OPPOSE IT: The verdict proves rape culture is still alive and well
By Laura Scheck
According to Statistics Canada’s crime victimization survey from 2004, approximately 460,000 Canadian women were sexually assaulted in 2004. Out of all of those incidences, only about 3.3 percent were reported to the police and only 0.3 percent led to a conviction.
With a stat like this in mind, it’s not surprising that Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on Thursday of all counts of sexual assault. Since 2014, many people have been anxiously awaiting the results of Ghomeshi’s trial, with the hope that finally, a public demonstration supporting survivors would prevail.
As we have witnessed over the course of the trial, this did not come to fruition. Instead, Ghomeshi’s trial has been wrought with victim-blaming and the three complainants have been raked over the coals by Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein.
One particularly awful aspect of the Ghomeshi trial was the implication that continuing contact with an abuser means giving consent in every situation. Ghomeshi’s defense counsel produced a pair of emails sent by the first complainant a year after she was allegedly assaulted by Ghomeshi. Though the email correspondences do, indeed, contradict her previous statements claiming she cut off contact with Ghomeshi, they do not invalidate her claims.
There are a multitude of reasons why a survivor may stay in contact with an abuser, that do not imply wanting to continue a relationship, including to confront them about their abuse. Manipulative abusers can make a person feel insecure and as though this kind of violence, being attached to sex, is somehow intimacy. In the eyes of the court, however, this inconsistency in the story added to invalidating her testimony entirely.
The legal system in Canada is ill-equipped to deal with sexual assault cases. The verdict is skewed in favour of the defendant, who is not required to testify, and what can be considered ‘evidence’ is incredibly limited. Often there is little to no proof to support a survivor’s story beyond their testimony, as it can take years to come forward. Even if done quickly, however, there is often no tangible evidence to demonstrate a person was sexually assaulted.
This needs to change. With a miniscule number of sexual assaults continually reported, something is clearly wrong. We need to properly educate people on the topic of consent, as approximately 67 percent of Canadians cannot identify the legal definition of ‘consent,’ according to a study by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We must also continue working towards fostering a culture that believes survivors; this doesn’t mean never questioning complainants, but rather listening to their stories instead of dismissing them or claiming they were somehow ‘asking for it.’
I want to remind people that sexual assault is not a just a ‘women’s issue,’ and virtually nobody makes false claims to get attention. All people can be subject to sexual violence, and all deserve to be treated with dignity. All people deserve to be believed.
SUPPORT IT: The verdict respects the rules of our justice system
By Tatum Miller
Every person has the right, according to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.” If we unequivocally believe survivors, we risk violating the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence.
In response to the Ghomeshi ruling, numerous groups have rose up in protest. One such Facebook event, “Believe Survivors: Rally & March in Protest of the Ghomeshi Verdict,” hosted by Looking Out Ottawa, states: “we cannot allow the courts to determine the validity of our experiences.”
This statement is deeply troubling. In his ruling, Judge Horkins asserted that we must avoid the “dangerous false assumption that sexual assault complainants are always truthful.” The keyword here is always. I agree that, most of the time, complainants are truthful. However, this simply cannot be the case for all. Some people will lie, or bend the truth to suit their needs. This is human nature in all court cases, sexual assault included.
It is a wonderful idea to immediately believe survivors. It would make it much easier for survivors to press charges. However, a testimony does not imply truth, and it should not be considered hard evidence. We must trust our judicial system to arrive at the truth following a fair trial, after which justice shall be served.
This is not a defense of Ghomeshi. This is not a defense of the survivors in this case. This is a defense of our justice system.
It is apparent that Ghomeshi’s alleged acts were misogynistic and wrong. Judge Horkins’ ruling did not state that Ghomeshi’s acts clearly never happened. The simple fact was that Ghomeshi’s criminal guilt could not be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt” because of a lack of evidence, and issues of credibility from the complainants, whose testimonies were the sole basis of the case.
Sexual assault is an issue that is difficult to deal with, due to the personal nature of the acts involved. Occasionally, there is more to the story than simply the offense itself. This holds true for both sides; the accused and the accusers.
Do not listen to the politicians, pandering for votes with their tweets of #IBelieveSurvivors. Recently, Tom Mulcair tweeted just this. As a trained lawyer, he should know better than to propagate an idea that violates our legal principles.
Perhaps the way our society handles sexual assault cases should be reviewed. It is a topic of sensitive nature, that puts much stress on the survivors. But the solution is not to sidestep our legal system in favour of one based on testimony as hard evidence.
We must stand with our survivors while they overcome the trauma of their experiences. However, we must not immediately accept their testimonies as unquestionable truth. This would fundamentally violate the core of our legal system, and the presumption of innocence.