Published on November 2nd, 2014 | by Beth Campbell Duke0
We Owe Our Success To Those Who Went Before
We’ve had quite the week or so in Canada – from a shooting in Parliament and the deaths of 2 of our military on home soil, and the very public story of a CBC radio celebrity involved in a sexual violence case.
Tony and I are big fans of the CBC – it’s the radio station we listen to at home, and so we’re very familiar with it’s flagship daytime program, Q, and the former host, Jian Ghomeshi – the man at the centre of the sexual violence accusation.
As we’ve watched this story unfold, I’ve been struck by many of the similarities of this very public case and our experiences with the catholic church. A friend of a friend posted a story link on Facebook that praised ‘the court of public opinion’ that so many followers of this story decry.
Check out the article: In Praise of the Court of Public Opinion by Vinay Menon of the Toronto Star – and then read below to see why I agree! Find my initial response on FB – from which I honed the rest of this article: CLICK HERE.
Why We Owe Our Success To Those Who Have Gone Before
I suspect that the Ghomeshi case will be handled much more compassionately for the complainants because of it being so public first. It will certainly be investigated now because of the publicity. As more women spoke up, we saw public opinion change, creating space not just for more women to come forward, but to come forward publicly. Actress and RCAF Captain Lucy DeCoutere was the first to put her name to allegations – and because of her credentials she helped turn the tide. Capt. DeCoutere’s main reason for coming forward was to help other survivors see themselves, and step up to say ‘me too‘ (find the CTV story: CLICK HERE).
But there’s a big difference between disclosing and reporting to the police. Court is the last place you want to be as a victim of sexual abuse or violence – especially if you’re the sole complainant. Even as DeCoutere was grateful for the show of public opinion support, she at first said that she wouldn’t come forward to file a complaint because she felt her story ‘has too many holes in it’.
Tony decided very early on in the process that he would NOT take this into court. Once in court, the nature of the ‘conversation’ changes and become contentious. Read more about Tony’s Journey HERE…
Having recently spent over 2 years navigating a sexual abuse claim with the catholic church with Tony, I can tell you a few things:
- Tony went public only because of those who had gone before him. You don’t hold in a secret like this for 40+ years and trumpet it publicly if you haven’t ‘sussed’ out how others have been treated. You’ll only speak when you decide when it’s safe to disclose – not when others demand it.
- If we want to hear from victims, we can’t go around yelling that the accused deserves his day in court. Victims are already shut-down and make no mistake – they know exactly what going to court means and they are suspicious that those going on about ‘day in court’ don’t have a clue and/or aren’t willing to listen. We need to learn how to really listen and hold space for survivors without thinking we need to ‘take a side’. This right/wrong dichotomy is at the root of our criminal justice system and it’s a big part of the problem.
- Those with experience in the area know what to look for in speaking with victims and perpetrators.
- Tony’s lawyer said it took him less than 5 minutes to assess the credibility of his story. Liars have a significantly different agenda than victims.
- When I read Ghomeshi’s FB post of last Sunday you can believe I read it with much different eyes than I would have before the crash course in victim-blaming I received from our dealings with the church. There certainly wasn’t enough there to ‘convict’ him in the court of public opinion- but there sure as hell were red flags. As a result, aside from sharing one story on the ‘When Good People’ Facebook page, I have refrained from adding to the maelstrom.
And Here’s The Real Comment On The ‘Ghomeshi’ Situation
We really need a better way to treat cases of sexual abuse and violence. As long as we rely on the current combative court system we have, we absolutely need the court of public opinion because it can help champion the victims. The current court system doesn’t work for victims of sexual abuse and violence. Period.
And here’s the problem: The overwhelming amount of sexual abuse and violence cases don’t involve a perpetrator that can garner enough public discussion to support victims to disclose. People’s initial response when faced with one complainant is to disregard the statement – to give the ‘benefit of the doubt’ so as not to ‘convict without due process’. We’ve seen this in the Ghomeshi publicity over the last week – and as sensitive as this case is, it involves adults.
Now imagine you’re a kid. And the abuser is someone your family knows. As far as you know, you’re alone and what’s happening is most likely your fault. Forget about making a formal police complaint – the first hurdle is disclosing to your close friends and family. I hope it doesn’t take too much imagination and empathy to see how this could/will go – and why victims don’t speak up – whether they’re children or adults.
But know this: The counsellor Tony saw while he was working through the disclosure process has built her entire practice on treating sexual abuse survivors and perpetrators. We live in a small place. She calls sexual abuse ‘normal’ in our culture because in her estimation the true extent of this issue approaches 50% of the population being directly impacted by sexual abuse and violence (i.e. they’re actually a survivor – not a family member).
So from where I’m sitting, this story isn’t really about Jian Ghomeshi any more. It’s about sexual abuse and violence. It’s about how we address and handle this issue as a society. It’s about how we deal (or don’t deal) with this issue in our schools and workplaces – our other organizations and our homes. It’s about how we are not yet willing to think about the issue let alone work to create safe spaces that discourage sexual abuse and violence and create systems that really support victims to disclose.
Sexual abuse and violence needs to become an informed and intelligent public discussion – because it exists. It exists at much higher levels than most people would like to believe.
I can guarantee that someone close to you has been the victim of sexual abuse or violence – I know this because once I learned about it from Tony and started to speak about it I was shocked at the number of people who responded with, ‘me too‘. If we don’t know who our survivors are it’s because we haven’t made it safe yet.