By Sandra Rafman and Yolande Cohen
One important societal reality that has not been highlighted during the Jian Ghomeshi trial is that interpersonal dating violence occurs in an astounding proportion of young people's relationships. Dating violence, an important subset of partner violence, has been repeatedly reported to occur both in Canada and the United State in one quarter to one fifth of teen and young adults' interpersonal relationships. As such, it is a serious social problem for many reasons. Such relationships have major health and psychological consequences for women in particular, but also for men. Given these dramatic rates, it is essential that our society act in ways to help individuals terminate such relationships and this case could have helped.
Traumatic stress disorders, fear, anxiety and depression often accompany these relationships and constrain a woman or man's ability to leave. Equally powerful and interrelated with these psychological factors in determining whether women are able to leave abusive relationships are historical and societal factors, that is, how does our culture and society respond when women disclose interpersonal dating violence. And indeed our society has begun to put in place policies deemed helpful in aiding women to leave such abusive relationships. Bringing Ghomeshi to trial is indeed an integral part of this effort to unveil violent behaviour. Unfortunately, as the trial unfolded, it has proved not only counterproductive, but the victims' lives are being torn apart, and their credibility questioned, in large part because they came back to Ghomeshi after the alleged violence occurred.
By and large, psychologists, social workers, the police and the criminal court system know that leaving an abusive relationship is often a difficult process rather than a binary stay or leave decision. Research and clinical experience have consistently shown that greater frequency of relationship violence is not associated with ending the relationship. In fact, we should not expect these women to have ended the relationship and many women do not. Women stay in the relationship or wish to continue it for a wide range of reasons: they hope things will improve, feel an attachment insecurity increased by the violence, they fear subsequent harm, feel shame, social embarrassment, loss of family approval and poor social support, and the warnings by others of the negative consequences of disclosure.
There are also financial factors, which can have an impact on their career. It is therefore irrelevant to the case that the women returned to Ghomeshi. It does not mean that he didn't commit violence toward them and this alleged violence is being condoned for completely unfounded reasons known to the court system.
So what we are seeing here are policies intended to assist women in lifting the burden of disclosure, having an opposite effect. Even when women are brave enough to press charges, they are losing control over the entire process when the alleged abuse is revealed. Mandatory charging policies designed to protect and increase safety for women may actually take control away from women, further dis-empowering them They are further shamed and deprived of social support, the very factors that research has consistently shown is needed to assist them. Inconsistencies in the feelings of those leaving abusive relationships with perceived powerful and seductive men is the norm and showing them does not negate the abuse.
This case should have been a place that provided the support to encourage disclosure; instead the intimate lives of the women was put on trial... Since sexual violence happens so frequently, this court case goes significantly against helping us address this major social problem. By shaming them and not providing support, it decreases the possibility of women leaving destructive relationships, which have long-term injurious consequences.
Sandra Rafman (Ph.D., Psychologist) and Yolande Cohen (Ph.D, Historian) Université du Québec à Montréal
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