Starting with the obvious: Jian Ghomeshi is a man. Those he allegedly* assaulted and harassed are women. The crux of this matter is yet another example of male violence against women. Though this story may seem exceptional, in reality it has many commonalities with other men’s attacks on women.
(*The use of the word allegedly is not to imply we do not believe the women who spoke with the Toronto Star but to protect us from a potential lawsuit that will drain our limited resources in legal defence instead of using them to support women victims of male violence.)
Jian Ghomeshi is a man with high social status; the women whom he allegedly* attacked were his much younger fans. His social position gave him access to these women. As a class, men have more social, economic, and political power than women as a class. Individual men have more power than the individual women they attack. Many of the women who call our crisis line are battered women who were attacked by their husbands, daughters who were attacked by their fathers, female employees who were attacked by their male superiors, or prostituted women who were attacked by their pimps and johns.
At least four women have revealed their alleged* experiences of Ghomeshi’s sexism. Sexist men who attack women almost always do it repetitively. They either attack the same victim again or they will attack other women. All men have a choice, but those who choose to be violent towards women will rarely stop on their own.
Through his lawyer, Ghomeshi said he “does not engage in non-consensual role play or sex”. In his public statement on Facebook, he wrote that he has “done nothing wrong”.
When (seldom) challenged for their assault on women, the attackers will often say “I didn’t do it” or “She made me do it” (this outrageous argument is even made by men who kill their female partners). When it comes to rape and sexual assault, the most common defence is “She wanted it” or “It was consensual.”
In our work at the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter we have rarely encountered a case of a man admitting he is guilty. In the rare cases men do, it is usually a strategic move after realizing Crown counsel holds unquestionable evidence (often a video record of the rape made by the rapist himself no less).
It is harder to cry consent and discredit the victims when more than one woman comes forward accusing the same man of an attack on her. Ghomeshi claims an ex-girlfriend is spreading lies about him and orchestrating a campaign with other women to “smear” him. In reality, if the women were indeed in touch with each other, it is extremely unlikely they did it to coordinate a manipulative revenge plan and much more likely to support and encourage each other to take on the hard mission of disclosing being attacked by a prominent man.
Women call our crisis line seeking help in escaping and resisting men’s violence. When they connect with us and with other women in our rape crisis centre, our transition house, and our support group they are encouraged and reinforced in their efforts to warn and protect other women, to stop the violent man and to hold him accountable.
Three women interviewed by the Star alleged* that Ghomeshi physically attacked them on dates without consent. They told the paper he 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.
The reasons the women gave for not coming forward publicly included the fear that they would be sued or would be the object of Internet retaliation and that their consent or acceptance of fantasy role-play discussions with Ghomeshi would be used against them as evidence of consent to the unwanted violence. Unfortunately, they are not far off. However, the more public support they will receive the more likely they are to come forward and to speak the truth about their experiences in their own names.
It is too soon to predict the impact of this case in the long run, however; it seems that now more than ever the public discourse reveals an understanding of the idea and the meaning of genuine consent. This is a hard won achievement for the women’s movement that is now not only reflected in our laws and Supreme Court decisions but also in the opinions and beliefs of much of the Canadian public. We can only hope that this growing understanding will translate to a greater commitment to women’s rights and control of our bodies as a crucial step towards women’s equality.