Author: annie trussler – contributor
There stands an unfortunate theme recurrent in sexual assault trials: regardless of the amount of evidence presented, the validity of eye witnesses, even admittances of guilt, the question always remains, “how can we make this horrendous inhumanity the victim’s fault?” The focus is inevitably shifted from the heinous crime, even when the perpetrator has admitted to partaking in the activity, to the woman. “What did she wear? Who was she with? What did she say after the fact?” Suddenly, the sexual assault is no longer the crime committed, but instead, the offence becomes the victim’s activities, intentions, appearance, or anything that could alleviate guilt from the offender.
This is not a new motif of judicial work. This is evident in slut-shaming, this is evident in the Facebook comments of “but, what did she have on?” Victim-blaming is hardwired into society’s design; any large-scale, media-drawing sexual assault trial begs the same meaningless, irrelevant questions, as noted above. Jian Ghomeshi is hardly the first sensationalized assault case, nor will he be the last, but his lawyer, his legal team, his claims all follow the same, repetitive, toxic rhetoric.
Ghomeshi, having been accused of twenty-three separate counts of sexual assault, and his lawyer Marie Henein, has once again employed this seemingly foolproof method of diverting blame from the violent offender to the victims who are brave enough to speak out. Rather than the critical analysis being directed toward Ghomeshi’s actions, emails sent after the crime are being dissected. Ghomeshi’s sexual offenses become irrelevant, and Lucy DeCoutere, who had been violently choked and slapped without her consent, is doubted, invalidated, and discredited. The crime here is not an email exchange. The crime here is not conversation. The crime here is sexual assault. The crime is violent, non-consensual, sexual activity.
DeCoutere is not the only victim to speak out against Ghomeshi. Others recall similar occurrences involving violent choking, slapping, biting, forced fellatio, belt whipping, all of which were performed non-consensually. Several women also recall Ghomeshi’s possession of a large stuffed bear named ‘Big Ears Teddy’, who was made to ‘turn around’ so that he would not ‘see’ Ghomeshi’s actions, or the women subjected to them. With these facts, with innumerable victim accounts, with parallel stories, the focus is still, somehow, brought to the actions of the victims. This is not a mistake. This is an act of violence, an act of terrible, ingrained misogyny that no one is willing to address.
Ghomeshi, and his violent predecessors, finding success in the exploitation of their victims are precisely why victims do not come forth sooner. Many deem this hesitation suspect, but when you are fully and entirely aware that your case, your cause, and your suffering will be dissected on the witness stand, why would you come forward? Why would you attempt to confront an idealized public figure, when you know full well you will be demonized and blamed as a product of your outfit or your words? If anything, hesitation should be indicative of a greater, more insidious threat: people care less about the safety of women than they do about the images of males.
Chris Brown still has a thriving music career, but Kesha is forced to continue working under her rapist and abuser. Bill Cosby took years to face any real justice for his crimes, but Lady Gaga is repeatedly slut-shamed, despite being a victim of rape. Kobe Bryant lives in the lap of luxury and fan worship, but Shia LaBeouf was mercilessly ridiculed for coming public with his sexual abuse. Again, and again, we see the same cycle. Sexual offenders walk away from their crimes, victims are demolished on the stand for daring to speak out. Cycles are doomed to repeat unless they are disrupted, and at the rate sexual assault trials seem to be proceeding, my hope has been worn unfortunately thin. Sexual assault is sexual assault: it is not what ‘she was wearing,’ it is not someone ‘not being man enough,’ it is about violence, control, and power. Assault is assault. It’s time for the crimes to be crimes.