In the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi fiasco, I felt it important to address some recurring themes I’ve been seeing in the media, namely the tendency to ask “Why didn’t the victim report the assault to the police?” The phrase “walk a mile in his/her shoes” couldn’t be more appropriate here.
To be clear, I personally feel that it is absolutely critical that sexual assaults are reported, whether the victim is a man or a woman. However, the sad reality is that out of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only six are reported to the police. This is a staggering, upsetting and even bewildering statistic. For someone who has never been a victim of a sexual or physical assault, the natural, logical response would be to reach out to the police. But, let’s suspend our disbelief for just a moment and ask ourselves why someone might avoid doing that at all costs.
In a sexual assault trial, the defense will stop at no expense to make the victim appear at fault. While being cross-examined, the victim will be subjected to a slew of questions, such as “Were you intoxicated on the evening in question?,” “Your memory of the events must be hazy if you were drunk, right?,” “Didn’t you send nude photographs of yourself to my client?,” “You don’t make that much money. Are you trying to get money out of my client?,” “There is no evidence that you fought back. I don’t see any pictures of bruises or injuries sustained during the supposed assault. Did you even fight back or was it really consensual?,” “My notes indicate that you regularly see a therapist or psychiatrist. How can we trust what you have to say when you’re clearly so unstable that you require professional help?”
A seasoned defense lawyer will attempt to expose every facet of a victim’s life, including their sexual history, financial wherewithal, mental stability and more.
In the case of Jian Ghomeshi, a woman, Carla Ciccone, came forward with her story a year prior to the recent allegations and the overwhelming response was one of public shaming. In fact, Ciccone did not even name her perpetrator. She used a pseudonym, but some readers deduced that the “Keith” in question was Ghomeshi. The fact that readers concluded it was the radio host is another issue altogether. Following that, she was slammed by the public. A video describing her as the “Scumbag of the Internet” was viewed over 300,000 times. Is it really that surprising that other alleged Ghomeshi victims would not want to publicly come forward with similar stories? Every single one of them cites the case of Carla Ciccone as their reason for requesting anonymity.
Public shaming can have detrimental effects on a person’s mental health and well-being, not to mention the overwhelming fear of further violence. Once a woman or man comes forward, there is always the fear that a perpetrator will offend again and, in some cases, the accused makes it quite clear that they will. This tactic is used to silence victims and, if the lack of police-reported sexual assault incidences is any indication, it works.
In many cases, if a victim finally musters the courage to approach the police, the physical evidence that could indict the accused is gone. So, the trial becomes a game of “he-said, she-said” or “she-said, he-said” or any variation thereof. In the absence of any concrete evidence and the confusion surrounding the accuser’s decision to delay reporting the incident, the victim is presumed a liar. The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” is taken to a whole new level for the accused.
Huffinton Post contributing writer, Sandy Garossin, sums up the kind of woman who wouldn’t report a sexual abuse perfectly in her article “What Kind Of Woman Won’t Report Sexual Assault?” Garossin references a female assault victim, in this case, but many of these reasons could easily apply to a male or transgendered victim as well. Garossin writes:
“So what kind of woman is reluctant to report sexual assault? Anyone who consumed drugs or alcohol before the incident, who was intoxicated; who flirted with, has a relationship with, knows, or has significantly lower status than the perpetrator.
Any woman who’s had an abortion or messy divorce. Anyone who might be in a custody battle. Anyone with a sketchy social media history. Anyone who’s sexted nude photos or has unorthodox sexual tastes.
Any sex worker. Anyone who initially consented to sex. Anyone with addiction issues. Anyone afraid of her assailant. Any First Nations woman. Anyone from a minority or immigrant community. Anyone who’s been raped before and not been believed.
Anyone without a strong support network. Any woman who waits too long. Anyone who’s seen a shrink, or been prescribed medication for mental or emotional conditions. Any woman who doesn’t want her medical records or psychiatric history disclosed. Or who has family members and a community who could be hurt or shamed by disclosure or publicity. Anyone with a criminal record or who is on public assistance.
Any woman with a past. Any woman with a future she doesn’t want derailed by the stress of reporting.
In short, the kind of woman who doesn’t report a sexual attack is almost any normal rational woman.”
Research indicates that only two to four per cent of reported sexual assaults are false. So, why are we, as a society, so quick to assume a victim is “making it up” for attention or money? Carla Ciccone’s story is a perfect example of why someone wouldn’t want to fabricate such an allegation. It’s comparable to social suicide.
Perhaps, if our system, if our society presumed that the accuser was also “innocent until proven guilty” of lying, if we gave him or her the benefit of the doubt instead of immediately taking a stance of disbelief, those sad, pitiful statistics would change. And maybe, just maybe perpetrators of sexual crimes would be less inclined to act on their urges because it wouldn’t be so easy to “get away with it.”