It’s been a difficult week. Not the kind when I’ve had a bad night’s sleep, or have a lot of work to get done. Rather, it’s the kind of week where I feel as if someone has kicked the air out of my lungs and I can’t seem to catch my breath. The kind of week where it’s like I’ve been stomped down to the ground and am unable to regain my footing. A week where I feel like no one can hear my voice, no matter how hard I scream.
Last Thursday morning, I sat nervously at my laptop. Like so many others, I waited for the verdict for the Ghomeshi case to be announced. The verdict went the way I knew it would: Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on all charges of sexual assault. Justice William Horkins deemed the three complainants “uncredible” and ruled that guilt could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As I read the verdict in real-time, I was taken aback by the judge’s harsh analysis of the trial. I can’t imagine how the three women must have felt as they listened to Horkin’s reading of the verdict. It was gut-wrenching.
As I read the ruling, I started to shake. My response was a physical manifestation of an anger that I’ve carried inside me for a long time. An anger borne of an oppressive system where women are taught to silence their voices and say sorry for things that are not their fault.
I’m angry that Horkins believes we need to be “vigilant” in the fight against false claims of sexual assault, when in actual fact, we should be vigilant in our efforts to make more supportive spaces for survivors to come forward. Spaces where we honour survivors’ truths, rather than participate in rape culture by tearing down their experiences and memories.
I’m angry that a discussion of consent was not present throughout the trial, as it should have been. Instead of examining whether or not the women’s interactions with Ghomeshi were consensual, the court was more fascinated with bikini pictures and intimate notes. We need to change our problematic assumptions about who can be victims.
I’m angry that the three complainants were dragged through the mud during this entire process, with the intimate details of their lives strewn into the public for judgment.
I’m angry that the women were criticized for communicating with each other about their experiences with Ghomeshi. Heaven forbid survivors seek support from other survivors, or express their frustration with a justice system that constantly fails them.
I’m angry that survivors will feel even more reluctant to report sexual violence as a result of the trial.
I’m angry that the ruling has re-traumatized women-identified, trans, queer, and two-spirit people, causing them to withdraw from social media in order to practice self-care. We don’t deserve this.
And yet, I saw the overwhelming support for survivors through all of this. On the day of the verdict, my Twitter feed was filled with messages of #IBelieveSurvivors and #WeBelieveSurvivors. I saw image upon image of people holding up signs with these hashtags to show their support to survivors. Community organizations offered their services to survivors and shared their resources for self-care. This support made the day a little less unbearable.
In an effort to contribute to productive discussions about sexual violence and rape culture, I want to share a few of the resources I’ve found helpful as I try to make sense of everything that has transpired. Some of them speak to the legal system’s failure in addressing sexual violence, while others focus on survivors’ experiences and self-care.
We may be reeling from the outcomes of the trial, but trust me, we are not done yet.
Not even close.
A Post-Ghomeshi Reading List
- Lucy DeCoutere on the Ghomeshi disaster, Sarah Boesveld. Chatelaine, March 24, 2016.
This was the first article I read after the trial’s verdict was announced. Lucy opens up about her experiences of being a witness in the trial. It’s a difficult but important read for everyone.
- Ghomeshi trial: Everything wrong with sexual assault law, Brenda Cossman. Chatelaine, March 24, 2016.
A professor of Law and Director of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto, Cossman articulates the shortcomings of sexual assault laws, and the messiness of intimate-partner violence.
- This Isn’t About The Ghomeshi Case, Lauren Dobson-Hughes. March 25, 2016.
Lauren’s piece is one of the best accounts I’ve read about women’s anger and frustration with the broken legal system.
- A post-Ghomeshi guide for reporting your sexual assault, Paula Todd. National Post, March 25, 2016.
Paula’s article raises an important question: is what you do after experiencing sexual violence always more important than the violence itself?
- Use the Right Words: Media Reporting on Sexual Violence in Canada, femifesto and collaborators.
I can’t stress how important this resource is when reporting on sexual violence. The guide uses a framework that doesn’t shame survivors or blame them for the assaults. It contains helpful resources for journalists, as well as infographics and statistics about sexual violence. It’s a resource we can all learn from because it raises awareness about the ways in which language can contribute to rape culture.
- Five Ways to Support Sexual Violence Survivors During the Jian Ghomeshi Trial, Farrah Khan. February 1, 2016.
With Ghomeshi’s second trial slated for June, there will continue to be problematic discussions about sexual violence, ones that may be triggering for survivors. Farrah shares 5 ways we can support survivors during this time.
- Healthy Relationship Checklist, SACHA.
SACHA (Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton) provides a great list of resources on its website including this checklist for safe and healthy relationships.
- #SurvivorLoveLetter, Tumblr.
A place where survivors of sexual violence share letters they’ve written to themselves and other survivors. On days when I need a little extra strength and love, I come here.
Photo by Mayur Gala.