In activist and feminist communities, we often hear the bromide “the personal is political”, but few embody this phrase to the benefit of others as boldly as Mandi Gray.
I met Mandi in late 2015, a month before she was scheduled to begin testifying in a sexual assault trial. What I saw in the following months and learned from Mandi appalled and saddened me — it also made me realize how brave Mandi truly is.
When her university refused to act following the arrest of her colleague for sexually assaulting her, she marched across campus with a sign saying “Rape Survivor”, demanding the university take her seriously. Mandi and her colleagues formed the campus-based group Silence is Violence in order to fight for justice and battle institutional resistance to responding to sexual violence. Multiple branches of Silence is Violence formed, opened by survivors at different universities.
Later that year, she filed a human rights complaint against York University for systemic gender discrimination. Her complaint resulted in the university partnering with a sexual assault centre to provide free counselling services to all university campus members who had experienced sexual violence.
During the criminal trial and the ongoing human rights complaint, Mandi allowed us into her life. As we filmed with lawyers, therapists, experts, a sexual assault evidence kit nurse and others, I saw Mandi’s dedication to helping victims of assault. Even with strangers making hateful threats, she stayed focused on the goal of eradicating institutional rape culture and supporting survivors.
The documentary, Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial, premiered at Hot Docs and has now screened at universities in nearly every province in Canada. The film explains how the legal system handles sexual assault and urges society to re-examine beliefs around rape culture. Mandi tours with the film,
speaking to groups of students, educating the public, and working with activists to provide resources for women reporting sexual assault. She also attends trials to support victims and works with student groups.
By organizing and speaking publicly, by using legal tools to force change, and by engaging with the media, Mandi has created a new paradigm for survivors of sexual assault — one that is not broken or meek but is powerful and persuasive, unafraid to demand justice — one that is no longer a victim, but a victor.
Written by Kelly Showker, a documentary filmmaker and public speaker focused on the impacts of gender-based violence.