Insp. Joanna Beaven-Desjardins: “I’ll say the name. Jian Ghomeshi. Forty-seven years.”
Thus the spectacularly fallen-from-grace radio personality formally became, Saturday morning, a subject of criminal police investigation on accusations of assault and sexual assault.
A reporter had noted, towards the conclusion of the half-hour press conference, that the commander of the sex-assault unit had spoken at length, yet never identified the individual at the centre of a week-long media whirlwind by name.
It is the name that’s been on everyone’s lips as the Toronto Star and other media have documented allegations of sexual violence brought by nine women — at last count — against the former host of popular radio program Q with Jian Ghomeshi.
“As of today’s date, three people have contacted us providing us information that they have been victimized relating to these allegations,” said Beaven-Desjardins. “The Toronto Police Service sex crimes has now commenced an active investigation into these allegations.”
No charges have been laid.
The whereabouts of Ghomeshi are unknown. There are reports he has left the country.
“At some point he will be invited to come in and speak with us,” Beaven-Desjardins said.
That hasn’t happened yet, because investigators — two from the sex crimes unit assigned to the case — only took up the matter when some of the complainants contacted police Friday.
Ghomeshi, until he went silent on social media, insisted his intimate encounters with partners were “rough sex” but consensual. All the women who have revisited their frightening experiences with the radio host — including the two who have identified themselves publicly, author/lawyer Reva Seth and actress Lucy DeCoutere — are adamant they never consented to treatment which, they say, included being slapped, hit with a fist, choked and sexually violated.
Beaven-Desjardins was asked whether violence can ever be consensual.
“It can be consensual, um, not to an extreme. You have to have the ability to consent. Someone who is intoxicated cannot consent. Someone who doesn’t have the mental capacity to consent can’t consent.
“Two consenting adults, to conduct an abusive relationship, you can consent.”
The Star reported through sources that, before he was fired last Sunday, Ghomeshi took the astonishing step of showing CBC executives video meant to bolster his claim that the rough stuff was consensual and that sometimes bruising could result from aggressive activity agreeable to both participants. An internal memo sent to employees by CBC executive president Heather Conway on Friday confirmed Ghomeshi had been terminated after management viewed — for the first time, a week previously — “graphic evidence” that showed Ghomeshi had “caused physical injury to a woman.”
Cops would like to see that video, if CBC still has it.
So now it’s a police matter, rather than merely the stuff of shocking newspaper revelations. But in the telling, women no longer felt alone, even shamed. Several had feared they would never get a sympathetic hearing in the court of public opinion or from the court of the CBC.
They were wary of not being believed, would be crushed under the weight of Ghomeshi’s celebrity, the vast popularity he’d earned as arts interviewer, author, musician and A-list gadabout.
But the investigation is in its infancy. And for all the soothing assurances that Beaven-Desjardins gave that complainants would be believed, as a starting point, the experience in unnerving. That’s just the investigative part. When a sexual assault charge leads to court trial, the complainant will be put through an excruciating ordeal.
What follows below is one woman’s experience of sex assault “justice,” sent to me Friday, addressed to Police Chief Bill Blair, and submitted as a Letter to the Editor but unsigned for reasons that will become obvious. I have confirmed her identity.
Dear Chief Bill Blair,
In response to the recent allegations against Jian Ghomeshi, you gave an impromptu press conference where you stated: “Any person who has been the victim of a sexual assault, I want to encourage them to come forward and report, give us an opportunity to conduct an investigation and gather the evidence.”
I was the victim of a recent assault. Although hesitant, I immediately went to the hospital and contacted police. I did exactly what you are encouraging these women to do, and exactly what any medical professional or expert would advise. My hesitancy was for the same reasons that have been outlined by Reva Seth, Lucy DeCoutere, and many of the other women; I was afraid of retaliation by my perpetrator, that no one would believe me, and that my reputation would be destroyed. I was terrified that it would negatively influence my professional career that I was just beginning, and which my perpetrator was a part of. I thought it would just be easier to forget about it and try to move on. Unfortunately, however, I was raised with high moral and ethical standards. I know what is right and what is wrong and I have always tried to do what is right. I believed in our justice system. So I made the mistake of coming forward.
You want women to come forward? Here is what you should tell them:
1) As a victim, you may be on the stand longer than Oscar Pistorius. The cross-examination of a famous athlete charged with murder lasted five days. And according to CNN, this left him “quivering, sobbing and fumbling.” I was on the stand longer than Oscar Pistorius during cross-examination — and I did nothing wrong. My only charge was coming forward with the truth. Oscar was quivering? Imagine an innocent woman with nothing to hide under similar relentless cross-examination. You will be sobbing.
2) Speaking of relentless … your nightmares about what may happen in the courtroom will come true — despite what anyone will tell you. You will indirectly be called a liar, over and over again. Your sexual history will be brought forth despite the Rape Shield law, because the defense will find an indirect way to do so. “Shameful” and yet inconsequential acts from your past will used against you. (Have you ever drank alcohol? Had sex? Unless you’re a nun, don’t get on the stand; they may spend a day obsessing over your drinking habits to the point where you may be convinced yourself that you have an alcohol problem.) Proud moments from your past will also be brought up and used against you. Ms. DeCoutere — my remote and limited acting experiences were used to insinuate I was making the whole thing up. This of course is logical — I pretended for 4 years that I had been assaulted, and put on an incredibly believable act (cries and panic attacks and all) while on the stand during both the preliminary trial and trial itself — instead of taking my acting abilities to Hollywood to win an Oscar.
3) Did you say 4 years? This is how long you will have to wait for any kind of closure (if that’s even possible, I still don’t know). You will think about it every day. Even worse, he will have 1,460 days to make up a story that fits the evidence (because he will know the evidence, even though you probably won’t). And he’s hired the best writers there are.
4) He’s famous, or wealthy, or maybe just knows that his only hope for an innocent verdict is the best lawyer in the country. He will pay for the best lawyer in the country, and you will have to face them on the stand. By the way, he (allegedly) committed the crime and yet he can decide if he wants to take the stand to be barraged with allegations.
5) There really is no safety in numbers. Despite multiple women with similar allegations, possible even word-for-word accounts of your own personal experience, this will likely have little impact in the courtroom. In the end, it may not matter how many of you there were, or how your experiences were so similar that they could not possibly be deemed coincident; they will somehow be dismissed.
6) You will be accused of trying to achieve some sort of personal gain by coming forward with these allegations. It can’t simply be because it is the right thing to do.
7) The reporting and court process will re-traumatize you, and may even be worse than the initial trauma itself. Your post-traumatic stress symptoms will return, you won’t be able to sleep, and your everyday life will be disrupted — all because you are trying to stand up for yourself.
8) It is arguably far easier to find reasonable doubt than to make a conviction. What is reasonable?
9) In the end, it is likely the justice system will fail you, and you will wonder why you ever agreed to come forward to begin with. You will beat yourself up for it.
10) Even worse, you will realize that despite your best efforts, such abuse against women will never stop. The “he-said, she-said” game, the game forever without witness, will continue. Assault against women will be given free rein until changes are made to statutory law.
Ms. Seth and Ms. DeCoutere — you are both strong and brave for coming forward and identifying yourself. Know that you have support, although unfortunately silent, of many women across the country.