Let’s talk about prominent Canadian women rushing to Jian Ghomeshi’s defense

Prominent Canadian women showing little empathy for sexual assault victims.We may never know what happened in each of the alleged incidents between Jian Ghomeshi and his growing number of accusers, but the disturbing undercurrent of misogyny still alive and well in Canada is plain to see. It doesn’t live behind closed doors, or in the recesses of the minds of a few individuals. This week, it was on display for the world, in mainstream media and from the mouths (or typing fingers) of our leaders.

See, this week, a few prominent Canadian women felt it necessary to take to social media to voice their support for a man just accused of sexually assaulting and physically battering several women.

First, consider what Green Party leader Elizabeth May tweeted out Sunday after reading Ghomeshi’s infamous Facebook plea:

“I think Jian is wonderful. Likely TMI for an old fogey like me, but his private life is none of our beeswax.”

May deleted her tweet in the ensuing backlash and issued a formal statement, in which she attempted to justify her earlier comments. “Too many women over too many years have been disbelieved and blamed.  In saying, as I will continue to say, that anyone in our society is entitled to the presumption of innocence, I am not in any way disbelieving the women who state they were assaulted. I cannot know who is telling the truth here and no one can,” she wrote.

Now, I have a lot of respect for Elizabeth May as an accomplished writer and a political leader, but that just makes this all the more disheartening. Anne Thériault explains the flawed logic in May’s non-apology and the arguments of other Ghomeshi apologists far better than I can in her Vice column, Jian Ghomeshi, Sexual Violence, and the Presumption of Innocence.

Next up, we saw former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps rush to defend Ghomeshi on Monday. Why?

Perhaps Copps hadn’t noticed that while the women now bringing forward disturbingly similar accounts of sexual and physical assault at the hands of the influential CBC star were still cowering in fear and living out their torment in silence, Ghomeshi had hired top gun PR and legal firms to launch a pre-emptive strike ahead of the news breaking. Does he need the first woman to give birth while in Canadian office to leap to his rescue on Twitter?

Oh, but she did, and in stunning form.

Sheila Copps on Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault accusations

The Twitterverse reacted immediately, chastising Copps for what could initially have been apologized away as an insensitive or poorly thought out tweet.

Copps wasn’t going to retract the sentiment, though – this is how she actually feels. Jian Ghomeshi, in her mind, is a victim of the court of public opinion.

Sheila Copps on due process in Jian Ghomeshi case

You would think that a sobering tweet from Glen Canning, father of the tragically deceased Rehtaeh Parsons, might have inspired Copps to pause and rethink her position.

Rehtaeh Parsons father to Sheila Copps

But no, twenty minutes later, Copps again displayed a complete and utter lack of understanding or empathy for sexual assault victims with this:

Sheila Copps on consensual acts in Jian Ghomeshi case

It continued on this way for some time, with Copps sharing pearls of wisdom including, “Trial by media is hardly due process,” “But if someone is fired based on their alleged bedroom behaviour, shouldn’t there be some sort of due process?” and “Crimes should be brought to justice, not to The Current.”

That’s right. Sheila Copps, trailblazing Liberal woman, women’s rights advocate and the author of the autobiographical Nobody’s Baby seems incapable of grasping the fact that due process and justice for victims of sex crimes in Canada aren’t quite as simple as telling the police about the Bad Man.

I tweeted Copps this column by former Crown prosecutor Sandy Garossino, who very adeptly explains the myriad of reasons women don’t report sexual assault to police. She shares a laundry list of reasons reporting sex crimes usually ends badly for the victim, succinctly summing up the various obstacles for sexual assault victims with this explanation of the type of women who doesn’t report it: “Any woman with a past. Any woman with a future she doesn’t want derailed by the stress of reporting. In short, the kind of woman who doesn’t report a sexual attack is almost any normal rational woman.”

Copps didn’t respond. If she read it and had a change of heart, she’s yet to acknowledge any understanding of the effect her outspoken pro-Jian position has on women in Canada.

We like to pretend we’ve made great strides in equality up here in Canadaland; that sexism is a part of our history, or is at least a despicable and dying tendency exhibited by only an uncultured few.

Yet this week, I observed a prominent media figure who coincidentally gave a keynote at a conference I attended this summer tweet a joke about Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual prowess to his 63,000 followers (he’s since removed it and apologized). And then there was this, courtesy of the National Post from the brand new editor of The Walrus, Jonathan Kay:

Editor Jon Kay on National Post column on Jian Ghomeshi

Even in their initial expose, in which freelancer Jesse Brown and the Toronto Star do the world a service by shining a spotlight on accusations about sexual assault and abuse that have gone unchecked for far too many years, the authors took care to mention that the victims were “educated and employed” women. If they were unemployed, would they be less believable? Does a woman with higher education somehow ‘ask for it’ to a lesser degree than her uneducated counterpart?

Sexism and its ugly cousin misogyny are alive and well. When we’re forced to talk about it – when a prominent man is accused of habitually and over a period of more than a decade assaulting several women – we see the full extent to which it still rears its ugly head. When our female leaders leap to the defense of the man and somehow fail to comprehend the message that sends all victims of all sex crimes, we have to recognize how little we’ve evolved and how much work is yet to be done.

What compelled May and Copps to publicly air their support in the first place? If they’re close personal friends, one would think a phone call or email might have been an appropriate way to express their warm fuzzies for Ghomeshi, a man who has not been charged but has been accused of heinous acts of violence against several women.

We’re having the wrong conversation and it’s being led by people who should bloody well know better.

This isn’t about Jian Ghomeshi’s accomplished career, or a jilted ex, or a bit of rough sex gone too far, or whether the women might have been too suggestive.

This has become about the floodgates that open when one or two women feel safe enough to tell their story to someone, be it the media or the police.

It’s about an incredibly personal, intimate crime that happens to a woman in Canada every 17 minutes going unreported 90% of the time.

It’s about 98% of the sexual assault charges laid being charges for the least severe form of assault, despite the physical injury of 62% of sexual assault victims.

It’s about those few brave victims who decide to run the gauntlet going under the microscope and in front of the firing squad of the on and offline public because what we pass off as ‘justice’ for the victims would be laughable if it weren’t so goddamned tragic.

I’m glad May, Copps and others took their Ghomeshi well wishes and praise to Twitter, though.

This notion that a woman who has endured a sexual assault must then subject herself to a lengthy process of repeating every salacious detail for police officers, lawyers, and a judge or jury (if it gets that far) in order to “get justice” is antiquated and offensive. What lawmakers and the general public perceive as justice for sexual assault victims is actually quite often months or years of having her life peeled apart, layer by layer, with every aspect of her personal and professional existence the subject of scrutiny and judgment by law enforcement, the criminal justice system, media (unless a publication ban is in effect) and now, social media.

She must endure this repeated and prolonged victimization so her abuser may be ordered to serve a whole two years in jail, the average sentence for sexual assault convictions.

That’s the conversation we need to be having.

We need to talk about the kind of real change that will empower sexual assault victims to come forward, and a brand of justice that is actually just. We need to talk about how we’re going to be fair to all parties in an age where the accused can have a pricey PR firm fire an indictment of the accuser(s) off to a few million people in social media before the news is even out – and influential, powerful people will tip the scales further against victims by singing his praises.

As prominent Canadians, policymakers and self-proclaimed women’s advocates or feminists, this is the conversation Elizabeth May and Sheila Copps could be leading.

You can reach Miranda with comments on Twitter.

Comments

  1. joanne bacon says

    hi there. you hit the nail on the head. i have worked in child sexual abuse and VAW for almost 30 years and it so heartens me to read your article. you are so right about changing the conversation – but there is a dynamic here that not many people are talking about that is very common in CSA and that is that one can still love the offender and be a victim. It is confusing. JG is so right on in so many areas of equity and social justice. That can still be true and he can also be a manipulative assaultive bastard. That is the tricky stuff. Aside from the socially constructed and socialized responses there is the psychodymamic denial that kicks in when we like or admire someone. This makes it extraordinarily complex for people who are assaulted as well and needs to be part of the conversation. The ‘monster’ rhetoric does not help. Kids who are sexually abused rarely see their abusers as monsters as they may be a loving dad in other respects. the black adn white thinking in this issue is not really that helpful but is the default. we move to demonize as that is how our psyches can cope. because really we don’t want to see the capability in ourselves or our loved ones. it is extremely complex – and we have to remember that JG is not the only abuser and assaulter in that CBC building. Instead of calling for more victims to come forward why didn’t CBC put out a call for other offenders on their payroll to come forward and talk about their offending behaviour – – I think that is really fucked up. I so appreciate your writing about this. Gives me hope.

  2. DJ McMahon says

    I have a question regarding why do you think the woman who started this went to a journalist to get it out in the open instead of proper authorities? I’ve read your paper, and totally agree with the battle of stigma and the spotlight shone into their lives, but my question regards the difference of going this route as to actually reporting it as a crime to the police? Are they not being or going to be dissected by this as this ordeal goes on? Doesn’t the police or judicial system have in place a practice that can or will keep their identities safe or hold a media ban to help with this issue? I and a few others are just confused with why one would go and do it this way (dealing with a media connection, ie journalist) if they are concerned with being anonymous and still be able to find some form of proper justice.
    I totally admit that I am either misunderstanding something, missing a connection or not knowing some vital information in regards to this issue.
    I would like to know your take on it, or at least be enlightened by anything you would know.

  3. Miranda says

    Hi DJ,

    Good question – I can’t answer for any of the women, but I can share a bit of perspective on it.

    I wrote this in part because I think it would be more constructive for the leaders of this country to have that conversation – let’s talk about why women don’t go to police. Let’s talk about why over 60% of sexual assaults involve physical harm, yet a whopping 98% of charges laid are for the least severe form of assault. Let’s talk about why the average sentence for sexual assault, if the perpetrator is convicted, is just two years.

    This is a great column from one of the victims, Reva Seth, who explains why she didn’t come forward to police when it happened: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/reva-seth/reva-seth-jian-ghomeshi_b_6077296.html

    Basically, a lot of women feel it’s pointless to do so. The risks are huge – alienation in your work and personal lives, being under a microscope, having to face the abuser at the risk of no one believing you anyway. And for all of that, the punishments for abusers and people who perpetrate violent sexual crimes are abysmal.

    The legal system unfortunately doesn’t do a great job of protecting victims. There was a case in BC a few years ago where a young woman had a publication ban on her case and on a day she had to give graphic and very personal testimony, a class from her high school came and sat in her courtroom on a field trip. You also have to consider that publication bans don’t extend to people sending each other text messages, or private forums, or any of the other places hurtful gossip and personal attacks about the victim may be happening.

    So why don’t women report it to police? Because the justice system doesn’t feel very just for victims of sexual assault. That’s my two cents.

    I’m hoping our female politicians will start seriously talking about how this can change but so far, they seem to have largely ignored this.

  4. JH in YWG says

    And don’t forget Judy Rebick, Noted Feminist (and, of course, frequent Q panelist) who posted the Jonathan Kay article to her Facebook page and then non-pologized and deleted it.

  5. DJ McMahon says

    Thank you for the connection. I’ve read it, and it has helped with the sad understanding of the “why” to my question. I’ve shared it via FB with regards to have others see it .

    Thank you for your feedback!

  6. Jo On says

    Good Stuff all the way around.

    Copps, May and Rebick have Embarassed themselves. They re quiet on twit/face right now and probably have post-it notes stuck on their tech and foreheads that say… Never Ever jump the gun and defend anybody on social media again Til You Are Absolutely 100% Sure! But They Were Sure At the time!
    TheseLadies like so many that ran to GoMess’ Defense did it because he was An Ultra Charming, Star Power Status, Clever, Con Artist Predator. People that get conned always say the guy/gal was soooo nice soooo honest. Even when they Face them in court!! That’s why they’re Con Artists!

    Hopefully Copps and May will come around and use their initial actions to demonstrate just how susceptible we all are to these Predators.
    Yes our justice system sucks on sexual assault. The penalties are laughable! How do we fix This??

    Fascinating to me was that GoMess’ team thought any of their strategy to meet this head on would work. Twit/face allowed the public to eventually see the truth. People are not stupid and soon see just What passes the Smell test and what Stinks!
    If you read the past days of twit/face you will feel good about how smart the public is. We All got smarter and wiser as the days went on.

    The Timing too was Unique. Some very Anti Canadian violence had occurred stealing lives. We were feeling Very Patriotic! And then GoMess started. At first Yeah many defended our patriotic cbc symbol…
    Then his Violence was laid bare. Right Now We are an Angry bunch made more Angry and Go Mess is our whipping boy!
    Ladies Be Careful and stick up for each other and Men be Gentlemen .

  7. Marjorie says

    Another perspective. Possibly Jian Ghomeshi and the women involved were ALL victims of sexual abuse as children. Thus, someone turned Jian’s teddy bear around when he was a child. We need to hold compassion and forgiveness in our heart space instead of verdicts of words.

  8. Jay says

    Christo, you are incorrect about Margaret Atwood. Atwood tweeted to Ghomeshi two days before he was fired (check the time stamp of the tweet you posted, dated October 24), after it was announced that he was taking a leave of absence and the death of his father was rumoured to be the reason. Since the announcement of his firing from CBC, she has signed a petition in support of the women who have come forward as victims of Ghomeshi. It’s pretty clear that since he was fired, Atwood has not supported him. It’s unfortunate that you are misinformed and continue to spread false information.

  9. Chloe Persephone says

    Sheila Copps was not defending Jian Gomeshi. She was defending EVERYONE”S basic right to legal” Due Process” ! This is a completely distorted spin here!

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