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Winter 2016 Newsletter
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Huron Women’s Shelter Second Stage Housing and Counselling Services response to the Ghomeshi acquittal:
In 2014, when allegations of violence against women were first brought against Jian Ghomeshi, many responded with disbelief: he “sounded plausible and open,” Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente admitted in her 2014 column on Ghomeshi; and as one court observer described her interest in the case in February, “All of a sudden, he was off the air and I couldn’t believe it”.
But as disclosures about Ghomeshi from women piled up, a different reflection began. It sparked important conversations in the public about the prevalence of unreported sexual assault in Canada. It also questioned the inadequacy of the criminal justice system in cases of sexual violence, and the many reasons why survivor-victims do not report —or in many cases, tell anyone at all. Survivors of sexual violence spoke out about the enormous barriers that survivor-victims face. Advocates, including those of us at Huron Women’s Shelter talked about how systems meant to support victims too-often disbelieved or blamed them, while offenders –and oftentimes, the violent incident itself – went unchallenged. At that time, we predicted that a guilty verdict in the Ghomeshi charges would be extremely unlikely given the limits of the system, the historical nature of the cases, general misconceptions and expectations on how victims “ought to” respond to sexual violence, and the relationships that the complainants had with the accused.
We do know that most reports of sexual assault do not lead to charges, let alone convictions. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults in Canada, it’s estimated that 997 assailants walk free: 33 are reported to the police, just 29 are recorded as a crime; 12 see charges laid; 6 are prosecuted and just 3 lead to conviction.
Today, Huron Women’s Shelter is not surprised by the verdict of acquittal in this case.
Further, we do not see this verdict as an indication of “truth-finding” in what happened between the complainants and accused, and we urge others to pause on this reflection.
On the contrary we see, once again, the criminal justice system’s tendency to:
- Direct all questioning to the complainant, including questioning her actions before and after the violent incident. Having a social, physical, romantic, financial or other relationship with a person does not negate or reduce the possibility of violence within that relationship. If anything, a relationship is more likely to silence victims into compliance or self-doubt.
- Invisibilize the accused side of the story entirely, giving the impression that he maintained a consistent narrative throughout − when in fact our system is structured so that he is never even asked to present one at all.
- See that “cases are more likely to be prosecuted if the victim is White and less often when the victim belongs to a racial minority group”; and also more likely to be prosecuted when the accused is a person of colour.
- Make invisible the victims’ acts of resistance in the midst of what they experienced. Every day, survivors of violence continue to interact with those that have harmed them. Realistic reasons include: not wanting to cause problems; being uncertain about whether the incident was in fact violence; hoping the relationship will improve; feeling responsible for improving the relationship; having an emotional attachment to the accused; wishing to maintain other relationships connected to the offender; or seeking explanation for the violent behavior.
Our organization wishes to note that the witnesses in this case did express resistance to their experiences with the accused: for example, they came forward and shared their stories upon hearing other similar allegations; they sought support and connection with other women who shared this experience; and they formally reported to the police in October 2014 when then-Police Chief Bill Blair urged women to do so. We recognize these significant actions as meaningful in the face of violence – even though this court case clearly did not do so – and commend all survivors for their own responses.
In response to the Ghomeshi verdict, we reach out to all survivors of sexual violence.
If you have experienced sexual violence, there are people who will believe and support you. You can talk to a trusted friend, family member, or contact our crisis support line at 1-800-265-5506 at anytime of the day or night. Our sexual assault counsellor is available to women across the county at 519-524-5333×301. If you are considering reporting, we can help you think through your options. If you are not considering reporting, that’s okay too. All calls and counselling are free and confidential.
If you are a friend or family member of someone who is dealing with sexual violence, there are things you can do too. You can be an ally to the person who is victimized. You can listen to the person’s story without judgement, scrutiny or expectations that they formally report. You can them to find safe places to seek additional support, if needed, too. You too are welcome to reach out to our counsellors here for support.
Huron Women’s Shelter Second Stage Housing and Counselling Services recognize the significant impact of sexual violence on our entire community. We believe that education and information can go a long way toward the prevention of violence. Together, we will make a difference.
 Wente, M. October 28, 2014. Ghomeshi-gate: a bad day for everyone – The Globe and Mail. Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/ghomeshi-gate-a-bad-day-for-everyone/article21331661/
 Toronto Star. February 1, 2016. Why they came to the Ghomeshi trial | Toronto Star. Online: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/02/01/why-they-came-to-the-ghomeshi-trial.html
 Eight women in total informally shared their experiences with The Toronto Star (for a summary, see: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/10/29/jian_ghomeshi_8_women_accuse_former_cbc_host_of_violence_sexual_abuse_or_harassment.html ). Three chose to report to the police.
 Source: Johnson, “Limits of Criminal Justice Response: Trends in Police and Court Processing of Sexual Assault,” in Sheehy, Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism, 2012). See also: YWCA, 460,000 and Counting. Online: http://ywcacanada.ca/en/blog/35?page=1
 Patterson, D. 2011. The Impact of Detectives’ Manner of Questioning on Rape Victims’ Disclosure. Violence Against Women, 17(11) 1349–1373: 1370.
with thanks to the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres for their support in uniting services for survivors with this message
In August, 2015, a group of 60 Royal LePage real estate agents, brokers and family members from across Canada took part in a once-in-a-lifetime charity experience, the “Machu Picchu Challenge for Shelter”. Together, they raised close to $500,000 in support of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, with proceeds to benefit women’s shelters that provide safety and hope to women and children fleeing domestic violence. Kathy Dawson, a local Royal LePage realtor and her daughter Loreena raised $10,000 for our organization! From the bottom of our hearts we say thank you!
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