The closing arguments in the trial of Jian Ghomeshi will be presented tomorrow in Toronto. Then, of course, comes sentencing. This will finally bring to an end a tempest that has been raging in the CBC teapot for more than a year. Ghomeshi has been accused of sexual assaults on multiple women, involving biting, hitting, choking, and smothering – none of it consensual. The hip, sexy host of the CBC’s Q began by brushing it all off as harmless kink, then fell largely silent as the accusations mounted. Woman after woman – more than twenty of them – came forward, detailing shockingly violent encounters going back as far as 1988. It seems that Ghomeshi was also emotionally cruel, and abused his clout in the Canadian entertainment industry to charm his way into his victims’ lives and use them to feed his appetite for power and rough sex.
After months of speculation and rumour, he was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. The trial began February 1, and involves three plaintiffs. One of them, former Trailer Park Boys actress Lucy DeCoutere, has allowed her name to be publicized. The other two have chosen to remain anonymous. One would think that this trial would be fairly straightforward, and end in a victory dance for women everywhere. In addition to the three formal accusers, there is a long line of alleged victims (many of whom appear to be articulate, intelligent and successful) giving detailed accounts of physical and sexual assaults. Public opinion turned against Ghomeshi months ago, and it’s fair to say that he has been stripped of everything that ever made him cool or glamorous or desirable. The trial, however, has been the opposite of straightforward.
The three plaintiffs have changed their stories in both inconsequential and signficant ways. Evidence of collusion has surfaced, to the tune of thousands of messages exchanged between them. This is sloppy, but – in some ways – understandable. I have a spotty memory at best. I sometimes forget entire conversations. And I really don’t blame these women for reaching out to each other. It’s bad enough to be a victim of violence. It’s salt in that wound to feel alone with your fear and sorrow. I can overlook, also, the gleeful texts and emails about Ghomeshi finally being punished for his crimes. When someone treats you like garbage – which is what he did, by all accounts – you want that person to pay. It would have been better if these things had not been a factor, but we are all only human. The one thing I can’t understand or support, however, is the way they behaved with him after these unfortunate incidents. DeCoutere sent him an affectionate six-page letter just days after he beat and choked her. There were emails between them as well. One of the unnamed complainants went so far as to send Ghomeshi a photo of herself in a red bikini after he yanked her hair hard and punched her without warning. When asked about this strange behaviour, she claimed that her bikini pic was “bait” – she wanted to catch his attention, she said, so she could ask him why he hurt her. There is anecdotal and photographic evidence that she also continued to see Ghomeshi.
What Ghomeshi did is wrong. More than wrong, it is disgusting and horrifying. He deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law. I’m glad these women came forward to say what they went through and confront him across a courtroom. But they’ve undermined their character and testimony severely by their behaviour. By being friendly with him – and even continuing to see him romantically – they are saying two things. 1) What he did to them is not a big deal – not even enough to quell the urge to flirt with him, in fact. 2) They were willing to risk a second assault.
I can hear the arguments already. Yes, there are women who are trapped in abusive situations. They can’t leave, often for financial reasons – especially if they have dependent children. Sometimes, it’s cultural, and they simply lack the option – there is nowhere safe for them to go, and no one will help them. This is not the case with either of the three plaintiffs, so let’s put that notion to rest right now. These women had education, money and lives independent of Ghomeshi. He was not the husband who owns the accounts and house and car, and controls their comings and goings. He was the epitome of a bad date – and they willingly, knowingly exposed themselves to more if he chose to dish it out.
As I said earlier, Ghomeshi should be punished – he should never again have the freedom to harm anyone. The plaintiffs (all of his victims, in fact) should have our sympathy, and any comfort or help we can offer. But how can they convince the justice system, and the general public, that what happened to them is serious if they did not appear to take it seriously themselves?
In the early days after Ghomeshi’s nasty side came to light, there was social media outrage. People confronted heavy issues like the meaning of consent, victim-blaming and how to change the justice system so that women who have been sexually assaulted feel confident coming forward and pushing for recognition and retribution. Alot of good things came out of these conversations. We were reminded that “no” means no, not maybe or later or I’m-just-playing-hard-to-get. We got angry because questions of what a woman was wearing, who she flirted with, how much she had to drink, how many men she’s slept with in the past are irrelevant when it comes to the crime of sexual assault. It doesn’t matter if I left my unzipped wallet in the middle of my driveway with a neon sign pointing to it, you have no right to steal it. We have burned that into our consciousness. We’ve asked hard questions about how a sexual assault – particularly an old one – can be proven, and how much women should have to go through to provide that proof. And there was a long line of people (mainly women) digitally tearing Ghomeshi limb-from-limb. In the wake of this trial, in which the plaintiffs arrived unorganized and filled with excuses and poorly concealed questionable actions, the lady lynch mob has nearly fallen silent. Maybe it’s lack of interest, now that the media hoopla has all been going on for a year. Maybe they’ve moved on to bigger issues, because there are many – particularly for the female half of the population.
I suspect, though, that the quiet has more to do with disappointment. This scandal and trial were supposed to change things – this was supposed to be a turning point, featuring strong, solid, angry plaintiffs who would demand justice and not back down. Instead, we have the courtroom equivalent of children arriving breathlessly in front of their parents to tattle, backtracking, changing their stories, flinging accusations and excuses around to the point where no one can untangle the knots and find the truth. Jian Ghomeshi may very well be acquitted because of this behaviour. This is shameful, because he doesn’t pass anyone’s smell test. Due to their own lack of diligence and credibility, though, neither do his victims.