Jian Ghomeshi and the anonymous women: What’s next?

Update, Oct. 29: I have just heard Carol Off’s interview on CBC with a woman who said she was attacked by Jian Ghomeshi. I found it completely convincing because Carol Off asked all the questions that needed answering. I have not one shadow of a doubt that this woman’s account is true. I also really, really wish she had reported it to the police. And so does she. And, just one more thing, I wish her nurse friend had encouraged her to go to the police too.


Many people are outraged when I tell them that Jian Ghomeshi’s accusers lose credibility with me because of their failure to report his alleged assaults to the police. How dare you say such a stupid thing, they say. You support rape culture. Or, if they’re kind, they just face palm.

“Why didn’t they report it?” has become the new “Why didn’t they just leave?”

Please don’t tell me how hard it is to report a sexual assault. I get it. I’ve been following this issue for 40 years. And when you go on and on about how difficult it is, you’re ignoring decades of progress. You’re acting as if nothing can ever change. And you’re discouraging other women from coming forward. So, yes, when I hear a woman didn’t report an alleged sexual assault, I do wonder why.

Now please take note again, and understand that that does not mean I’m accusing this non-reporting woman of being a liar. But it does mean I have some questions for her.

In the Jian Ghomeshi case, the answers the Star provided from the three women who said they were violently assaulted, did not answer those questions. The Star stated:

None of the women filed police complaints and none agreed to go on the record. The reasons given for not coming forward publicly include the fear that they would be sued or would be the object of Internet retaliation. (A woman who wrote an account of an encounter with a Canadian radio host believed to be Ghomeshi was subjected to vicious Internet attacks by online readers who said they were supporters of the host.)

Here’s the problem. The women are more likely to have their identities revealed and be sued by having gone to the press instead of the police. If charges had been laid, their names would have been protected by a publication ban and anyone breaking the ban would have been subject to criminal prosecution. For some reason, this  was not mentioned in the Star.

Nor was the fact that the vicious internet attacks sparked by the woman who wrote about her date-gone-wrong with Ghomeshi were equal opportunity. Anyone who reads comment threads can go see for themselves that Ghomeshi was vilified right alongside the writer.

It also deserves to be said that the Carla Ciccone article — a blind item published in 2013 and designed to generate buzz — was probably where this current mess began. It brought the talk about Ghomeshi out onto the internet in a way it never had been before. It’s why people were speculating before his Facebook post went up that this was going to be a sexual story.

To come back, however, to the specific allegations of violent assault made in the Star article, I find them shocking and disturbing. But I also find it shocking and disturbing that, for the accused, there is really no way to defend himself against this type of anonymous accusation in a trial by media.

Of the four accounts given by the women to the Star, the one I actually found the least credible was the story of sexual harassment at work.

The woman said she complained about Ghomeshi’s behaviour to her union representative, who took the complaint to a Q producer. As the woman recalls, the producer asked her “what she could do to make this a less toxic workplace” for herself. No further action was taken by the CBC, and the woman left the broadcaster shortly thereafter.

As a former employee of the CBC (a very long time ago), it just defies belief that the union rep would blow something like this off and that the Q producer wouldn’t know it was a ticking time bomb. And why was there no complaint to HR? (Yesterday, both the CBC and its main union said they had never received a formal complaint against Ghomeshi.) Where were the sympathetic women colleagues? This is, after all, the CBC we’re talking about not the NFL. Given that the Star says it had several detailed interviews with this woman, how did these questions not come up?

I know that by now some of you readers are very angry at me for putting the alleged victims on trial and being part of the whole rape culture apparatus. So once again, I get it. I know that, in a criminal action, even if the accusers are highly credible, they would be up against a defendant who, as an immensely talented broadcaster, knows exactly how to tell his story. It could very well end up a “he says, she says” case with a jury unable to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

I have no solution to propose to that problem just like I have no solution to the problem of murderers who walk on a technicality or the inhumane delays in getting cases to trials. I don’t, however, much like your solution where due process is thrown out the window, we accept that women never ever lie about sexual assault, and we forget about that whole right to face your accusers thing.

Speaking of which, in his Facebook post, Ghomeshi made a comment that hasn’t really been picked up on. “The ex has even tried to contact me to say that she now wishes to refute any of these categorically untrue allegations,” he wrote.

Given that his statement was highly strategic and very well planned, I can’t help but wonder if hearing from the ex won’t be the next instalment in this awful story. The internet outrage machine will soon be ready for its next stoking once the election news has died down.

Jian Ghomeshi, Me and Sex and Scandal at the CBC

Update, Oct. 29: I have just heard Carol Off’s interview on CBC with a woman who said she was attacked by Jian Ghomeshi. I found it completely convincing because Carol Off asked all the questions that needed answering. I have not one shadow of a doubt that this woman’s account is true. I also really, really wish she had reported it to the police. And so does she. And, just one more thing, I wish her nurse friend had encouraged her to go to the police too.


 

My first full-time job was as a researcher at CBC radio, ex-home of Jian Ghomeshi. Not long after I started a call came through from the ex-wife of the host of the show. She demanded I find her ex-husband and put him on the line. He hadn’t paid child support — or so she said. I placed the call on hold and turned to one of the more senior researchers for advice. “Get used to it,” she told me.


Updated below after the Star’s report on sexual assault allegations

Read: Jian Ghomeshi and the anonymous women: What’s next?


This was the pre-voicemail era so we got a lot of calls. Along with the ex-wife, there was the ex-girlfriend, the new girlfriend, the landlord and more. I dined out on the tales. I also learned Barbara Frum had leukaemia, a very different type of secret, but a ‘Corporation’ secret none the less. There were lots of them.

Peter Gzowski — or affable old Peter Golly Gee Whiz as my late mother used to call him   — was, cough cough, exceedingly difficult to work with, a fact that was kept carefully hidden from the public to whom he was supposed to be an avuncular Canadian hero. It’s true, he could be as nice as in real life as he was on the air when he wanted to, but almost exclusively to members of his inner circle or Mordecai Richler, another notorious grump. To suck up to Mordecai, who was coming in for an interview, Peter once ordered a bottle of Scotch to be purchased and presented to him just before they began their chat. Once the “on air” button lit up, they were the best of buddies. The rest of us were still nobodies delivering the expensive whiskey.

There are many other CBC scandals that I learned about in my six very educational years there. Some of them did  end up in the headlines, like Peter Mansbridge and Wendy Mesley splitting up and Cynthia Dale taking the latter’s place. Others, far more juicy, remained strictly for the consumption of insiders unless revealed by Frank magazine.

Earlier this year, when I attended a dinner party with some of my colleagues from the old days, I told them how much I loved Jian Ghomeshi for his amazing interviews and ability to get people to talk while asking the tough questions. They told me what a pompous ass he was. I said that I didn’t care. T’was ever so. The talent is almost always two faced. It’s the nature of the beast.

What I do care about, however, is the smears of people who malign others on the internet. There but for the grace of God go you and I and everyone else. If what Jian Ghomeshi says is accurate he is being punished for his kinky sex life amid a societal hysteria about what constitutes sexual consent. It’s McCarthyism meets lack of due process at a corporation where one of the stars cheated on his dying wife with…

No, I didn’t just say that, because I don’t believe that anyone’s personal life should be put all over the internet unless those in question choose to overshare it themselves, which Jian Ghomeshi absolutely did not — until he was forced.

Update October 27The Star has published its article on some of the sexual assault allegations made against Ghomeshi. It starts by noting that the the three young women who made them are all about 20 years younger than him. They were fans who met Ghomeshi at public events that he had promoted on CBC radio and who he contacted through Facebook for dates.

The age gap bothers me, because of what it says about the power dynamics.

The three women allege Ghomeshi “struck them with a closed fist or open hand; bit them; choked them until they almost passed out; covered their nose and mouth so that they had difficulty breathing and that they were verbally abused during and after sex.”

This is clearly grounds for going to the police but none of the women did so or was willing to go on the record using their names. The Star says “the reasons given for not coming forward publicly include the fear that they would be sued or would be the object of Internet retaliation. (A woman who wrote an account of an encounter with a Canadian radio host believed to be Ghomeshi was subjected to vicious Internet attacks by online readers who said they were supporters of the host.)”

I understand these fears. I’m scared of being sued and becoming the object of an internet hate campaign, but it would never stop me from reporting a violent sexual assault.

When asked by the Star why they hadn’t contacted the police, “the women cited several reasons including fears that a police report would expose their names and worries that their consent or acceptance of fantasy role-play discussions in text or other messages with Ghomeshi would be used against them as evidence of consent to actual violence.”

Sexual assault charges are covered by an automatic publication ban which prevents the victim from being named. Those who break a publication ban face criminal charges.

The content of the texts and messages is indeed central to the question of what happened.

The Star also reported on an incident of alleged sexual harassment at work, a woman who says Ghomeshi “approached her from behind and cupped her rear end in the Q studio, and that he quietly told her at a story meeting that he wanted to ‘hate f—‘ her.”

The woman said she complained about Ghomeshi’s behaviour to her union representative, who took the complaint to a Q producer. As the woman recalls, the producer asked her “what she could do to make this a less toxic workplace” for herself. No further action was taken by the CBC, and the woman left the broadcaster shortly thereafter.

I find these allegations quite incredible. As someone who worked at the CBC for years, the whole scenario simply does not ring true in any way. Why was the union rep not contacted by the Star or the producer ? Why was there no HR complaint? This is the CBC we’re talking about not the freaking NFL.

As for the Carla Ciccone article, which is cited repeatedly as proof of Ghomeshi’s skeeviness, even though it never names him as the man in the article, well, being a bad date isn’t criminal. And yes, the author did get lots of hateful blowback for the article, but so did Ghomeshi.

The charges that the women interviewed by the Star have made against Ghomeshi are serious ones for the police and a court of law. The fact that the women didn’t go to the police weakens their case in my eyes. And, yes, I know what you’re going to tell me about rape culture, but due process is due process.

My years on this earth have taught me that there are abusive men and women scorned, and hell hath no fury. I’m aware there are many contradictory studies about the rate of false accusations in sexual assault cases. After reading much on this topic, I have concluded that the rate of false reports is probably in the 3-5% area. Unlike some people, I can’t just brush this off.

I don’t know what the truth about the Jian Ghomeshi situation is. I suspect over the next few days we’ll find out a lot more and, at the end, we still won’t know, but that won’t stop an awful lot of people from being absolutely convinced that they do indeed know the truth about what happened.

What I believe in is due process and the right to face one’s accusers. And if those accusers make potentially career and life-destroying accusations, but won’t go to the police, they do not deserve to be granted anonymity unquestioningly.