Prior to Sunday, I had no idea who Jian Ghomesi was. Come Sunday afternoon, however, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook were flooded with different stories talking about his departure from CBC following several alleged cases of sexual violence. Goshemi has come out with a statement claiming that he was fired “as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex-girlfriend and a freelance writer.”
Ghomesi claims blamelessness, and many are quick to back him, justifying it with the idea that he is innocent until proven guilty. I question why these words, “innocent until proven guilty,” serve as such a one-sided phrase in cases of sexual assault, inherently biased against the victim.
According to the FBI, the false reporting rate for cases of sexual violence is only 3 percent while according to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), the conviction rate isn’t much higher, at 7.5 percent. Why do so few of these cases result in conviction? Likely due to the rampant vilification of victims and the “he said, she said” nature of many of the incidents. Ghomesi’s use of the “jilted ex-girlfriend” trope is unfortunately common, especially in high-profile cases. As Anne Thériault, a Canadian journalist, recently tweeted, “Every time a woman publicly says, ‘this man assaulted me,’ people ask ‘what does she have to gain from telling that story?’”
In what other case is this question ever asked? Homeowners are not demonized when they report their television stolen, individuals who are brutally beaten in aggravated assault cases generally are not denigrated for reporting the perpetrator and a victim of a hit-and-run isn’t criticized for unfortunately being in the way of a car. No, only in cases of sexual assault does the public seek to defame the victim almost as much as they do the “alleged” perpetrator.
As Thériault surmises, “innocent until proven guilty DOESN’T mean: assum[ing] a woman is lying about sexual assault until there’s concrete proof she isn’t.” Too often the presumption of innocence is used as a crutch for defending the perpetrator, and the public forgets about the implications when it comes to the victim.
To answer the question asked by Thériault, in the best case scenario, a victim gains the piece of mind that the perpetrator is behind bars, and in the worst (and much more common case), the victim gains the emotional scars of ill treatment by the general public, prosecution, and even the investigating detectives.
Until we as a culture stop looking for ways to discredit victims, stop exempting celebrities from following the rules, and stop unilaterally applying the idea of innocent until proven guilty, there will always be shame associated with being a victim of sexual assault, reporting rates will remain low, and people like Jian Ghomesi will be free to repeat their crimes.