National Post

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Saturday, November 06, 1999

Sexuality and sex worked for Homolka
As a woman, she had access to the victim stereotype
Christie Blatchford
National Post

Through the long hot summer of 1995, when the trial of Paul Bernardo took over Toronto's main courthouse and the lives of all of us in the press who were covering it, I would regularly talk over the day's events with one of my colleagues on the short drive back to our office.

He was, and is, a decent man and a wonderful reporter, but like many of the men in that courtroom and outside it, he just couldn't buy Bernardo's wife, Karla Homolka, as Bernardo's evil equal. My friend saw her as a battered spouse, "the compliant victim of a sexual sadist," as one psychiatrist put it; my friend saw her fundamentally as a victim.

One day, one of the 17 Homolka was in the witness box, he began our near-daily review of the evidence with a mournful sigh.

"Just think, Blatch," he said. "A blow job every day you come home. What guy wouldn't love that?"

I almost drove off the road, but this was but a version of a chilly wind that moved through the courtroom most every day. My friend meant: "What guy would need anything more?" He meant, as another day he actually said, "If only she'd met a guy like me, not Paul Bernardo, she would have been okay."

She's a cute little thing, the felon Homolka, or was, when last we saw her.

She was small, but she was built rich, with big breasts for a little girl, and a disturbing, luxuriant quality to her; a man could imagine drowning himself in her, I often thought. She had the damnedest glow to her skin; from my vantage point in the courtroom, maybe 20 feet away, it looked almost sueded, like a pelt.

As the teenagers say now, Karla Homolka is a hottie, and her blatant sexuality had everything to do with how some men saw her, and how much they were prepared to forgive her. She blinded most of the men I knew, who viewed her, I think, through the prism of some unnamed yearning they barely acknowledged.

I heard other variations of my friend's view of her, though few were as honest as he was.

They said: She was so young when she met Bernardo; she had so little experience, of sex or the world; he made her in his image; by the time she realized what he was, she was in too deep to extricate herself. Men rarely saw what most of the women in the room did, that it is profoundly patronizing to believe that a woman, a girl, is but raw material in a man's hands, that she is not her own creature, and that, all on her own, she isn't capable of as much horror as any man.

Men comprised one group that defended Homolka and the notorious plea bargain that sent her to jail for all of 12 years, working out to four apiece for each of the three deaths (Leslie Mahaffy, Kristen French and Homolka's baby sister, Tammy) in which she was a star player.

The other was composed of the women who essentially subscribe to a general view of women as male victims, and who were only too happy to include Homolka in this number. They tended to come from the ranks of the peculiar professionals who minister to women -- social workers, shelter staffers, prison visitors -- and who persist in absolving women of their crimes by deeming them always, first and foremost, prisoners of the men they loved or knew, thus ensuring their often easy ride through the Canadian penitentiary system.

The two groups would be appalled to find themselves in one another's company, but they end up on the same side, though they get there in different ways. With the men, Homolka could trade on her sexuality; with the women, on her sex.

It is interesting to remember that Homolka's kissy-face deal came under an Ontario attorney-general, Marion Boyd of the New Democratic government, of whom it is probably fair to say she was on a self-appointed mission to educate the world about battered women, and that it was implemented and fine-tuned by a group of boys, the lawyers of the Crown law office.

Why do so many people have such a time accepting that women are as fully capable -- of good, of evil, of everything in between -- as men and thus as deserving of the same judgments? The evidence is all around us, from the pack of predominantly girl teens who set upon Reena Virk in Victoria, B.C., and who showed the few boys there how it was done, to Amina Chaudhary, who casually strangled the eight-year-old nephew of her then-lover, to the two women who one August night last year killed Toronto Police Detective-Constable Billy Hancox with a knife to the chest, to the women everyone knows who are every bit as venal, or immoral, or heartless as any of their male counterparts.

Homolka didn't need a man to turn her bad. None of us does.

And the most benign man in the world couldn't have saved her -- or any other woman, either -- from becoming who she is. She is who she is. When, during her cross-examination by Bernardo's lawyer, John Rosen, she was being grilled about how on earth she could have sat in her bedroom, quietly reading a book, while in the rec room below, Leslie Mahaffy was being raped and sodomized, Homolka snapped, "Mr. Rosen, a lot of people can do more than one thing at once."

On that occasion, as on others, she could have walked out the door and gone to a police station. She could have phoned 911. She could have called her parents. She could have done a dozen things to save that child's life. Instead, she read a book. She made a choice. All by her lonesome, with Bernardo occupied elsewhere, with no one holding a gun to her head, she made a choice. Women do, even the cutest and girliest among us.

As for my friend, would sex-on-demand, sex-any-which-way, sex-the-second-you-get-home, be enough to warrant the price you would surely pay, in erosion of the soul, for laying with Karly-Curls, as Homolka used to call herself? I dunno, but it strikes me the answer might be found in an old line: The f---ing you're getting isn't worth the f---ing you're getting.

Copyright Southam Inc.