Ghomeshi Trial: SACHA Responds

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In 2014, when allegations of violence against women were first brought against Jian Ghomeshi, many responded with disbelief: he “sounded plausible and open,”[1] Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente admitted in her 2014 column on Ghomeshi; and as one court observer described her interest in the case in February, “All of a sudden, he was off the air and I couldn’t believe it”[2].

But as disclosures about Ghomeshi from women piled up[3], a different reflection began. It sparked important conversations in the public about the prevalence of unreported sexual assault in Canada. It also questioned the inadequacy of the criminal justice system in cases of sexual violence, and the many reasons why survivor-victims do not report —or in many cases, tell anyone at all. Survivors of sexual violence spoke out about the enormous barriers that survivor-victims face.  Advocates, including those of us at SACHA talked about how systems meant to support victims too-often disbelieved or blamed them, while offenders –and oftentimes, the violent incident itself – went unchallenged. At that time, SACHA predicted that a guilty verdict in the Ghomeshi charges would be extremely unlikely given the limits of the system, the historical nature of the cases, general misconceptions and expectations on how victims “ought to” respond to sexual violence, and the relationships that the complainants had with the accused.

Today, SACHA is not in any way surprised by the verdict of acquittal in this case.

Further, we do not see this verdict as an indication of “truth-finding” in what happened between the complainants and accused, and we urge others to pause on this reflection.

On the contrary we see, once again, the criminal justice system’s tendency to:

  • Direct all questioning to the complainant, including questioning her actions before and after the violent incident. Having a social, physical, romantic, financial or other relationship with a person does not negate or reduce the possibility of violence within that relationship. If anything, a relationship is more likely to silence victims into compliance or self-doubt.
  • Invisibilize the accused’s side of the story entirely, giving the impression that he maintained a consistent narrative throughout − when in fact our system is structured so that he is never even asked to present one at all.
  • See that “cases are more likely to be prosecuted if the victim is White and less often when the victim belongs to a racial minority group”; and also more likely to be prosecuted when the accused is a person of colour[4].
  • Make invisible the victims’ acts of resistance in the midst of what they experienced. Every day, survivors of violence continue to interact with those that have harmed them. Realistic reasons include: not wanting to cause problems; being uncertain about whether the incident was in fact violence; hoping the relationship will improve; feeling responsible for improving the relationship; having an emotional attachment to the accused; wishing to maintain other relationships connected to the offender; or seeking explanation for the violent behavior.

SACHA wishes to note that the witnesses in this case did express resistance to their experiences with the accused: for example, they came forward and shared their stories upon hearing other similar allegations; they sought support and connection with other women who shared this experience; and they formally reported to the police in October 2014 when then-Police Chief Bill Blair urged women to do so. We recognize these significant actions as meaningful in the face of violence – even though this court case clearly did not do so – and commend all survivors for their own responses.

In response to the Ghomeshi verdict, SACHA also reaches out to those affected by sexual violence in Ontario. 

If something has happened to you, there are people who will believe and support you.

You can talk to a trusted friend, family member, or contact our sexual assault centre support line.  If you are considering reporting, we can help you think through your options.  If you are not considering reporting, that’s okay too.  All calls are free and confidential.  We are here to listen 24 hours a day – 905.525.4162.

If you are a friend or family member of someone who is dealing with sexual violence, there are things you can do too.

You can be an ally to the person who is victimized, instead of the accused. You can listen to the person’s story without judgement, scrutiny or expectations that they formally report.  You can them to find safe places to seek additional support, if needed, too. You too can call SACHA’s Support Line – 905.525.4162.

SACHA recognizes the impact of sexual violence in our community.  We believe that education and information goes a long way toward the prevention of violence.  Together, we will make a difference.

[1] Wente, M. October 28, 2014. Ghomeshi-gate: a bad day for everyone – The Globe and Mail. Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/ghomeshi-gate-a-bad-day-for-everyone/article21331661/

[2] Toronto Star. February 1, 2016. Why they came to the Ghomeshi trial | Toronto Star. Online: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/02/01/why-they-came-to-the-ghomeshi-trial.html

[3] Eight women in total informally shared their experiences with The Toronto Star (for a summary, see: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/10/29/jian_ghomeshi_8_women_accuse_former_cbc_host_of_violence_sexual_abuse_or_harassment.html ). Three chose to report to the police.

[4] Patterson, D. 2011. The Impact of Detectives’ Manner of Questioning on Rape Victims’ Disclosure. Violence Against Women, 17(11) 1349–1373: 1370.

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