Talking about the Jian Ghomeshi allegations? Six ways to discuss sexual assault with survivors in mind

Photo: flickr/Devon Buchanan

Can we all please be so cautious how we talk about Jian and what's going down with the CBC right now? As a survivor of sexual assault and an advocate for people who have been assaulted, I'm already shaking at how I feel this, and the discourse around it, is going to play out. 

With statistics like one in five women being sexually assaulted over their lifetime, the chances are that we have survivors -- or people who may be victimized in the future -- watching how we talk about victims of sexual assault. 

Things are still unclear at this point: Jian claims he's innocent and three more women's stories have come forward in a story by the Toronto Star. We're not likely to get a well-represented picture of any or all of the things Ghomeshi is facing allegations of doing -- especially with his PR-spun statement being the first out of the gate. 

This isn't to believe or disbelieve one party over the other or to insinuate anyone's guilt or innocence. We know false allegations are rare, but do happen.

What is clear, though is that we live in a society that isn't safe for women and where the discourse around sexual assault can be damaging and traumatizing for survivors. We all have a responsibility to make sure that we talk about sexual assault and allegations of sexual assault with care. This context exists whether someone's guilty or not.

As with any public or private allegations of sexual assault, it's important to remember these things when talking about Jian Ghomeshi in the coming weeks:

1. Statistically, false sexual assault claims are extremely rare.

2. We aren't the judge and jury and it's not our job to decide who is right and who is wrong.

3. Many survivors are disbelieved, blamed for their actions and otherwise dissuaded bluntly or subtly into not reporting or feeling guilty. Especially in a high-profile case like this one, people don't want to believe that people they know or admire could do such a thing. Survivors could really use people being on their team and believing them. Also, when you publicly blame or disbelieve survivors, other survivors you know are probably listening. So, speak carefully. Recognize what you might be implying.

4. It's also not unusual that someone would want to retract allegations after realizing how they are likely to be treated in the media, by peers, by the law, and by strangers even. We all see how these cases go down and it's not desirable for anyone.

5. Let's look at who has the power and platform to have their story heard and believed and then watch how they use it.

6. Don't be dismissive of people's experiences or invalidate them. Behavioural patterns are real and women learn how to identify people who are dangerous to us -- usually not before we silence that voice a few times.

Jodie Layne is a Sexual Health Educator and freelance Writer. Follow her on twitter @jodielayne

This piece was originally publish on The Huffington Post and is reprinted with permision.

Photo: flickr/Devon Buchanan

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story...

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all. But media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our only supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help.

If everyone who visits rabble and likes it chipped in a couple of dollars per month, our future would be much more secure and we could do much more: like the things our readers tell us they want to see more of: more staff reporters and more work to complete the upgrade of our website.

We’re asking if you could make a donation, right now, to set rabble on solid footing.

Make a donation.Become a monthly supporter.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.