When someone is accused of assault and they plead innocent, what determines whether we believe them or not?
Too often child molesters are prominent community members, upstanding citizens, in the public eye on a large or small-scale and are known for their relentless selflessness and charitable contributions. In creating this sterling reputation, they are in a bubble where they feel they cannot be touched. After all, will the community believe, or worse, forgive, a nefarious child molester if they have already developed a reputation for being a wonderful person? Will children feel validated in confessing to being abused if they think nobody will believe them? It’s a fool-proof plan.
Jian Ghomeshi is a beloved figure in Canadian music and Canadian broadcasting. Today, allegations that he has abused and assaulted his ex-girlfriend have caused him to lose his show, Q, on CBC. Ghomeshi has garnered a following with social media junkies and hipsters who appreciate his good-natured casual interview style on Q. He has also gained respect of fellow journalists, Canadian writers and thinkers for his insights, witty writing style and smart popculture and politcal commentary. Ghomeshi has interviewed almost everyone and has done public speaking gigs all across the country. As a former member of the novelty band, Moxy Fruvous, he has cemented a place too, in Canadian popular music. Some remember the Toronto-centric “King of Spain” and the uptempo acapella-pop/rap homage to Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham”. He comes across as kind-hearted, social justice-minded and the kind of ‘celebrity’ you could sit down and have beers with and talk about music. On top of everything else Ghomeshi is attractive and by all accounts, an ‘appealing’ public figure. So the first reaction that we have to him claiming that the allegations are 100% false and that he was robbed of his show by a jilted lover, is to believe him and resent CBC’s decision to pull the plug on Ghomeshi’s show.
But upon looking deeper at the message potentially reveals a few possibilities: is this the ‘truth’ of a man who is trying to clear his name by being ‘open’ to avoid suspicion? Is CBC really going to put themselves into an ugly reputation-ruining legal battle over allegations that could easily prove to be false? Is Ghomeshi’s statement opening which expresses “deep personal pain”, concern for his mother and the loss of his father a subtle ploy to elicit sympathy from the public?
Accusations of this nature are always tricky; there’s the victim’s view of the events, the perpetrator’s view of the events, the law’s, the public’s, and what actually happened. Whether we as individuals choose to believe Ghomeshi or not are dependent on our relationship with him as a public figure at this point with so few concrete facts floating around in the story. Right now, we just have Ghomeshi’s version of the story. Where are the others and what other facts will be released following his statement? Who’s side are we on: CBC as a corporation trying to protect its image, or Ghomeshi’s self-serving but possibly true version of the events which cost him his show? Time will tell.
Similarly to Ghomeshi’s war of words with CBC is TLC’s cancellation of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo due to alleged child sexual abuse convictions of the man that June is currently dating. Networks have a corporate and money-driven duty to protect their own interests, and whether or not TLC and CBC are in the right or wrong in these cases is up for debate.. Networks don’t want to soil their reputation by promoting people who may have exploited others. In doing so, they are condoning and perpetuating rape culture by keeping popular programs, thus making a statement that says, “we don’t care if this person is guilty or not, they get ratings”. It’s a double-edged sword that television networks must bare under controversy; do they assume guilt or innocence, and at what cost?
Do I believe Ghomeshi or not? I don’t know. On one hand, it is hard for me to imagine him as an abusive and uncouth battering boyfriend. But that’s because I know his public persona and not who he is in private. And for all I know, there’s no such thing as his public persona outside of the public eye. We assume we know celebrities and the stronger their brand is, the more we peg them as being exactly who they represent themselves as being. Thus, when Ghomeshi says he is innocent and that he was wronged by CBC,we fall back on the image of him as smart, level-headed, good-natured, wholesome and handsome. If we believe someone based on their public persona, we are suggesting that if someone wants to commit atrocities they simply need to do what countless child molesters and abusive husbands have done in the past and create for themselves a wall of upstanding citizenship good deeds to hide behind. I think in this case, we need to hear the other side of the story in order to get a fuller picture of whose story is more true, but the fact remains that facts speak for themselves and we can only hope for the truth, or cracks in the veneer to reveal themselves in the near future. Either way, I am troubled to hear both sides of this story and I’m sorry that there is controversy surrounding someone I have such a profound respect for. I’m also going to mourn the loss of Q, a wonderful show that made indie artists and actors and politicians palatable, relatable and human to me.
Allegations are just allegations. It is our job as the public to walk a tightrope of not jumping to conclusions about someone who might be wrongfully accused or having respect for potential victims who were coerced into unwanted sexual acts. I personally believe based on what I have read from Ghomeshi’s camp that his story is unlikely and full of holes and oddities that don’t add up. I personally believe that if people claim to be victimized the biggest respect we can owe them is to listen to them and further investigate their claims before slamming the door shut. We know Ghomeshi and we don’t know these as-of-now ‘faceless’ alleged victims. In this case, I think I am choosing to go against what I know in favour of what I know to be true about sexual violence.