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​The Jian Ghomeshi Trial Shows How Hard It Is to Testify as an Alleged Victim of Sexual Assault

The first witness had her credibility heavily attacked by Ghomeshi's lawyer in the high-profile celebrity trial.

by Manisha Krishnan
03 February 2016, 12:00am

Jian Ghomeshi seen with his lawyer on Monday. Photo via The Canadian Press

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Disgraced CBC host Jian Ghomeshi's sexual assault trial is just beginning, but those hoping the high-profile case could encourage victims of these crimes to come forward are likely already discouraged.

Monday's proceedings took place at Old City Hall in Toronto, with dozens of journalists and a few members of the public filling up two courtrooms and also stationed outside. Ghomeshi, who has pleaded not guilty to four sexual assault charges and one count of overcome resistance by choking, showed up in a suit and reportedly said "hi" to his mother, who was in attendance, before taking a seat.

Ghomeshi's defense lawyer, Marie Henein, is known for her ruthless approach in the courtroom—a reputation that she lived up to as soon as she began her cross-examination of the first witness.

The witness's allegations have resulted in two sexual assault charges against Ghomeshi; her identity is protected under a publication ban.

She testified that she met the former host of the radio show Q in December 2002 at a CBC Christmas party she was catering. After a flirtatious exchange at the event, he invited her to come to a taping of Play, the show he was hosting at the time. She agreed and said his eyes "lit up" when he saw her there. Later, she says they grabbed a drink at a nearby pub and he opened the door for her.

"He's being sweet, humble, charming," she told presiding Justice William Horkins (there is no jury in the trial), adding she remembers thinking at the time that "he's a perfect gentleman." That opinion strengthened when the witness said Ghomeshi offered her a ride from the pub back to her car in his yellow Volkswagen Bug.

"He's driving a car that reminds me of a 1960s Disney movie," she told the court. Once in the vehicle, she said Ghomeshi asked her to undo a couple of her blouse buttons. She refused but they started kissing.

"When he's kissing me, he reaches around behind my head and he grabs my hair really, really hard," she said.

It felt like a "rage" was coming from Ghomeshi, the witness testified, but she didn't question him on it because she alleged she was trying to absorb what had happened.

The witness told the court Ghomeshi "switched back to the nice guy" and she agreed to see him again. The third time she saw him, at another taping of Play, the witness said she took a friend with her. The three of them went to a pub afterward, and Ghomeshi allegedly invited the women back to his Riverdale home. The witness told the court her friend had to go home so they dropped her off at the subway station before driving to his place. Once inside, Ghomeshi and the witness allegedly started making out.

"We're kissing standing up too," she said. "But he ends up behind me and he grabs my hair again really hard, harder than the first time."

She said Ghomeshi brought her to her knees and began punching her in the side of the head.

"I felt I was going to end up passed out on his floor," she told the court. "I was dizzy, disoriented. I felt like I had walked into a pole or hit my head on the pavement. It was that strong."

The witness said she began crying and she said Ghomeshi told her she should leave and called her a cab.

"He threw me out like trash."

Crown counsel Michael Callaghan pressed the witness on details of the events, asking if she and Ghomeshi had ever discussed "violence" in terms of sexual preferences (she said no); the length of time they spent kissing at his place while standing up; and for a description of their sexual chemistry. At times the witness struggled to provide specifics relating to the incidents, which took place 14 years ago. The Crown asked why, after being hit in the head, she didn't call out Ghomeshi or run outside instead of waiting for a cab at his home.

"When someone's pounded you in the head, it's hard to say, 'Oh, by the way, what was that?'" she responded. "I was frozen in fear and sadness."

Ghomeshi and Henein seen leaving the courthouse. Photo via the Canadian Press

The witness said she didn't consider coming forward until accusations about Ghomeshi came out in the press near the end of 2014. At first, she spoke to the media, including interviews with the Toronto Star and the CBC, but a press conference hosted by then-Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair encouraged her to contact authorities, she said.

"I wanted to go home, curl up in a corner, and cry," she said, adding she didn't think anyone would believe her. When she hinted that the stigma facing sex assault victims was a deterrent for her, Henein objected that that's not relevant. In response, Callaghan said, "I don't plan to get into a social commentary."

Henein then led an intense cross-examination of the alleged victim that called into question her motive and memory, pointing out discrepancies between her police and court testimony and media interviews.

Among the topics Henein questioned the witness on: why she went to the media before police; whether or not she discussed the the case with other alleged victims; whether or not she was "smitten" by Ghomeshi and disappointed when nothing romantic happened during their second encounter; what the alleged victim's situation with her husband was at the time of the incidents (the witness said they were separated but living together). She also suggested that the witness's career in the arts was unsuccessful.

Henein spent a significant chunk of time questioning the alleged victim about whether or not she recalls being warned by police about fabricating evidence and if she remembers swearing to tell the truth. Then she zeroed in on a detail about the witness's hair.

Henein said in an email exchange with a detective, the complainant mentioned she might have had hair extensions when she was seeing Ghomeshi. The witness admitted that she had emailed that to the police while trying to work through her memories, but ultimately decided it wasn't true that she'd been wearing extensions. After much back and forth, with Henein pointing out it would be "odd" if the victim had hair extensions and they didn't come out after Ghomeshi pulled on her hair harshly, the witness conceded:

"I was not wearing hair extensions, that was an error on my part."

Henein seized the opportunity to grill the witness as to why she hadn't corrected that detail with police. The witness said she intended to clarify that point in court.

Henein also asked why the witness didn't, in her media interviews, indicate that she and Ghomeshi had been kissing when the hair-pulling took place, to which the witness responded, "I was getting the main points out of my experience being abused."

The witness also said Toronto Star investigative reporter Kevin Donovan, who broke the Ghomeshi story with freelancer Jesse Brown, changed her story, though it's not entirely clear how.

"What I've been led to see and believe and hear is he gets a lot of that wrong," she said.

At one point, the witness said that during her interviews with police and reporters she was "was high on nerves": "I wished I could do it again more clearly and be more descriptive."

Henein later focused on whether or not the witness had told police her head smashed into the car window when Ghomeshi allegedly pulled her hair.

The witness appeared to struggle to remember exactly what she'd told police but said her head never smashed into a window, though it did come into contact with the window.

Henein suggested the window smashing was a "figment" of the witness's imagination. The witness said she ordered her words poorly in the email with the cops, but she didn't deliberately lie.

The exchange between the two women was tense. "The more you sit with the memory, the more clear it becomes," the witness said.

Henein is likely satisfied that she raised doubts about the witness today. However, the main allegations—that Ghomeshi punched her in the head repeatedly—have not yet undergone any scrutiny.

The court will also hear from two more victims, including Trailer Park Boys actress Lucy DeCoutere, in the days to come.

The trial continues tomorrow.

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