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Canada: Filmmaker slams book publisher Penguin for publishing a memoir by her assailant who described the sexual assault as consensual

In her blog on Medium, Zoe Greenberg highlighted how Penguin Random House Canada carried on with the publication of a memoir written by her assailant despite being informed and provided with evidence that an act of sexual assault in the book has been wrongly portrayed as a consensual act.

Zoe Charlotte Greenberg, a poet and filmmaker, recently took to the American publishing platform Medium to reveal how Canada’s biggest book publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, of publishing a memoir of one of her rapists who described the sexual assault as consensual.

“I was sexually assaulted when I was 16. This summer, @PenguinRandomCA published a memoir by one of my assailants claiming my rape was consensual. now I’m ready to share my story,” Greenberg took to Twitter to share her story about the assault she had endured.

In her blog on Medium, Zoe Greenberg highlighted how Penguin Random House Canada carried on with the publication of a memoir written by her assailant despite being informed and provided with evidence that an act of sexual assault in the book has been wrongly portrayed as a consensual act.

“The summer I turned 16 I was sexually assaulted by two of my friends. I was drunk. I was crying. I was barely conscious, on my back by the side of a pool. I didn’t want it. They both sexually assaulted me. He did, then she did,” wrote Greenberg, describing about the incident when she was assaulted by two of her close friends.

Narrating her ordeal and mental trauma following the assault, Greenberg said she severed her friendship with the boy in the aftermath of the incident and weeks later, she mustered the strength to call off her friendship with the girl too. Their common friends also started distancing themselves from her. 

Although she changed schools and made new friends to overcome the trauma, the scars of the sexual assault and social exclusion left an indelible mark. But then, Penguin Random House Canada platformed one of her assaulters and she decided to pour out her trauma on a public platform.

“For decades, I lived with my trauma in a buried place that I could not fully access, sometimes telling loved ones, but never speaking of it publicly. Until Leah McLaren, the woman who sexually assaulted me when we were teenagers, published a memoir where she depicted their attack on me as consensual,” Greenberg wrote in her personal blog.

Greenberg said McLaren informed her that she would depict her in the book, alongside the story of “what happened” to her—an idea that her sexual assault would be portrayed by the woman who sexually assaulted her sickened her to the core.

The filmmaker felt it important to confront McLaren about the sexual assault she had participated in. She told her that the reason she’d stopped being her friend when they were teenagers was because of that night by the pool. She told her she felt violated by her and the boy, and couldn’t be her friend afterwards. To Greenberg’s surprise, McLaren immediately apologised and agreed to get her consent over that story and allow her to decide whether she wanted it portrayed in public. Greenberg had secretly recorded the audio conversation where McLaren admitted to her guilt and promised to have her vet the manuscript of the relevant sections before it went into publication. 

Two years later, McLaren shared her manuscript pages that she wanted approval from Greenberg. Instead of describing the actual turn of events, Greenberg said, McLaren described she’d had “a three-way” with her “best friend” who then “tearfully lost her virginity by the side of the pool”. There was no mention that the encounter was a sexual assault and nothing about the active participation of McLaren herself. Instead, the sexual assault of Greenberg was depicted as a virginity-losing incident, which disgusted the filmmaker. 

“The pages went on to invent a number of conversations between us, as well as ugly lies about my family, even an antisemitic joke. McLaren concluded with the suggestion that I was responsible for what she and the boy had done to me that night,” Greenberg added. 

Greenberg asserted that far from acknowledging that McLaren had participated in a sexual assault against her, she had weaved an altogether different story, contradicting the reality and in flagrant opposition to what she had promised to her years ago. 

The filmmaker contacted McLaren’s publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, and shared her concerns about the memoir with them. However, Penguin’s general counsel responded that McLaren did “not recall the specific act” she had depicted as the loss of my virginity. When Greenberg shared the audio recording of McLaren’s confession with Penguin Random House, the publication ceased all its communications with her. 

“I never heard from Penguin Random House again. I had thought publishers verified the memoirs they promoted to be certain they were truthful. I was never contacted by a fact-checker to corroborate any of what was published. I was never informed whether my sexual assault would be depicted honestly, or my trauma handled with sensitivity. It seemed to me that even though I had provided them with the credible allegation of sexual assault, Penguin Random House didn’t care. And they didn’t care what kind of harm they were causing by amplifying McLaren’s deception and marketing it as fact,” Greenberg said in her blog. 

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