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Op-Ed: Ghomeshi, rape, and the lesson learned

In the days since Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty and spared a sentence of life in prison, feminists and rape survivors have expressed vitriolic outrage that argued the verdict was a gross injustice. They know six out of every 100 rapes goes unreported; they announce the fact only 2-4 percent of rape accusations are proven false, and have used those statistics to condemn a verdict that makes total sense.

It was written that Judge William Horkins’ decision, “reads like a how-to manual for blaming and shaming those who say they have been victims of sex assault.” Horkins’ ruling was accused of relying on, “outdated stereotypes about how victims ‘should’ behave.” In the Winnipeg Free Press, Jen Zoretti wrote, “Here was a trial and attendant media coverage that focused, yet again, on the actions of the women who had come forward — raising questions about who, exactly, was on trial.”

The job of a defense attorney is to find cracks in the Crown’s, or prosecution’s, case. They don’t need to prove their client’s guilt or innocence; they are only tasked to show the judge and/or jury that witness testimony, forensics and all other evidence presented by the prosecution is flawed. Unfortunately, an accuser’s history is often presented to show unreliability, and that tactic is completely logical.

If a person is accused of theft, and his accuser is proved to have been dishonest and fraudulent in the past, that history will be used to cast doubt that the accuser is to be believed. If a woman falsely accused a man of rape in the past, or threatened former lovers and partners with charges of rape after bad breakups, those instances will be used to cast doubt on the honesty of the accuser; it doesn’t mean the woman wasn’t raped after the false accusation, it only means her past shows unreliability.

This is not rape apologism; it is simply how the justice system works. The Crown put forth a poor case that was not good enough to put Jian Ghomeshi behind bars.

The three accusers gave inconsistent testimony that exposed enough doubt for the judge to rule for an acquittal. Lucy DeCouture told police of further contact with Ghomeshi just a day before she took the stand, and didn’t mention in the scores of media and police interviews she took part in that Ghomeshi kissed her without her consent. Another accuser named L.R recounted the presence of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle that she claimed made Ghomeshi look like a “nice guy,” and showed how “charming” he was, which the court proved was incorrect considering Ghomeshi purchased the car seven months after the event supposedly took place. The same accuser also sent Ghomeshi a picture of her in a bikini that contradicted her statement that the former CBC star traumatized her.

The arguably inaccurate statements and testimony of the accusers was explained by feminists as not a proof of dishonesty, but as other examples as to how rape victims react to their assaults in different ways. Feminists argue rape victims shouldn’t be expected to cut their rapist out of their lives. Their rapist could be a co-worker or a family member, and any attempt to avoid contact with the person who assaulted them could make the rape worse. Women have had promiscuous sex after being raped, with various different partners; another continued to date her rapist when she was 16, and in an infographic posted on The Nib, one victim revealed she made breakfast for her rapist after the assault. To many people who have not been victimized by rape, these stories seem inconceivable. If a guy steals your car, it would be incredibly odd to ask him to house-sit. If a person beat you because you are gay, it would seem weird to invite that person to your house party a week later. That is why the judge disbelieved the accusers.

The concept of continuing to have a relationship with your rapist is baffling; that’s not to say women who confess to those weird reactions are lying, it means the Crown, and prosecution must bring witnesses to explain these behaviors. The Crown was not prepared to hit back at the defence’s questions of reliability, making the case an episode of he said, she said. No psychologists were called to explain why women act weirdly after being raped; no rape victims who behaved oddly after their assaults were called to the stand. The jury and, in this case, the judge must be informed of these behaviors, and why rape victims act the way they do. This is not rape culture; it’s a poor presentation of a case.

Dozens of men and women have come forward to say Ghomeshi was physical with them, and sexually assaulted by him, after the accusations hit the press. One former CBC employee, who worked with Ghomeshi on Q, came forward with accusations that he groped her behind and said he wanted to, “hate f*ck her.” After the verdict was rendered, actress Zoe Kazan recalled a story where Ghomeshi acted like a creep towards her; which added even more suspicion to how Ghomeshi treats women, so it is reasonable to believe he has violated women, but we don’t convict on accusations and rumors despite the quantity of accusations.

The court of public opinion loves to cast guilty verdicts on anyone charged with a crime. They don’t bother to study the evidence, the case or educate themselves on how the legal system works. They learn a person has been accused of a heinous crime and insist the accused is guilty. That shouldn’t be how the world works. It is one thing to believe the accusers, but it’s another thing to believe you are a moral arbiter who knows exactly whether a person committed a crime without being in that courtroom and being inside the criminal justice system.

The system obviously needs to be improved. Rape victims should trust law enforcement to support them and put their attackers in jail; and we must not take rare cases of false accusations to paint a broad brush to claim every single rape accusation is made up. The Ghomeshi case is a lesson in how we should treat accusations, and why we should make the system friendlier towards rape victims. The system is not perfect; it can grant criminals freedom while jailing the innocent and shaming rape victims, but what Canada has now is a system that grants the pure and the evil the same rights of due process and evidence based interrogation. To argue for the alternative is to argue for the evisceration of everything we hold close to our hearts.

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