Jian Ghomeshi

CBC fired Q host Jian Ghomeshi (pictured) on Sunday.

Trigger warning: This post contains details about sexual violence.

On Sunday afternoon, news broke that CBC had ended its relationship with Jian Ghomeshi, the popular host of the cultural affairs show Q, over “information” it received that “precludes us from continuing our relationship.” It didn’t take long for the radio personality to fire back, saying he was planning on suing the public broadcaster for $55 million and issuing a nearly 1,600-word Facebook screed alleging he’d essentially been fired for his kinky proclivities in the bedroom.

Hours later, another, very different, story came out: the Toronto Star reported that three young women had approached the paper with allegations that Ghomeshi had been “physically violent to them without their consent during sexual encounters or in the lead-up to sexual encounters.” They did not take their claims to the police.

From the Star:

The three women interviewed by the Star allege that Ghomeshi physically attacked them on dates without consent. They allege he struck them with a closed fist or open hand; bit them; choked them until they almost passed out; covered their nose and mouth so that they had difficulty breathing; and that they were verbally abused during and after sex. A fourth woman, who worked at CBC, said Ghomeshi told her at work: ‘I want to hate f— you.’

Before the Star story came out late Sunday night, Ghomeshi, who hired the services of Navigator, a crisis communications PR firm that specializes in “reputation recovery,” was preemptive, framing his own narrative in his Facebook post —  which, at the time of this post, has been liked nearly 100,000 times and shared nearly 40,000 times, by the way. Ghomeshi says he’s the target of a smear campaign based on lies, led by a jilted ex-girlfriend and a freelance writer with an axe to grind. He maintains that all of his sexual encounters were consensual. He says he was fired by the uptight CBC because they had a problem with what he does in the bedroom. (Funny, I don’t believe the Mother Corp sacked DNTO‘s Sook-Yin Lee when she had unsimulated sex in a film…)

His long, troubling post was presented as truth and was accepted as such by many, many people. Ghomeshi’s savvy, to be sure; by getting out there first, he’s already shaped the discourse surrounding this story.

As for the anonymous women who shared their stories with the Star, their character is being called into question on social media. That the Star felt the need to establish them as “credible victims” by highlighting the fact that they are “employed and educated” (yes, that was a description actually used in the story) is gross but not surprising.

This is rape culture at work.

This is a culture in which the stubbornly persistent beliefs that “women lie” and “women are crazy” have practically been accepted as scientific fact;  Ghomeshi was easily able to leverage both in his post and, predictably, curry a shit-ton of sympathy.

This is a culture in which charismatic, famous men are almost always given the benefit of the doubt. It’s probably worth noting here that rumours of a certain radio personality and his creepy interactions with women have been circulating in some circles for years. Though some people were most definitely shocked by the allegations made public on Sunday, a number of women on Twitter did not seem shocked at all. Interesting, that.

This is a culture in which women who allege abuse are disbelieved — even though we know that the incidence of false reporting is somewhere between two and eight per cent.

This is a culture in which people still believe that a woman would “cry rape” — a patently disgusting idea — for financial gain or simply to ruin an innocent man’s career after a “regretted encounter.”

This is a culture in which the focus is still on what a woman wore or what she consented to in the past, rather than the actions of her alleged attacker.

This is a culture in which people go to extremes to discredit women who allege abuse.

In 2013, writer Carla Ciccone wrote a first-person essay for the website XOjane about a date with a “C-list Canadian celebrity” that many readers presumed to be Ghomeshi. The women interviewed by the Star told the paper that the subsequent treatment of Ciccone was a big factor in their decision not to attach their names to the allegations. Ciccone was the target of online abuse and threats; according to the Star, a video calling her the scumbag of the Internet was viewed over 397,000 times.

Gee, I wonder why women don’t feel comfortable or safe coming forward? Let’s be perfectly clear: I’m not saying Ghomeshi is guilty. I’m saying that we need to take sexual assault allegations way more seriously. I’m saying we shouldn’t automatically assume these women are lying.

And if you are still blindly defending Ghomeshi, ask yourself a hard question: why is his story so much easier for you to believe?

 Further reading:

How We Talk About Sexual Assault

Poor Persecuted Pervert?