MACNAIR: Ghomeshi scandal unites women against sexual violence

When CBC radio broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi posted his nowinfamous 1,586-word statement of defence on his Facebook page two weeks ago, the court of public opinion initially ruled in his favour.

Fans of his show rallied behind the embattled star, defending his stated sexual preferences for "rough sex" and accepting of the "jilted" ex-girlfriend story.

Even when the Toronto Star ran a followup article indicating a long investigation into allegations from three different anonymous sources that seemed to indicate Ghomeshi had engaged in violent, nonconsensual acts, many stood on the side of the 47-year-old Torontonian.

In the week that followed, however, as more women came forward, including actress Lucy DeCoutere and lawyer Reva Seth, public opinion did an aboutface. Those women who had expressed skepticism in the beginning were now expressing feelings of anger and shame about not believing the allegations when they first emerged.

Two weeks after the shocking revelations came to light, the reputation of Jian Ghomeshi is in tatters and his credibility non-existent. But what’s amazing about this story is that something bigger than Ghomeshi has grown from this scandal.

Last Thursday, Toronto Star writer Antonia Zerbisias and Montreal Gazette reporter Sue Montgomery were sharing their own stories about being raped in their youth and never telling anybody about the incidents. The two decided to create a Twitter hashtag, #BeenRapedNeverReported, to let other women share their stories.

The outpouring of online confessions that followed are at once shocking and inspirational, as women all over the world took to Twitter to share stories about being raped but choosing not to report the incidents to police.

Many women cited fear of reprisals, their reputation and a concern nobody would believe them. Others just wanted to forget or pretend it didn’t happen because reliving the memory was too horrible.

The alleged victims of Ghomeshi indicated similar fears, which is why few would come forward with their real names. The tragedy of sexual abuse is amplified when victims fear reporting attacks because they think nobody will believe them.

Part of the problem may be found in our attitudes about women. A viral video posted on YouTube last week shows a woman walking around New York City for 10 hours in which she’s propositioned, approached and solicited more than 100 times from male strangers.

The disturbing part isn’t just the video but the reaction afterward. People commenting on social media indicated many of the things said to the woman were friendly and courteous, while others said the men were merely complimenting on her attractive appearance. Others were more direct: her tight-fitting shirt was an invitation to harassment.

The truth is that those pretenses of friendliness on the street are transparent invitations to sex. It’s little different from the allegations Ghomeshi cyberstalked complete strangers he found to be attractive through social media. The only advantage for the CBC star is that he could use his celebrity to lure unsuspecting women.

The Canadian organization Women Against Violence Against Women estimates only eight per cent of sexual assaults are reported to the police. Half of victims who didn’t report the assault cited the belief it wasn’t important enough or it was a personal matter that didn’t concern the police.

Victims tend to place the blame inwardly, feeling guilty for certain actions that may have led up to the assault, or decisions such as drinking alcohol, that impaired judgment. They feel responsible for their own rape.

What #BeenRapedNeverReported tells us is that there are thousands, if not millions of women with these same feelings of selfloathing. It’s important that we, as their friends, neighbours, family members and parents, let them know that it’s not their fault. That we won’t tolerate sexual abuse in our society. That we won’t make excuses.

Jian Ghomeshi may fade from the spotlight but there are more sexual predators out there. We need to let women know we will believe them when they find one.

Adrian MacNair is a staff reporter with the Now.

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