When we automatically doubt women who allege they are victims of sexual assault, we are sending out the wrong message to victims of sexual abuse. With the high rates of unreported sexual assaults, it is necessary that we take all allegations seriously, even when a high-profile public figure is the accused. Jian Ghomeshi was fired from his position at CBC at the host of Q after CBC obtained information that “precludes’’ them from continuing a relationship with Ghomeshi. Following this, Ghomeshi released a Facebook statement detailing his version of the events. He claims that an ex-girlfriend is pursuing him on false allegations and that while he has engaged in violent sex, it has always been consensual.
Lucy DeCoutere, a Canadian actress, Reva Smith, a Toronto lawyer and author and Jim Hounslow, a former York student, have revealed their identities, while the other six victims prefer to remain anonymous.
There are critics of the women’s chosen anonymity. This is completely ludicrous. We should not be blaming the victims. On a closer look, Ghomeshi’s status contains obvious traces of misogyny. Ghomeshi says, “She found some sympathetic ears by painting herself as a victim and turned this into a campaign.” When women or men, go public on alleged sexual violence, we should always show support for them unless evidence proves otherwise.
An article written by Nathalie Petrowski in La Presse makes reference to a blog written by Carla Ciccone in 2013 about her experience with Ghomeshi. Using fake names, she describes her date-gone-wrong with Ghomeshi. He allegedly tried to touch her the whole night. She felt uncomfortable and continuously pushed him away. On multiple occasions in the post, Ciccone says how despite how uncomfortable she was, she found it difficult toexcusing herself without embarrassing him, jeopardizing her chances in Canadian media and generally feeling that she had to lie to get out of a comfortable and predatory situation instead of voicing her discomfort.
The high rates of unreported sexual assaults have no chance of improving if women blame themselves for what has happened. These women should never have had to think that what Ghomeshi did to them was in any way their fault. They should never have been taught to feel that it was better to not discuss the matter and to move on. Instead of being so black and white, going from adoring Ghomeshi to hating him, we as a society need to examine the gender stereotypes that are deep at the root of this problems. By reinforcing these stereotypes, we are allowing violence. We need to stop teaching girls and boys and that there is an inherent difference in character between them, because there isn’t.
The way we as a society choose to deal with the situation could heavily impact reports on sexual abuse in Canada. The question of why many of these women have chosen to remain anonymous is problematic. Some seem to feel that it undermines their credibility. However, by bringing attention to their anonymity, we are blaming the victims. Their decision to remain anonymous is personal and the validity of their statements should not be questioned because of it. We should send out the message that it is safe for them to speak out against Ghomeshi if they feel they were assaulted. They should not fear backlash.
As this situation has shown, women will be criticized no matter when or how they come forward about sexual assault and their reluctance to do so is a clear indication of how wrongly sexual assault is handled. It would be wise to ask the women why they were hesitant to come forward about Ghomeshi instead of making assumptions about their decision to do so. It seems that no one has taken into consideration the way that women have been taught and socialised to be polite and passive, whereas men are taught to be aggressive and strong.
Ghomeshi was allegedly violent towards at least nine women. Carol Off interviewed one woman for CBC’s As It Happens who states that Ghomeshi brought her home, pushed her to the floor and fist-pounded her in the head multiple times. According to the Toronto Star, most of these women completed the sexual act Ghomeshi wanted of them, even though they felt uncomfortable. Some told him they felt this way; others did not. However, until this week, none of them went public. Many of them believed that there was no point because Ghomeshi was too big of a star. Some of them, such as the anonymous source interviewed by the CBC, saw Ghomeshi again. This woman says she blamed herself, thinking that she had been out of the dating world for too long.
When Ghomeshi was fired, none of these women had come out with their stories yet. Ghomeshi’s Facebook status was initially quite successful in bringing Canadians on his side. I myself remember thinking that it was unfair for the CBC to fire him when no one had even reported him to the police (the Toronto Police Service is now investigating the case). Ghomeshi’s Sunday Facebook post received more than 105,000 likes and was shared more than 38,000 times. In the following days, allegations of sexual abuse began to pour in. Very quickly, social media has shifted in regards to Ghomeshi. While incoming information will inevitably have an effect on public opinion, the importance of respecting a potential victim’s statement should always be kept in mind.
It might be difficult to accept that a figure you once respected or enjoyed listening to is now facing an increasing number of sexual assault allegations. It is even more difficult for the women who allegedly went through it and were able to come forward about it. Regardless of whether the allegations turn out to be true or not, we should support these women.