If you didn’t believe one woman, do you now believe nine?
Even the most ardent defenders of media darling Jian Ghomeshi — those who worshipped at the altar of his popular CBC radio cultural affairs program — have been busy this past week deleting supportive tweets and blog postings, retracting statements and, presumably, giving their heads a shake. Certainly they’re no longer expressing outrage over the public broadcaster’s termination of a high-wattage personality, or the Toronto Star’s ahead-of-the-story revelations by investigative reporter Kevin Donovan.
They have found themselves, with considerable embarrassment, on the wrong side of an extraordinary media phenomenon that has plunged the (ex) host of Qwith Jian Ghomeshi into a modern parable about the cult of celebrity, the excesses of entitlement and the consequences of sexual compulsions unplugged.
Ghomeshi’s bedroom tastes are not just kinky or “adventurous” (his description) — as related by his victims, some now attaching their names to their accusations and two now filing formal complaints with police, as the Star was first to report Friday evening.
It appears increasingly clear that the women — despite Ghomeshi’s Facebook protestations to the contrary — did not consent to being choked, slapped, struck with a closed fist, smothered, humiliated and violated.
How easy it was, before the number of alleged victims began shooting upwards, to dismiss the original complainant as hysterical, a cry-rape neurotic, the vindictive spurned lover, as Ghomeshi spun the sordid tale in direct communications with his social media audience, having avoided answering direct questions from reporters throughout this melodrama — the very thrust and parry of interview probing at which he excelled.
He hired a crisis management PR firm. It’s now dumped him. His pre-existing promotional agency bailed on Thursday.
And still the CBC, a network funded by taxpayer dollars, cowers behind privacy manifestos and human relations policy rather than answering urgent questions about what they knew — or had damn good reason to suspect — and when they knew it. Instead the CBC has outsourced the investigation, in the same way that governments appoint inquiries and commissions when scandals erupt, essentially to validate silence and buy time.
But the network clearly can’t contain this mess. Every day has brought fresh allegations, via interviews and personal blogs. Every day it becomes more apparent that the warnings about non-consensual violence had been there for quite a long time. In early April, there was a Twitter blurt — 13 tweets — sent by, it appears, a female Carleton University student, who accused Ghomeshi of luring her to his house, punching her and, she suggested, keeping videos of his violent interactions with women.
“Hi there. Remember louring me to ur house under false pretences? Bruises dont lie. Signed, every female Carleton U media grad.”
That originated from someone with the Twitter handle @BigEarsTeddy, which now triggers an aha comprehension: the teddy bear that Ghomeshi has spoken about publicly, purportedly urged upon him by a therapist, and referenced by two of the complainants, one of them quoting him as saying — before allegedly sexually assaulting her — that “Big Ears Teddy shouldn’t see this,” so he turned the stuffed bear around.
As Donovan reports today, graphic videos were presented to CBC executives — by Ghomeshi! — as a pre-emptive gambit, to save his job, an attempt to convince the stunned suits assembled that the women were willing participants and, look, bruising could occur even when the activity was consensual.
The women who’ve spoken out insist they never consented to this treatment.
Within a legal framework, consent is crucial. In practice, however, it turns into a judicial ledge from which an accused can jump into the “she-was-willing” safety net below. The standard of proof is simply too high, as victims have learned to their traumatizing dismay.
Murder defendants don’t often take the witness stand in their own defence. Doing so would subject them to aggressive cross-examination from the prosecution, questions that cannot be declined. It’s not worth the gamble, to defence lawyers. The onus for making a case always rests with the Crown, with presumption of innocence the starting line: Prove it.
Sexual assault victims don’t have the luxury of averting the ordeal. Without their testimony there is no case.
Those brave enough to make a police complaint, knowing they must submit to invasive investigation yet still courageous enough to testify, are routinely shredded, attacked on credibility, depicted as promiscuous or morning-after regretful.
Cross-examination is by definition confrontational. This is justified as getting at the truth but it’s really about blurring the truth. It’s about poking holes of doubt and then stretching them so that the entire case is rendered misshapen. He said. She said. But what he says — or doesn’t say, if the accused stays off the stand — is held to a higher standard of reliability. What she says is vehemently dismantled.
It’s not supposed to get this ugly. The judicial system has acknowledged that the process is immensely unfair and courts have tried to rectify the problem. A victim’s sexual history can no longer be broadly exploited to serve the defence’s purpose. Consent cannot be presumed and, under Canadian law, a person can’t consent when intoxicated. Yet presumed consent is the habitual disclaimer for an accused. Lawyers will go as far as the presiding judge allows and often far, too, is allowed in weighing relevance.
We saw this most disturbingly in the recent judge-alone acquittal of two Toronto doctors charged with gang sexual assault and drugging of the complainant. Without her there would have been no case. With her, there was no mercy.
In the midst of the Ghomeshi whirlwind, Chief Bill Blair said no investigation had been launched because no complainants had gone to police. Now they have. As of this writing, no charges had been laid against Ghomeshi.
Blair encouraged any woman who has endured a sexual assault to come forward. Crowns who prosecute sexual assault endlessly make the same plea.
Many women won’t go there. Their wariness is understandable.
Every historical fallacy, every outrageous stereotype, every cultural misconception is heaped upon the complainant. Sexual assault victims are de facto disbelieved. Women are characterized as crazed and vindictive.
I’ve just listened to the tape of a Q program from last March. Following several incidents of sexual assault at Canadian universities — a campus rape epidemic, some maintained — the subsequent online abuse aimed at alleged victims, Ghomeshi posed the question: “Do we really live in a so-called rape culture? Is that term accurate or is it alarmist?’’
The debate — extreme at both ends, by the two invited guests — provoked a huge response, much of it critical, not just of the guest who argued against (she blamed drinking) but also of the show for raising such a “ludicrous” premise, thereby normalizing and trivializing sexual violence.
Now we know what’s normal and apparently of trivial consequence on Planet Jian.