Press release: In 2014, when allegations of violence against women were first brought against Jian Ghomeshi, many responded with disbelief: he “sounded plausible and open,” Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente admitted in her 2014 column on Ghomeshi; and as one court observer described her interest in the case in February, “All of a sudden, he was off the air and I couldn’t believe it.”
But as disclosures about Ghomeshi from women piled up, a different reflection began. It sparked important conversations in the public about the prevalence of unreported sexual assault in Canada. It also questioned the inadequacy of the criminal justice system in cases of sexual violence, and the many reasons why survivor-victims do not report —or in many cases, tell anyone at all. For example:
- Most reports of sexual assault do not lead to charges, let alone convictions. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults in Canada, it’s estimated that 997 assailants walk free: 33 are reported to the police, just 29 are recorded as a crime; 12 see charges laid; 6 are prosecuted and just 3 lead to conviction.
- The majority of sexual assault offenders are in fact known to the victim in some way.
- Acquaintances, friends and dates are more likely to use verbal pressure, negative consequences, threats to relationships or victim-blaming rhetoric (i.e. “You know you wanted this”; “If you tell about what happened here, you will be in trouble”) during episodes of sexual coercion. This inevitably impacts upon a victim’s ability to resist or report what happened – or in many cases, even name it as violence.
Survivors of sexual violence spoke out about the limitations of the criminal justice system and the enormous barriers that survivor-victims face. Advocates talked about how systems meant to support victims too-often disbelieved or blamed them, while offenders – and oftentimes, the violent incident itself – went unchallenged. At that time, we predicted that a guilty verdict in the Ghomeshi charges would be extremely unlikely given the limits of the system, the historical nature of the cases, general misconceptions and expectations on how victims “ought to” respond to sexual violence, and the relationships that the complainants had with the accused.
Today, we are not in any way surprised by the verdict of not guilty in this case.
Further, we do not see this verdict as an indication of “truth-finding” in what happened between the complainants and accused, and we urge others to pause on this reflection.