The Ghomeshi Scandal: Prompting an Important Discussion on Sexual Assault

Jian Ghomeshi was fired from CBC on October 26, 2014 after CBC received evidence that he had caused physical injury to a woman. In response, Ghomeshi filed a $55 million lawsuit alleging defamation and breach of confidence against his former employer. He also submitted a union grievance alleging wrongful dismissal and defamation. Many legal experts dismissed his suit as an impossible case to win, and instead attributed it to a PR maneuver. As a unionized bargaining unit employee, Ghomeshi cannot sue in court for wrongful dismissal.

Ghomeshi released a statement on Facebook following his dismissal: “Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks. They many be strange, enticing, weird, normal or outright offensive to others. We all have our secret life.” He has admitted to having a proclivity for rough sex, but insisted that all his encounters with the women were consensual.

Since the termination, nine women, most anonymously, have spoken to media outlets about their encounters with Ghomeshi. Until recently, no grievances were filed, and no charges were laid. Many did not speak about their encounters with Ghomeshi until they learned they were not alone. The first to be publicly identified was Lucy DeCoutere. She shared her story with The Star, where she details Ghomeshi choking her “to the point she could not breathe” and slapping her “hard three times on the side of her head.” DeCoutere told newspapers she felt it was “time for someone to speak publicly about the matter.”

A day later, Reva Seth wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled “Why I can’t remain silent about what Jian did to me”. She is the second accuser to publicly identify herself. She details her encounter with Ghomeshi and the violent incident that changed their relationship.

The Toronto Police have since launched a criminal investigation into the allegations against Ghomeshi. Social media suggests there were complaints about Ghomeshi dating back to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. At that time, Ghomeshi, who minored in women’s studies, was running for student president at York University. He campaigned and promised, once elected, to battle sexism on campus. He was perceived as one of York University’s most visible advocates for feminism, all the while he had a revolving door of women.

Although none of the allegations have been proven in court, the Ghomeshi scandal has prompted an important conversation about sexual assault. Since the news broke, Canadian women have begun to talk more openly about sexual assault. The taboo that surrounds it has been breached in an unprecedented manner by the increasing amount of support on social media for women who dared to speak out. If you cannot talk about it, you cannot change it. Antonia Zerbisias, retired Toronto Star reporter, and her Montreal friend Sue Montgomery, a justice reporter from The Gazette, tweeted #beenrapedneverreported, in response to the public backlash against the women who came forward with allegations against Ghomeshi.

The tweet has since gone viral, with tens of millions of tweets, retweets and replies. Many women don’t come forward about sexual assault because they fear they will be blamed and not believed, but in the last few weeks that has changed. Many women are coming forward, sharing their stories and receiving considerable virtual support. The Ghomeshi case is definitely one worth watching. As the facts unfold, we may very well see an important change in the statistics surrounding sexual assault and sexual intimidation in the workplace.

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