I’ve been in a “car wreck full of mangled bodies I can’t look away from” relationship with social media for the majority of today after the acquittal of Jian Ghomeshi – former host of CBC Radio’s Q – of four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking.
I’m quite surprised and hopeful that so many people (that I’ve seen in my SECONDS of Facebook browsing) have reacted negatively, in varying degrees, to the news. It seems though, that in response TO this response, those who are satisfied with the trial’s results and think Ghomeshi innocent are fighting even harder in all their rape apologist glory.
Now, to be fair, I do fully acknowledge and respect the legal methodology necessitated by the “innocent until proven guilty” ethos of our justice system, and that because there unfortunately just isn’t the hard evidence in sex assault cases that there is in other cases, more scrupulous questioning of complainants may be considered warranted.
And, to be fair, my issue with today’s verdict doesn’t have all that much to do with Jian Ghomeshi: sex offender in particular. It’s more with the broader issue of how sexual assault complainants and sexual assault as a topic is treated, and what this case represents in that capacity. And yeah, I’m a little pissed off at some of the judge’s comments, like: “We must fight against the stereotype that all sexual assault complaints are truthful” and telling the victims they were “playing chicken with the justice system.”
The stereotype that all sexual assault complaints are truthful? Is that a joke? It must be, since THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE IS TRUE. Statistically, and anecdotally, hardly anyone reports sexual assault – less than 4% in Canada, of those who even speak up about having been assaulted. I’m not even going to get into the breakdown of what percentage of cases end up in a conviction, because that in itself is why victims don’t report. Along with a slew of other reasons, like, you know, cases that end up the way Ghomeshi’s has. Victims know that socially, and judicially, we are facing a system already posited to disbelieve and/or blame us. Ask the 14 women assaulted by Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw who kept their rapes secret for years for fear that they wouldn’t be believed, or the 11-year-old girl gang raped by 18 men, whose story, when the New York Times told it, was preoccupied with the shattered lives of the men accused and how the girl “dressed older than her age”.
Ghomeshi’s case perpetuated some other rape culture myths, like that there is a certain way a victim does or should act. A large part of what discredited the witnesses here was the fact that the judge found their post-assault behaviour – continued amicable contact with Ghomeshi, further dates with Ghomeshi, sending bikini-clad pictures to Ghomeshi, etc. – incongruent with someone who has been assaulted. “Odd,” he said. People have a multitude of ways of dealing with trauma, and no one person’s way is right or wrong or the same as another’s. Just because you would kick and scream, storm out the door, and call the police does not mean that someone else would, or is even capable to. Some try to pretend it never happened, ignore it, and maintain a relationship with their attacker for fear of repercussions, future attack, or of being viewed as a frigid bitch or a weak bitch or worse: a victim of sexual assault. When women are socialized in so many situations – meetings, classes, arguments, conversations – to back down, to be quiet, to be fragile and small, to appease everyone and not start confrontation like a hysterical bitch, what do you expect? That suddenly, when faced with sexual assault, which has become sadly normalized and expected, they’re going to awkwardly confront the guy? Or tell somebody? There are also the issues of intense shame coupled with physical and emotional trauma that underscore why a lot of us keep quiet, and that separates this crime from all others. Sexual assault is the only crime where victim-blaming and shame very much come in to play. These women remaining in contact with Ghomeshi, even if at times flirty, does not prove they’re lying. And their inability to tell stories with consistent details and meticulous chronology, especially traumatic situations and especially while facing their assaulter and especially when they’ve had to relive their trauma a zillion times at this point and especially when it happened years ago, doesn’t either.
In the end, this case is saying “it’s okay for men to do with women’s bodies as they please” and “women lie about sexual assault,”as if these erroneous notions weren’t so devastatingly ingrained in our dominant culture already. And it’s not just concerning choking and hitting, and not just Ghomeshi. This one specific case speaks to a broader culture of male entitlement and the treatment of women in every public space all of the time, from a random guy I walk past on the street yelling what he wants to do to me to a guy legitimately doing it to me as I say “no” and struggle to push him off, and everything in between. This case is one part of an in between that sadly sets precedent for, and suggests our society’s and legal system’s reactions towards, the rest.
This is also a matter of a situation where the trial wasn’t meant to prove whether or not the assaults happened, but whether or not there is enough evidence to convict Ghomeshi. And if that is what our population is happy to consider justice, the “not guilty” flag held high and the day called, then I’m at a loss.