Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 03/28/2016

The Ghomeshi Verdict Is A Reminder That The ‘Perfect Victim’ Myth Is Alive and Well

Jian Ghomeshi

While mainstream culture has certainly embraced feminism as of late, the movement’s work is far from done. One of the most glaring examples of this is the persistent doubt and discrediting survivors face as well as the unrealistic, illogical standard of behavior to which they’re held. It’s an unfortunate reality that was recently underscored by the shocking verdict in one Canadian sexual assault trial.

The trial, which took place in February, centered on the accusation that Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi sexually assaulted and choked two anonymous women as well as actress Lucy DeCoutere between 2002 and 2003. All women had contact with Ghomeshi following these alleged assaults and their memory of the exact events changed over time. On Friday, Judge William Horkins acquitted Ghomeshi of all charges due largely to these points.

“The harsh reality is that once a witness has been shown to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence, that witness can no longer expect the court to consider them to be a trusted source of the truth,” the Judge stated in his ruling. “I am forced to conclude that it is impossible for the court to have sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of these complainants.”

The Judge ruled in favor of Ghomeshi despite the fact that more than 20 women and one man alleged that the radio host had  slapped, punched, bitten, choked or smothered them in 2014 and even though Ghomeshi will face yet another trial in June related to sexual harassment. The fact that these three women contacted the man in question after he allegedly assaulted them and failed to accurately remember certain details apparently served as reasonable evidence of his innocence — a ruling that plays directly into the notion that only “perfect” victims are credible.

Perfect victims are relatively virginal, “good” girls who immediately report assaults perpetrated by vicious strangers. This myth willfully ignores the well-documented fact that survivors of trauma deal with their experiences in different ways and overlooks the reality that 80-90% of rapes are committed by someone known to the survivor — frequently a partner, with whom that individual likely has personal, emotional history and whom that individual may very well love. In fact, individuals abused by partners frequently stay with or at least contact their abusers due to what psychologists have identified as a manipulative cycle of abuse.

The women allegedly assaulted by Ghomeshi did not behave in alignment with this myth, but rather as complex individuals dealing with trauma. They were essentially discredited and denied justice based on their imperfect, human reactions. Unfortunately, they’re hardly the first to face this treatment, generally as well as in the public eye: Survivor and performance artist Emma Sulkowicz’s claim of assault, for example, was similarly questioned by the media based on evidence that she contacted her assailant after the alleged assault.

Plenty are refusing to remain silent about the verdict and, by extension, this myth. Protesters gathered on the courthouse steps after the verdict and made their disgust known. Countless others expressed their outrage on Twitter. One complainant in the case even launched a website to encourage women to come forward despite such ignorant reactions.

“I’m glad it’s over, but it’s really not over,” complainant DeCoutere said after the trial, according to CBC News. “It’s now time to keep these conversations going and to stop the way that these sexual assaults are tried. It’s barbaric, it’s antiquated, it needs to change and it needs to stop.”

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  • Robert Fullinwider @ at 1:10 pm, March 29th, 2016

    Julie Z accurately describes the reasons Judge Horkins gave for his verdict — the witnesses were deceptive — then chides him for basing his verdict on stereotypes of the “perfect victim.” The problem was not that the complainants weren’t “perfect victims.” Julie Z writes: “They were essentially discredited and denied justice based on their imperfect, human reactions.” No. They deliberately withheld evidence from the court until confronted with the facts. See paragraphs 44, 67, 80, 87, 91, 94, 114 of the court decision. It was not their unorthodox post-assault behavior that destroyed their credibility, it was their deliberate efforts to keep it from the court.

  • Jennie @ at 9:34 pm, March 30th, 2016

    By the courts not punishing Ghomeshi for his actions, they are excusing him for them.

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