Sexual assault in progressive spaces: Thinking about the Jian Ghomeshi allegations

| October 31, 2014
Photo: Flickr/Linh Do

Editor's note: Since this piece was submitted to rabble.caNavigator and Rock-it PR have ended their work with Jian Ghomeshi, and more women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault.

[Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women, Rape]

As of 8:30 p.m. Monday night, some 26 hours after its posting, over 106,000 people had 'liked' former CBC Jian Ghomeshi's tell-all Facebook novella in which he pins his icarian downfall on the follies of his 'jilted' ex. That's a whole lot of likes.

I've been left aghast at how many came from my own Facebook friends, many of whom are dedicated activists. Rarely have I witnessed such a pronounced public rift in progressive circles, and it's left many people whom I deeply care for quite literally ill.

Triggers are everywhere, and social media is consistently a cesspool of rape apologia that victims, survivors and others affected by sexual violence must navigate. But many were genuinely surprised and betrayed to encounter it from dozens of people they wouldn't suspect of falling hook, line and sinker for a PR strategy centred around misogynistic tropes of the crazy, scorned ex-lover.

People cling to the presumption of innocence but, as many have already noted, such presumptions are problematic in cases of rape and sexual assault; to presume one person's innocence infers that somebody somewhere is lying.

I've noticed many people harping on the idea that the CBC's lawyers expressed to Ghomeshi that he had adequately proved to them that he had the consent of partners to engage in rough sex. I'm not sure what is more naive: believing that the accused is speaking truth to the legal opinion of his former employer, or thinking that it is possible to 'prove' consent.

Consent is not a static state, you do not gain it once and hold on to it forever. Consent can be removed at any moment for any reason, including during any and all acts of intimacy.

Unless Ghomeshi has been wearing a GoPro camera 24/7 for the past year, it is impossible for him to disprove these allegations.

CSI and its neon-screened ilk have done copious harm to society by promulgating the misconception that most rapes are committed in dark parks by strangers that can later be tracked down with the help of a Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) kit.

This is far from the truth. In reality, close to 80 per cent of sexual perpetrators are friends and family of the attacked. An estimated 30 per cent are in a relationship or dating at the time of the crime, a percentage that increases to upwards of 75 per cent after an individual turns 18. Their proximity with their assailants may be one of the reasons close to 60 per cent of victims and survivors of sexual assault never report it to the authorities. Compounded to this is, of course, the likely possibility of being rejected by their communities for speaking truth to their experiences. 

In progressive circles, there is often a misguided notion that we must concentrate our efforts on smashing neoliberalism, and that any distractions from that goal should be quietly swept under the rug. We shouldn't talk about abusive sexual practices of our comrades, because doing so divides us and strengthens the conservative agenda. Such thinking is extremely damaging and a betrayal to all victims and survivors of sexual assault.

This brings me to a sad realization: perhaps, we progressive feminist-leaning men are the most dangerous of all. There's something particularly conniving and frightening about men who exploit feminist credentials with the thought that there might be a sexual payoff at the end of the tunnel.

Ghomeshi fits this predatory profile: women's studies major, former Student Union activist and champion of many progressive causes. He, and others like us, have a lot to gain from being granted access to spheres of society not traditionally available for people who come from relative positions of privilege, and composed of many vulnerable, trusting and loving individuals.

This is among the reasons why women-only spaces are so important, why cisgender men should seriously reflect on whether to outwardly identifying as feminist or allies and why we must challenge ourselves to strengthen our awareness of consent and reject all the ways that exist to excerpt power over partners and subtly coerce physical or emotional affections from them.

Rape is hard to prove or disprove, and while this can be a disastrous truth for all parties, it carries extra weight for those who only to be met by disdain by their communities, or in the case of Ghomeshi, Canadian society at large.

There are ways to lift this burden ever so lightly. It begins with making efforts to believe people who come forward to speak of physical and sexual abuse. They have a lot to lose in sharing their stories. Having their experiences greeted with open minds and hands is a necessary step towards justice taking form, in one way or another.

Not everything Ghomeshi did may be illegal, and employers must be diligent in balancing workers safety while providing employees the chance to rectify inappropriate behaviour through progressive discipline, but this does not render him immune to wide criticism.

The level of victim-blaming, misogyny and saneism in his open letter is sickening, especially from a women's studies major, and should serve as a lesson to anybody who ever may find themselves in a similar situation. Don't use whatever money and power you have to throw them under the bus in order to save yourself. When faced with accusations that you have hurt people or made them feel unsafe, acknowledge their experience, labour to unlearn damaging behaviour and change your actions. 

Anything less is not acceptable.


Mathieu Perron Mathieu Murphy-Perron is a Montréal-based activist, writer and photographer. He is the co-artistic producer of Tableau D'Hôte Theatre and links to his writings and photography can be found at

Editor's note: Since this piece was submitted to, Navigator and Rock-it PR have ended their work with Jian Ghomeshi, and more women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault.

This article originally appeared on his website It is reprinted here with permission.




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