We Failed Domestic Violence Victims- Preemptive Strategies and Losing (or Finding) Jian Ghomeshi

(***TRIGGER WARNING***: Several links here and throughout this post refer to descriptions of violence that may be triggering for survivors.  My previous entry, prior to the revelations of additional claims and Lucy DeCoutere and Reva Seth’s coming forward, is here).

(UPDATE #2 (10/31): The digital age is ripe to be exploited for misinformation, but this case now appears to provide a compelling case for how one ripple in the digital world can lead to the disclosure we wish for but do not often volunteer. A detailed story published by the Toronto Star indicates that Ghomeshi may have inadvertently sped up the investigation on himself by reacting in paranoia to the Twitter account, Big Ears Teddy, which only posted tweets from April 9-11. An official investigation is finally underway).

(UPDATE #1 (10/31): Apologies that I missed this item before submitting this, but Navigator has dropped Jian Ghomeshi as a client).

If you only click on and read one link in this entire post, make it this one. This summarizes the tremendous frustration about the terrible events that make the story right now.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (while packing and preparing for #collegemedia14), I did something of which I’m not sure I’m horribly ashamed, but of which I certainly know I’m anything but proud.

I went on a Jian Ghomeshi listening/watching binge (and no, I’m not linking any of it).

I listened to the podcast of his last Q episode from start-to-finish. I listened to several interviews of him from his book tour of 2012. I listened to bunch of his “audio essays.” I listened to some of his best & in some cases (Howie Mandel) poignant interviews as a radio host. And I listened, in a state of surreal shock, to his Gamergate interviews—in which women detailed to him the horrors of cyberstalking and death threats they were experiencing—which were conducted only ten days ago.

I think, somehow, I knew— as Robyn Urback wrote today— the dam was about to break. And I theorized in conversations that there was any number of reasons why I found myself compelled to go on my listening binge before it did. Those reasons including:

— The natural temptation to see if there was any clues in the public persona that had been staring us in the face all along. Oh sure, he was smarmy…but how many smarmy media personalities are there out there? Are they all this horrible?
— Similarly listening for the clues in his book tour interviews: the descriptions of a life as an outsider due to Persian background and the seemingly strong connection to his recently deceased father. How could someone who claimed to work so hard to make his dad proud be something so much different?
— The surreal feeling of listening to a person’s last known photograph. Somehow the public Jian Ghomeshi feels…not so much like he was never real. But like he was killed by the private Jian Ghomeshi. And that man took his time doing it. And he physically abused and emotionally scarred possibly countless women- real, very real, very non-fictitious people- along the way.
— The cruel fate that his last two episodes would encompass Gamergate conversations, the Ottawa shootings and the subjects of depression and suicide with Clint Malarchuk. (Malarchuk, not knowing what was to unfold, tweeted this afterwards).

And finally, listening to a historical archive of a man being a voice of reason for the nation…and slowly realizing something dark and sinister. And something that, quite frankly as someone who advises student journalists and radio hosts for a living, is downright haunting:

If Jian Ghomeshi the radio host was a different person than Jian Ghomeshi today, he’d be the first person most of Canada would have turned to for commentary on this story.

Not any of the women. Not any of the women who knew the women. Not any of the friends that tried to provide shelter to the women. You can very easily surmise the first voice on the matter on a Monday morning would have been Jian’s, ever so calmly starting with his signature “Hi there,” ostensibly presenting his “word of radio god.”

And even just that one realization tells you right there: we failed. We failed the women of Canada, the women of the world. We keep failing, and I’m right there with all of us.

———-

One of my students wrote a powerful story for The Signal earlier this semester on why sexual assaults go underreported and that story doesn’t lead all that differently from this one that I linked above, the most important story of all. My students’ story was accompanied by a staff editorial, which was well-intentioned and, quite frankly, strongly reasoned.

But still, more often than not, we do not report. Oftentimes, it’s up to the good journalists, it’s up to the Toronto Star muckrakers we’ve seen in action, to wrangle up as much as earthly possible in a story to uncover the truth. Why? As “Melissa” from Nothing From Winnipeg wrote: “Do you know about Jian?” That’s why.

Those horrible feelings that something is not right, with enough people feeling the same thing all around you, with enough people whispering terrible things but somehow no one ever really being able to point to the person that can corroborate it in a way that everyone can know… even though…they know. I don’t have any close friends near the situation, but many have moved to various places across Canada and have heard from those who know about Jian. Some of them bit their lip because they felt it might not be ever possible to prove.

When the dam bursts, it becomes impossible to deny. Oh sure, we still have not an ounce more of physical evidence than we had on Monday when many of us tried to hold our feelings on the matter at bay. But now we have people putting names to their accusations. Now we have people offering vivid descriptions. Now we have a conspiracy theory of Ghoeshi’s (lawyers’) imagination so vast that moon landing conspiracy theorists would state “I’m sorry, that’s a stretch.”

But why do we have to let the dam reach the breaking point? Why do so many assaults go unreported (or underreported)? Why did it take not one assault by Ghomeshi to merit a journalistic investigation but a virtual plethora of them? Much of it stems from how we take our the principle of the presumption of innocence to a rather twisted end.

—–

I described Ghomeshi’s approach in his Facebook statement as a “a multi-pronged reduction of offensiveness approach: bolstering (reminding everyone of his work as a ‘good (CBC) solider’), minimization (‘we’re not talking about assault, we’re talking about consensual BDSM’) and attacking the accuser (insinuating this is the “campaign” of ‘jilted ex-lover’).

But others were much more to the point and accurate: his team was trying to pull a David Letterman. Furthermore, It was only logical that this was the only aim because winning the accompanying lawsuit was swiftly judged as pragmatically impossible.

We’ve logically come to a very quick conclusion about the Letterman strategy: it failed. There are two reasons for this.

The minimization effect worked for Letterman because the blackmail attempt was a much easier story to believe. The most Ghomeshi could hope for was that the accusations towards him would remain as vague as they did on Monday so that his conspiracy theory could hold water. That didn’t even remain a reality for 24 hours. By Wednesday morning, the accusations were so varied, descriptive, and from differing social circles with no real compelling interest to defame Ghomeshi seeming obvious. On the other hand, Letterman’s story was easy to believe right away and thus his infidelities were immediately minimized against what was perceived as a greater crime, that of trying to blackmail him.

Second, Letterman’s story stopped unfolding. He didn’t just get ahead of it. He stopped it. There was no danger of Letterman being arrested. His infidelity may have been reprehensible but it posed no danger of arrest nor did any suggestions it would lead to assault take hold. Letterman was deemed by some to be “merely” reprehensible, Ghomeshi is now understood to be dangerous.

And that second difference is why we’re all kicking ourselves now. The law indicates Ghomeshi is “innocent until proven guilty” and we carry that so far so as to not even begin or demand a police investigation now after this many allegations. In the police’s case, possibly out of respect of victims’ fears of vengeance of a perpetrator before a sentence can be laid out. In the public’s case, because of a false equivalency between a rush to investigate and a rush to judgement.

I write all of this not to pin blame on a specific person other than Jian Ghomeshi. Any assaults committed by him, however many they be, are his responsibility and his to be punished for. But that doesn’t mean that we as a collective haven’t failed. Because Ghomeshi’s story hasn’t stopped, more come forward. Yet still we do not do enough. We try to walk the delicate line of respecting victims, respecting the justice system but yearning to take assault allegations seriously, despite the overwhelming evidence we collectively don’t.

And after everything I’ve written, I have few solutions. Here’s two starting points, though:

– You don’t have to believe every single rape or assault allegation you hear. But you should never disbelieve it until it can be soundly disproven. The mythological “pot of gold” that a false rape accuser gets still eludes us all- the sensible ones of all, that is. Hateful, sexist dialog towards accusers of people you want to stick up for is inexcusable, no matter how good of a friend, ally or figure that might be. The consequences of stigmatizing an accuser, no matter how frivulous a charge may seem, is far greater than the consequences of giving an accusation a chance to be investigated.

– Here are some resources. Get familiar:

http://www.cwhn.ca/
http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence
http://www.nrcdv.org/
http://www.dvrc-or.org/
http://www.thehotline.org/
http://www.ncadv.org/

——

One last thought,

Jian Ghomeshi said something in one of those many “Q essays” (again, not linking it) and it seems like he was oblivious to it. “Journalism is not a crime.” We tell our students, “you the student are subject to the same journalism that you practice on the students you write about.” Perhaps there are people who think they are media figures think they get immunity. They don’t.

After all of this, it remains as true, and in as dark of terms as possible, as when I first wrote it: something very sad has happened. Not just at CBC, but across Canada.

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