version each of the victims presented in court, the version the defendants gave in court, and a third version (her own) of what probably happened, based on her interviews and her conclusions about the complex web of allegations, lies, and inconsistencies that surrounded the stories of the rapes. Her biggest conclusion is that the jury was not given a true account of what occurred on either night.
This is not an account of a gang of bikers jumping a teenage girl and carrying her off to their clubhouse to be brutally violated and degraded. Both women victims were nomads, molded by drugs, broken families, poverty, regular beatings by their men, discarded babies, menial jobs, and temporary liaisons. Like the accused, they indulged in booze and drugs in Toronto’s seamy underlife, and led lives that inevitably steered towards tragedy. One of the women victims had attempted suicide on several occasions. Balanced against this is the argument of feminists who emphasize that every woman has a right to spurn a man’s sexual advances no matter what activity has gone on before. Coupled with that is all the evidence of the two women — they had never met — on two different occasions who claimed they were sexually brutalized by the same six men. The men argued during the six-week trial that the women had willingly taken part in a sexual orgy. Certainly, the reader is swayed into believing that the women victims understood very well the code of behaviour by which these men operated. Sordid and depraved though most of the men are, the women are no more admirable or charming; their lives are as pathetic and marginal as the men’s. Do indications of loose moral character matter? Siggins offers us evidence that they do. Is a form of “rough justice” enough? Siggins says no, and gives her reasons.
Certainly, such a subject as the miscarriage of justice — and the very nature of crime and punishment — is large and complex. As Siggins probes into her subjects, hardly anyone or any issue is etched in black and white. The picture becomes considerably greyer, the focus becomes blurred. Finally, by the end of the book, the reader can’t quite make up his mind.
What really happened on those two nights is the central question that taunts the reader, and perhaps we are made aware by this disturbing story that the ongoing war between the sexes is much more complicated and dynamic than many people are willing to acknowledge.