A Canadian filmmaker who was allegedly sexually assaulted as a teenager has accused the country’s largest book publisher of knowingly releasing a memoir by one of her alleged attackers depicting the incident as consensual.
In a Dec. 6 post on Medium, Zoe Greenberg claimed she was a victim of sexual assault in her youth.
“I was drunk. I was crying. I was barely conscious, on my back at the edge of a pool. I didn’t want it. They both sexually assaulted me. He did it, then she did it,” wrote Greenberg, who described an alleged attack by two of her close friends, one of whom is identified as the writer Leah McLaren.
Greenberg says she raised concerns with Penguin Random House Canada before McLaren’s book Where You End and I Begin came out, writing that she was living with “trauma in a buried place that I didn’t have full access to” – only choosing to go public after her alleged attacker published a memoir describing the incident as consensual.
In the chronology of Greenberg’s events, McLaren contacted her to discuss what had happened for her forthcoming book.
Greenberg says she personally confronted McLaren about the allegations and recorded the conversation. Under Canadian law, conversations may be recorded with the consent of only one party.
“To my surprise, McLaren immediately apologized. She said she regretted her part in it, “because she was an active participant.” She said she “always knew it was awful, that it was wrong,” and that it was “not fun” for me,” Greenberg wrote. “She said she understood ‘when our friendship ended it was because of that, and whatever happened that night was traumatic and horrible’.”
McLaren, a well-known Canadian journalist who has written articles for The Guardian, said she had “talked at length about the events of the night of the pool party” with Greenberg.
“When Zoe became concerned about the draft pages of my memoir I had sent her for review, I took the matter seriously. Over a series of emails, phone calls, and Zoom meetings, Zoe talked to me about her concerns. I’ve considered them all. Based on these conversations, my editors and I made changes that we felt were appropriate,” she told the Guardian in a message. “As a teenager, I didn’t attack my older, 16-year-old best friend at a pool party. I didn’t help with her attack either. I stand behind everything I have written.”
But when Greenberg was shown evidence of the book two years later, she wrote, she was shocked that the meeting was considered consensual.
“It was not mentioned that I experienced this as sexual assault, there was no mention that she herself was an active participant. McLaren portraying my assault as the loss of my virginity – which it was not – was disgusting,” she wrote. In the book, Greenberg is referred to as ‘Joni’. “The pages then fabricated a number of conversations between us, as well as ugly lies about my family… McLaren concluded by suggesting that I was responsible for what she and the boy had done to me that night.”
Greenberg said she met with lawyers from Penguin Random House Canada to ask that the pages be removed or changed to reflect her experience. But after she shared the audio recording of McLaren’s alleged confession, she says the publishers have cut off all communication with her.
“I would have thought that publishers checked the memoirs they promoted to make sure they were truthful. I was never approached by a fact-checker to confirm what was published. I was never told if my assault would be portrayed fairly, or if my trauma would be treated with sensitivity,” she wrote. “It seemed to me that even though I had provided them with the credible charge of assault, Penguin Random House didn’t care. And they didn’t care what damage they did by amplifying McLaren’s deceit and marketing it as fact.”
In a statement to The Guardian, the publisher said it was “disturbed and concerned” by Greenberg’s claims.
“It is true that our internal counsel communicated with a lawyer representing Zoe Charlotte Greenberg earlier this year when she expressed concerns about details in Leah McLaren’s then-upcoming memoir. We have notified Zoe Charlotte Greenberg’s attorney of the ways in which the author intended to modify the manuscript, and we have no record of any further contact from her or her counsel that went unanswered.”
Penguin Random House Canada said “substantial changes” had been made to passages in response to Greenberg’s requests, but that the company was “saddened to hear” that the changes did not fully address its concerns.
“We will use this moment to reflect on our own internal processes and identify ways in which we can best serve our books, our authors, our communities and our readers,” the paper said.
Greenberg claims McLaren has continued to “misrepresent my assault” in the media.
In a July 2022 feature film published in the Toronto Star to promote her book, McLaren wrote that at age 14 she “chased a bottle of Schnapps with a tablet of acid and ended up in a threesome with my good friend and a boy who I’ll call Scott” at a pool party. “I promise it was a lot less fun than it sounds,” she wrote, adding that “rumors spread through our Toronto high school” and that Greenberg “broke up and said our relationship was ‘too intense'”.
After Greenberg published her Medium post, Sarah Polley, a prominent Canadian actor, writer and director, tweeted that she spoke to Penguin Random House Canada and was told that her endorsement of McLaren’s book would be removed from the audiobook and the paperback copies.
“I got my approval and spoke to the publisher about this months ago as soon as it came to my attention,” she wrote.