Those who question why the women speaking out about Jian Ghomeshi haven’t gone to the police or made their names public don’t understand one basic fact.
Women who report sexual assault are treated as guilty until proven innocent.
Some young women, like Rehtaeh Parsons, are judged guilty from the moment they speak to the police. Her case was dropped and wasn’t picked up until she committed suicide. It was only public outrage after her death that led to the investigation being reopened, despite the fact that pictures of her assault were widely shared.
Some, like me, make it past the police to Crown counsel. Some young women see charges laid. Then they are battered again and again on the witness stand, asked to justify their teenage diaries, asked why they are on anti-depressants if they aren’t crazy.
Or they are asked why they wore that outfit, or why they texted politely back after they were raped, or why they said they liked rough sex if they didn’t want to be punched in the face. Or they are accused of being a crazy bitch, a vindictive ex, a psychotic stepchild.
Even if you make it to trial, you are treated as though you are guilty of lying until proven innocent.
That’s why the not so innocent quip: “Innocent until proven guilty,” posted and tweeted by prominent individuals and many others in defense of Ghomeshi, stabs me in the heart.
When will victims of sexual assault get the same benefit of the doubt? When will we be seen as innocent of lying until proven guilty?
The person who abused me was acquitted. Does that make me a liar? Or does that mean that our system isn’t equipped to determine the truth?
I’d vote for the latter, but I know what happened.
If people truly want to see the women who reported Ghomeshi go to the police they would offer their support to them.
Instead we see story after story attacking their credibility for being afraid of the attacks already aimed at them. The man they say attacked them broke the story on his terms, but the women are treated as bullies and evil-doers for not leaving his accusations to stand unchallenged.
These women can probably see their invisible selves being tried, convicted and maligned in newsprint and across the web. Yet those attacking them say they should step forth in the flesh to do battle with the evil eye of the internet.
Shame on them for not hiring a public relations firm to tell their side of the story first. Shame on them for not exposing their lives to the court of public opinion.
How dare they go to a newspaper rather than telling their story on Facebook like Ghomeshi did? They should have gone to the police like Ghomeshi didn’t.
If the women who spoke out about Ghomeshi were to ask me whether they should come forward I would have a hard time recommending it.
I’ve gone through it.
I stood on the stand, accused of lying for speaking my truth. I watched him walk free, and I knew that because he won in a system stacked in his favour, some would feel justified labeling me a liar forever more.
These women have so much more to lose than I did, a teenager on the stand, speaking my truth about a man who didn’t have the power Ghomeshi has. My attacker’s power over me ended when I left the house, moved somewhere else, made my own life.
Ghomeshi has the money to sue any woman who speaks out, the fans to harass them, the connections to fry their young careers before they can even start.
And even if these women do come forward, even if they make it to court, even if after two years of being torn down in public, if after all that they “win,” they still lose. Because there will still always be the lingering doubt that follows any woman who dares speak out about sexual assault, whether they win, lose, or stay invisible.
I wish we lived in a country where the justice system and the court of public opinion cared as much about the rights of those telling their stories of hurt and abuse as the rights of their attackers.
But we don’t.
And until we do, those who have been sexually assaulted will rightfully fear coming forward, and rightfully fear being judged guilty until proven innocent.
Photo by Pablo Pecora, CC-licensed via Flickr.