Ghomeshi verdict and the problem with reporting sexual assault

Anger, frustration and confusion were some of the emotions felt in the wake of the verdict of Jian Ghomeshi’s trial that held the attention of Canadians for months.

The former CBC radio host was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. On March 24 he was found not guilty of all charges.

Leah Marshall, the sexual violence prevention advisor at Fanshawe, said the reaction by Canadians was so strong because so many people were invested in the outcome and were ultimately disappointed by the verdict.

“It evokes such a strong reaction because we need to be having more conversations about the stigma that surrounds sexual violence and the reactions and trauma experienced by people,” she said.

According to Statistics Canada, only one in ten sexual assaults are reported to the police. The same report said that 58 per cent of victims did not report the assault because they felt it was not “important enough”.

Marshall said the Ghomeshi verdict could have a negative impact on victims reporting to police.

“Not everyone feels safe reporting, and I think we have to remember that just bringing a story forward legally isn’t always the best choice for everyone… What’s most important is putting the power back in the hands of the survivor to make the decision that best for them.”

It is difficult to prosecute a sexual assault case because it ends up being a “he said, she said” argument. In the Ghomeshi trail his lawyer Marie Henein defended her client by tearing apart the victim’s testimony, pointing out inconsistencies in their accounts.

Marshall said one of the problems associated with prosecuting a case like this is the fact that there is still a stigma around believing survivors of sexual violence.

“If we automatically believe that this isn’t possible instead of going into it saying ‘I believe you’ then we’re already starting on the wrong foot.”

The hashtag #IBelieveSurvivors arose on social media to support survivors of assault, something Marshall said may positively affect survivors coming forward with their stories.

“The social media response is starting to say ‘I believe you’ and just because we don’t get a say in the legal verdict doesn’t mean [the assault] didn’t happen,” she said.

Though the verdict was not what many people wanted to hear, Marshall said there is a positive outcome to this situation.

“It gives us the opportunity not for the conversation to stop, it’s actually a really good opportunity to start the conversation about how we get to this point and what societal factors are contributing to this verdict,” Marshall said.

If you have been a victim of a sexual assault and need help please contact Leah Marshall at Counselling and Accessibility in F2010 or at 519-452-4282.