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The Ghomeshi trial isn't another setback for feminism. It's proof we're winning

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Image: Twitter/@Caeille Frampton

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Amid the thousands of words that have been used to try and make sense of the outcome of the Jian Ghomeshi trial, there has been one analysis that hasn't received enough air time: feminism has won.

Despite the fact that Ghomeshi was acquitted, he has fallen hard. After showing his bosses a video of a violent sexual encounter that may or may not have been consensual, he was fired. As the stories surfaced later on, it became clear that not only was his behaviour part of a consistent history of treating women like trash, but also that CBC management did not take the allegations of harassment or abuse seriously until it was literally put right in front of their faces, on video.

Ghomeshi went on the attack on social media, hoping for a chorus of supporters to defend him, which is exactly what happened in the past whenever a whiff of his violence or harassment of women surfaced publicly. Quietly, stories of Ghomeshi's conduct were common.  But his move backfired spectacularly and what followed has been a sea change in how sexual assault and violence is discussed in mainstream Canada.

Jian Ghomeshi's career, the thing that enabled him to cut a swathe through the entertainment industry whenever he wanted, is over. He's notorious. And there's another trial date in June.

Of course, it's hard to see that from down in the weeds: The judge went out of his way to pillory the complainants. The complainants have laid bare a lot of difficult details and haven't received satisfaction that their complaints are legitimate, in the eyes of the system. Feminists are still fighting each other.

But this story isn't a feminist failure.

#BeenRapedNeverReported, a twitter hashtag created by journalists Antonia Zerbisias and Sue Montgomery went viral in response to Ghomeshi's firing as women all over the world testified on social media about their sexual assaults. Eight million twitter impressions in countries across the world set the mainstream straight -- for many if not most women who have been assaulted, the legal system is a place where you go to be scorned, disbelieved, have your character dragged through the mud and to be treated like trash.

Feminist responses broke through the mainstream wall of plausible deniability. Feminists created their own spaces to talk about men's assaults on women, how the legal system is nowhere near a justice system and to tell our own stories on our own terms. Here on rabble.ca, Svea Vikander wrote daily of separate assaults against her womanhood, her personhood, her body and her soul. She demonstrated a difficult fact: almost every woman has these stories -- it's no longer possible to deny in polite company that the legal system delivers any kind of justice on the subject of sexual assault. (No, the Manosphere is not polite company.)

The trial was sensational and commentators buzzed about the lawyers, the witnesses, the complainants, the indomitable Lucy DeCouture. For many of us, the expectations that some kind of "justice" would be delivered was almost laughable. What is justice? Is it Ghomeshi going to jail? What if you don't believe in what is increasingly referred to as "incarceral feminism" -- that prisons and the threat of sexual violence as a state punishment have only the tiniest impact on what is a massive social problem -- men treating women like receptacles for their desire for power.

Justice for the woman who experienced violence at Ghomeshi's hands might have been a conviction or a jail sentence, that's up to them. But justice for women won't come through any one judge. Legal decisions are rarely straight-up justice. Instead, they add to hundreds of other legal decisions that broadly define what is and what isn't legal justice in Canada.

Canada's legal system is built on our colonial past. It continues to exploit and harm racialized people and communities. It continues to warehouse people who need help from medical professionals, community leaders or their families and friends. It remains Canada's most violent and colonial institution. Jail for Ghomeshi would not have been justice.

While patriarchy is maintained by our legal system, it can be confronted by the people. That is the path to justice. The Ghomeshi verdict has us talking about consent, boundaries, the wide range of expected behaviour by survivors of sexual assault in the aftermath and the failure of the legal system to adjudicate claims of sexual assault.

This is why it's so important to understand the Ghomeshi trial as a victory. First, because it really is; it's not like the Men's Rights Assholes would be so active if we hadn't won -- Ghomeshi is done. But second, because we have an opportunity to extend our rage and our calls for change beyond the case of a CBC radio celebrity.

Are we, as feminists across the colonial state of Canada, ready to take our voices and bring them to bear on injustice as it happens? Injustices like the 13-year old girl in Hay River, NWT who was arrested for violating court-ordered curfew after she told RCMP officers she'd been sexually assaulted? The judge in that case blasted the RCMP:

"What happened after the disclosure was not that she was taken to a hospital to be examined or anywhere else where she might receive help. What happened to her was she was put in a jail cell and, at 13-years old, she remained in that cell until the following evening, when the officer came back on night shift."

The man who assaulted her was found guilty of having sexually assaulted two other women and the Province of Alberta is seeking to have him declared a dangerous offender. While this one guy may go to jail forever, the goddamned RCMP locked a 13-year old in a jail cell and completely ignored her sexual assault.

Girls and women are callously violated by police and it's there we must start to demand changes to our legal system. Our legal system is racist, sexist and colonial. Let's take the moment created by the Ghomeshi verdict to demand justice for all women and an end to the systemic sexual abuses that we know are rampant in the system.

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Image: Twitter/@Caeille Frampton

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