I am a fan of Q and of Jian Ghomeshi and was quite disturbed by the news surrounding his departure from the CBC on grounds of sexual assault of several women with whom he alleges he engaged in consensual BDSM acts, for the duration of his personal relationship with each of them. As a public figure, his private life is of interest to all and so whether or not criminal charges are called for here, CBC has a reputation to guard and did what they believed they needed to do. However, this incident raises some important issues that are worth pondering.
Does Jian really believe that consent is infinite? It is likely that at the specific point in time when the individuals consented to rough acts of sex, they were not fully aware of what it is they were consenting to.
Many years ago when I worked at the Crown Attorney’s office, we prosecuted a case of aggravated sexual assault. A conservative Iraqi woman who was married with three kids was sexually assaulted in a park, while on a church picnic, by a member of her own parish. The perpetrator then threatened to reveal the details of this incident to the community if she did not go to his house to engage in sexual acts with him. At that time, the law did not recognise extortion through verbal threats as vitiating consent. In other words, the law said, if she had gone to his house, notwithstanding her fear of reputational damage, she had gone willingly. When she went for the first time, the perpetrator secretly video- taped their sexual acts and threatened to make the tapes public. Given the nature of these new threats, she felt she could not turn to anyone and went to his place several times. Finally, she gathered up the courage to speak to her husband and with his support reported the matter to the Police. That’s how we got to prosecute it. So how did we crack this one? I worked with a brilliant Assistant Crown named Dave Fisher and he argued in court that while she may have gone consensually, at some point that consent had stopped. This was at the precise point when the perpetrator had used violence to overcome her resistance to him. We won and the perpetrator was suitably convicted on grounds of aggravated sexual assault and put away for several years.
In this instance, the women may have stopped consenting to Jian at some point, in which case there are grounds for criminal charges to be brought against him. The women will have to come forward and report the matter to the Police. So potentially, he faces jail time.
If, as Jian alleges, all sexual acts were purely consensual and there were frequent check- ins around the escalating acts of BDSM and this was someone crying foul when he decided to dump them, then we have another issue to ponder. Are these women, who legally consented to the sexual acts, being opportunistic and using the pretext of sexual violence to take revenge? Given my work in the violence against women field for over 25 years now, I fear such a tactic will take away from the credible experiences of all those women who genuinely face abuse and terror every day in the hands of their intimate partners.
Yet another issue that concerns me is if Jian is a victim of racialized stereotypes. As an Iranian it would be quite easy to isolate him as an outsider, more than if he was a member of mainstream communities. I have a healthy skepticism here, given my ringside view over the years of how folks from some communities are more easily criminalised than others. I love the CBC and do hope this is not a case of presumption of guilt, but a finding of fault, following a rigorous investigation of the facts. Otherwise, I am sad to say the CBC is being both spineless and hypocritical!