This post originally appeared on Unpublished Ottawa on March 26th, 2016.
Author's Note: Following the Ghomeshi verdict I was subject to attacks on social media simply for stating my particular view. What I experienced is nothing compared to what women fighting for equality routinely endure. All the same, I found the opinions being expressed shockingly retrograde, and indicative of a very deep societal problem. I felt compelled to address this.
The Ghomeshi verdict came down yesterday and it was very disappointing, if predictable. It seems however, this case is bound to cause a lot of division, something that I find deeply troubling. Most people seem to be silent on this one, but those who aren't seem to fall into one of two camps: Those who feel that the judge got it wrong, or those who think the judge was right. One may think this is an oversimplification, but bear with me. It seems both sides feel that justice was not served, and both sides are dismayed, if not devastated at the current state of the system. The key difference is who they see as the victim -- and that's what I find so deeply troubling.
I am invested in this issue because women are my relations. I'm a dad, a son, a husband, a brother-in-law, and thinking, sentient member of the human race! The reasons this keeps happening cannot be solely blamed on the legal system; they start at home. There is a profound sickness within a society that would allow men to perpetrate violence against women with virtual impunity. What is it within men that we see women with so little regard? Too many men don't think there is a problem.
The Ghomeshi verdict seems to be shining a spotlight on all that is dark and disturbing about western attitudes about women. We are so fully enmeshed in the patriarchal mindset that what it means to be a decent, caring, present and engaged human being is obscured. The systems of patriarchal control and power are so deeply embedded that we forget the most basic lesson: It's NEVER ok to hurt someone else.
In October of 2014 Ghomeshi broadcasted an astonishing missive via social media claiming he was being railroaded by a gang of "jilted lovers" for reasons unknown. In the letter he admitted he had a penchant for extremely rough sex. Ghomeshi was subsequently fired by The CBC after executives saw what they described as graphic evidence that he had physically injured women. By November 2014, three complainants had come forward claiming sexual assaults going back as far as 2003. Ghomeshi's well-known reputation for sexual violence was widely discussed in the media.
"It's not because of anything these women did, or didn't do that caused the case against Ghomeshi to fail. It's because of a social system that fails women, and a legal system that is not equipped to handle these types of cases."
In 2015 the CBC concluded an in-depth internal report that concludes that they mishandled sexual harassment incidents involving Ghomeshi, and fired two employees as a result. The investigation found that allegations of sexual harassment made by an employee in 2010 were brought to the attention of the employee's union, and the union "failed to respond properly."
It's pretty clear Ghomeshi is a bad dude; however sexual assault trials are very challenging. There is no weapon, often no DNA or other physical evidence. The case rests entirely on the credibility of the complainants. As in the case of the Ghomeshi trial, this is challenging for several reasons:
- Often these are historical incidents and memories, especially of traumatic incidences fade;
- People who have experienced trauma undergo a myriad of emotions, rationalizations and coping strategies, many of which may seem counter-intuitive or even bizarre to the casual observer;
- If the credibility of the witness is the only merit upon which the case rests, then the job of the defence is to destroy the plaintiff's credibility. This can be a highly emotionally traumatic experience.
As we know, Ghomeshi was acquitted on all charges because the complainants were discredited. By all accounts, the system worked as designed. However, if you set aside whether they lied, colluded or omitted facts, honestly, they never stood a chance. The vast majority of sexual assault cases never even make it to trial, and of those that do, most fail (97.5% according to The Globe & Mail). There is virtually no doubt in my mind that Ghomeshi assaulted these women.
"He admitted it, and subsequently never even denied it. Read: HE NEVER EVEN DENIED IT."
He admitted to it in his 2014 letter, and his history of violence has been widely corroborated. The judge even noted that his verdict does not indicate that the crimes did not happen; only that he did not find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Ghomeshi perpetrated them. (Slate 2016) However those that feel Ghomeshi was the victim seem to think it a reasonable premise that these women lied and colluded, and would be willing to subject themselves to years of strife, humiliation and ridicule in a petty bid to destroy Ghomeshi. Ultimately, his "right" to an untarnished reputation is more important than these women's right to not be assaulted.
Let's be clear -- It's not because of anything these women did, or didn't do that caused the case against Ghomeshi to fail. It's because of a social system that fails women, and a legal system that is not equipped to handle these types of cases. Overwhelmingly women are dismissed, even ridiculed when they report these incidences. The critics ask: "Why did / didn't she..." Who cares? Unless she's a time traveller, what impact could future actions of the victim possibly have on past events? The victims' subsequent actions cannot not be used as a measure against the perpetrator's acts. Questions of consent aside, he assaulted them. End of story. He admitted it, and subsequently never even denied it. Read: HE NEVER EVEN DENIED IT.
Nothing the complainants did, or didn't do changes the facts of what transpired. These women were assaulted by someone who had power over them, and they did what they could to cope. Who are we to judge their actions? The defence's career rested on her ability to destroy these women, utterly eviscerate them -- based entirely on their actions.
In this process the alleged attack itself becomes immaterial because everything she says is dismissed as suspect. And since there is no testimony from the defendant, there is literally no other evidence. This is a pattern of victimizing women over, and over, and over again.
We can't be silent any longer. As I was writing this last week, I was sent screenshots of Twitter rape and death threats sent to a local feminist blogger just for daring to speak on this issue. It shames me as a man that some guys somehow think this is acceptable behaviour! The men who do this have no honour.
To be a man is to stand up for, and protect women. Not because they are special, delicate flowers that need our protection, but because they are living, sentient beings worthy of being kept and held safe! Men, if we do not teach our sons this basic lesson as the basis for being a man, we are failing our sons. The roots of patriarchy run deep and they must be uprooted by men. Those of us who realize this will have to work that much harder to make up for the ones who don't.
UPDATE: Since this was originally posted this article has been shared over 3,000 times. I have received tweets, Facebook messages and emails, overwhelmingly positive. I've literally had 3 trolls, who mostly seemed intent on boring me to death. I related this to a friend who works with victims of sexual assault. She told me it's great to have men speak out since every time women do, they receive actual death threats. Let's keep the conversations going.
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