Globe and Mail

Jan Wong investigates what instigates groin-kicks

Jan Wong
The Globe and Mail
Friday, July 9, 1999

Corinne Branigan went to the laundromat last Monday evening. An 18-year-old named Jason Batisse harassed her on the street. She ended up kicking him in the gonads. He went at her with a broken bottle. Then he went home to tell his mother. Later, he pressed charges.

The Criminal Code says you cannot incite racial hatred against a group; it says nothing about sexual harassment. You're also free to express any kind of verbal hate, as long as it's toward an individual. You can call me "chink" or "slut." You can call my friends "fag," "nigger," "kike" or "wop." And there's nothing anyone can do. Canadians are protected in the workplace against racial or sexual harassment. Elsewhere, we have zero recourse. All we can do is pretend to be deaf, or we can shrink our world and stay home. Or we can react. And if you react as Ms. Branigan did, you will be charged with assault.

It began when Mr. Batisse and six other men passed her on her street, jeering, "Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello."

"I don't have to say hello to you," she replied.

The hellos became "bitch," and obscenities we can't print. "You're not that great, anyway," the men added.

On the third day of Toronto's record-breaking heat wave, Ms. Branigan, 30, was wearing what we all might wear when it's hot: a one-piece bathing suit, shorts and flip-flops. But she was steamed by more than the humidex reading.

I can't believe this is happening again. I just moved here,she thought. She'd left her old neighbourhood because guys shouted lewd remarks or blocked her path. Three nights earlier, four men had followed her, saying, "Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo." Ms. Branigan, a waitress, gave them the finger and crossed the street.

Last Monday on her way home from the laundromat, Ms. Branigan spotted her tormentors in the schoolyard. She dropped her laundry and walked over.

"You see that house?" she told them, pointing to her new home across the street. "That's where I live now. So don't talk to me again. Don't approach me."

Ms. Branigan is telling me all this as we're sitting under a tree in the schoolyard two days later. Samantha Kilby-Lechman, 14, who lives beside the school, sees us talking, and offers to be a witness. "I heard them smash the bottle," she says.

A few minutes later, someone else stops by. "I'm really sorry it happened to you," says Barbara Quinto, a middle-aged woman who also lives on the street. "[Men] don't harass me. They harass my daughter."

Ms. Branigan is 118 pounds; Mr. Batisse, according to a former classmate, is about 180 pounds. When she confronted the group of seven in the dark, they swore at her. As he closed in on her, she told him: "'If this is what I have to do, my dear, I'll hit you.'"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said. (Do idiots always repeat themselves?) She punched him in the nose. Then he grabbed her.

"We got into a real fight. . .a tussle. I don't think he managed to hit me."

But she managed to kick him in the groin, with her flip-flop-shod foot. He came back at her with a broken bottle. Terrified, Ms. Branigan backed off. Mr. Batisse's friends calmed him down. As she retreated across the yard, she drowned out their obscenities by chanting, "Just say it behind my back."

A little later, Mr. Batisse went with his mother and six pals to Ms. Branigan's home. His mother commented on Ms. Branigan's attire, then called the police.

The police told the Globe the "youths" were trying to "engage her in conversation." Ms. Branigan says the police never checked for the broken bottle. I found it, in shards, against the school wall. She accepts being charged, and doesn't dispute that she punched and kicked Mr. Batisse.

"It wasn't the right thing to do, but it was the human thing to do," she says. "The thing is, I'm willing to go through almost anything to be able to walk down the street in peace."

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