It is almost Halloween and to celebrate the occasion I had planned to write a post about Halloween costumes gone wrong. But then something much scarier happened that demanded my attention. Tens of thousands of people across Canada, some of whom my friends and family, took up the cause of an alleged abuser of women. You all know who I’m taking about. Jian Ghomeshi, the popular CBC radio host of ‘Q’ whose employment was recently terminated amid allegations about his sex life.
Ghomeshi’s fans have voiced their support for him and their anger at CBC management for terminating his employment. They have proclaimed his innocence. They have attacked his accusers. And they have demand retribution for his firing. And with these passionate cries, they have given new life to age old rape myths.
We all know the story. Man dates woman. Man breaks up with woman. Woman is upset. She decides to seek revenge by fabricating allegations of sexual assault to ruin man’s life. Man is branded as rapist and loses job, public respect, friends etc. even though he is innocent.
“I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer….
Despite a strong connection between us it became clear to me that our on-and-off dating was unlikely to grow into a larger relationship and I ended things in the beginning of this year. She was upset by this and sent me messages indicating her disappointment that I would not commit to more, and her anger that I was seeing others.
After this, in the early spring there began a campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization against me that would lead to months of anxiety….
She found some sympathetic ears by painting herself as a victim and turned this into a campaign.”
Since this post appeared on Ghomeshi’s Facebook page Sunday evening, it has been liked by 109,082 people and shared by 41,328 people. There is even a petition at Change.org to show support for the radio host.
As a woman, I find this familiar narrative disturbing. But much more frightening to me is how quickly it has been accepted by the public without question or critical inquiry. I would hazard a guess that not many of the tens of thousands of people who have liked and shared Ghomeshi’s post have actually met him. And I would be willing to bet that not one of them knows what actually happened between Ghomeshi and his accusers.
But here is what we do know.
At this point, four women have come forward to allege sexual violence perpetrated by Ghomeshi. The allegations are serious. Three women say that Ghomeshi physically attacked them on dates without consent. They allege 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 verbally abused them during and after sex.1
The fourth woman was Ghomeshi’s co-worker at the CBC. She says that Ghomeshi groped her from behind while at work and told her “I want to hate f— you.” The woman says she reported this behavior to a union representative but no real action was taken and she left the broadcaster shortly thereafter.1
Thanks to years of research, we also know quite a lot about sexual assault. Here are some highlights.
#1 Sexual assault is terrifyingly common
Statistics show that one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime. In British Columbia, that number is almost double at 47%.2
In 2009, there were 677,000 self-reported sexual assaults in Canada.
#2 Sexual assault is very rarely reported
Studies indicate that only 6-8% of sexual assaults are reported to police.3 The numbers for “date rape” are even worse, only 1-2% of these assaults are reported to police.4 Acquaintance sexual assault is the most underreported crime in Canada.
#3 Women do not routinely fabricate allegations of sexual assault
It is a common rape myth that women lie about being sexually assaulted to get revenge, for their own benefit, or because they feel guilty afterwards about having sex. The reality is that women rarely make false reports about sexual assault. False accusations of rape happen no more often than false reports of other types of crimes: about 2-4%. This means that 96-98% of sexual assault reports are true.2
#4 Women do not report sexual assault because of how we as a society treat victims
Women choose not to report sexual assault for many reasons including re-victimization by the police and courts, low conviction rates, fear of the rapist, feelings of shame and guilt and fear of public harassment.2
More than half of the 1,609 women who responded to a poll carried out by the parenting website Mumsnet said they would not report a sexual assault because the legal system, media and society at large are unsympathetic to rape victims.5
None of the four women who have alleged violence by Ghomeshi have filed police complaints or agreed to go on the record. The reasons given include the fear that they would be sued or would be the object of internet retaliation.
Can we blame them? Last year, a woman wrote about a bad date with a Canadian radio host some believe to be Ghomeshi. In the days following the post, the woman received hundreds of abusive messages and threats. An online video that has been viewed over 397,000 times called her a “scumbag of the internet.”1
#5 Rapists are often someone we know
Sexual assault is not most often committed by strangers. In over 80% of sexual assaults, the perpetrator is someone known to the victim. In 38% of cases, the perpetrator is the woman’s husband, common-law partner or boyfriend.6
Studies of rapists show that they are not mentally ill or sexually starved, they are ordinary men. They come from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group. Similarly, women who are sexually assaulted are from every economic, ethnic, racial, age and social group.2
Sometimes, rapists are famous personalities loved by the public. Take the late BBC host Jimmy Savile as an example. It wasn’t until almost a year after his death that his victims were able to come forward. But when they did, the numbers were staggering. Savile has now been accused of sexually abusing 450 victims ranging from prepubescent girls and boys to adults.8 Or consider Australia’s Rolf Harris. It took more than 30 years before his victims were able to come forward.7 In June 2014 he was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault between 1969 and 1986 on four victims who, at the time, were between the ages of 8 and 19.9
To be absolutely clear, I am not saying Ghomeshi is guilty of the sexual violence he is accused of. I don’t know that. What I am saying is neither do we know that he is not guilty. I’m saying we the public should not allow ourselves to re-victimize a potential victim of sexual assault. We need to think critically and not jump to conclusions based on a familiar narrative that has no basis in fact.
The narrative of the jilted ex-girlfriend harms victims of violence who are abused all over again, this time by tens of thousands of people all over the world. And it harms all women, because every time a potential victim is viciously attacked on the internet the message to the rest of us, the one in four of us who will experience sexual assault, is to keep quiet.
The narrative is false. The truth is he can ruin her life, far worse than she can ruin his.
- CBC fires Ghomeshi over sex allegations: Kevin Donovan and Jesse Brown http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/10/26/cbc_fires_jian_ghomeshi_over_sex_allegations.html
- Rape Myths: VAVAW http://www.wavaw.ca/mythbusting/rape-myths/
- Statistics: VAVAW http://www.wavaw.ca/mythbusting/statistics/
- Sexual Assault Statistics in Canada http://www.sexassault.ca/statistics.htm
- 80% of women don’t report rape or sexual assault, survey claims: Martin Beckford http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9134799/Sexual-assault-survey-80-of-women-dont-report-rape-or-sexual-assault-survey-claims.html
- Sexual Assault Statistics: SACHA http://sacha.ca/fact-sheets/statistics
- Liking ‘Q’ isn’t a good enough reason to side with Jian: Justine Beach http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/justin-beach/jian-ghomeshi-fired-cbc_b_6051938.html?utm_hp_ref=tw
- Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Savile_sexual_abuse_scandal
- Rolf Harris: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolf_Harris#Charges