War of Words: Jian Ghomeshi and the case for reporting sexual assaults

War of Words: Jian Ghomeshi and the case for reporting sexual assaults

Ghomeshi controversy belongs in court, not in public opinion

This article is part of a written editorial debate published in the November 4, 2014 print edition of The Other Press. The second opinion piece, written by Angela Espinoza, can be found here

Sexual assault is no laughing matter, and perpetrators of this crime ought to be punished.

The accusations against ex-CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi are quite compelling, and the specifics of each allegation make clear that Ghomeshi was not as careful as he had claimed about consent. What bothers me is, if he actually did the things he is being accused of, why wasn’t he labelled a sex offender years ago?

Sexual assault is a heinous crime, which has no place in our society, and these victims have done a disservice by not reporting it to the police. If the allegations against Ghomeshi are indeed true, the proper place for him isn’t behind a microphone—it’s behind bars.

It honestly baffles me that so many women, nine thus far, have kept this quiet for so long. The number of sexual assault victims did not have to be this high. Nine women and not a single one of them initiated the involvement of law enforcement. In a period that spans 12 years (the Toronto Star is reporting that the earliest of these victims was attacked in 2002), Ghomeshi has been free to assault women, when realistically one complaint to the police could have potentially deterred his criminal behaviour or, better yet, landed him in prison.

Instead, all of these women have bypassed our criminal justice system, keeping quiet about the alleged assaults they have suffered. Only now, as things are coming to light, are they coming forward with their stories.

The desire to bypass the criminal justice system is evident in the case of one victim in 2013, in which the unidentified woman indicated to Ghomeshi via email that she might “go public” with her story. Whatever “go public” means, there does not appear to be a record of police involvement. There was, however, a now-infamous XOJane article written by Carla Ciccone about a creep believed to be Ghomeshi.

While the accusers have been successful at embarrassing Ghomeshi, the victims here fail to realize that men in these kinds of situations tend to bounce back from scandals such as these. Al Gore is still one of the most respected voices for climate change in the world; Semyon Varlamov still plays goal for the Colorado Avalanche; and Woody Allen is still an admired filmmaker. Ghomeshi will likely follow suit, probably after he writes another bestselling book.

I understand the apprehension some women have in reporting sexual assaults to police, but nothing will change if they unilaterally decide to not report the crime. Had it been reported earlier, some of these victims might have been spared the indignity of their own episodes with Ghomeshi.

Society, but in particular our criminal justice system, requires a better understanding of sexual assault. Obviously the way in which Canadian law prosecutes this crime is unjust to its victims. The general public also needs to be a bit more sympathetic and understanding to sexual assault victims and drop the whole “she had it coming” rubbish.

A public relations war will only go so far, and Ghomeshi’s initial Facebook statement was purely an attempt for him to get out in front of the story. He’s only going to keep defending himself and those who choose to support his version of events will continue to staunchly defend him. Ghomeshi is going to play the same public relations game his accusers have launched, and while it isn’t fair, he’s probably going to come out on top.

Feature Image: Jian Ghomeshi reads from his recently-released memoir in 2012.
Credit: Julep67 (Flickr)

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