In only a week, Jian Ghomeshi has gone from being the darling of Canada's prestigious Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio establishment to a publicly maligned outcast with the allegations of more than nine women demolishing his reputation. But for many of us who live in Toronto, and have friends in media or the music industry, these allegations were already floating around as whisper and rumor. Women I know have been warning each other about Ghomeshi for years.
Now, as the calamity of exposing Ghomeshi continues to unfold, we've learned that there was a woman working for Q who alleges Ghomeshi told her he wanted to "hatefuck" her. We also learned about an allegation today, on Jesse Brown's Canadaland podcast, from a former Q producer who claims Ghomeshi grabbed a woman from behind and "[dry] humped her... four or five times... with a big smile on his face" in the workplace. That same producer also alleges that he was told a rumor from an executive producer at Q pertaining to Ghomeshi choking a woman.
Beyond that, the University of Western Ontario had been warning its students not to take internships at Q because of Ghomeshi's lecherous and abusive reputation. A lecturer from UWO told the TorontoStar the ban on Q internships arose after Ghomeshi had "preyed on a young grad who wanted to work [at Q]."
If these rumors had drifted over to London, Ontario, and were credible enough to stop students from pursuing internships at Q, the questions becomes: Why did it take so long for all of this to surface? What's wrong with the CBC that it wasn't able to put two and two together and discipline their rising star in the face of alleged complaints? Or, at the very least, launch an investigation into the veracity of these claims? An executive producer at CBC claims that Brown's reporting on a Q staffer complaining to her bosses is not true, but Brown maintains he has evidence to the contrary.
Even looking as far back as Ghomeshi's awful, embarrassing band from the 90s, Moxy Fruvous, allegations from that time period are now also surfacing. On Reddit, a thread went up shortly after the Toronto Star unleashed several stories about Ghomeshi, where users are sharing their stories of being harassed by Ghomeshi when they were teen girls. Then there's the video, which was posted yesterday of Ghomeshi in the 90s, where he derides his fans, who "make him sick" as subhuman "bugs" that he has zero respect for.
While being a creep to teen girls and a dick to your fans well over a decade ago doesn't prove the allegations of the nine women last week, the picture all this paints of Ghomeshi is pretty brutal.
Even though the number allegations has rapidly increased over the past week, and the Toronto Police are now involved, it has not yet been proven that Ghomeshi has done any of the things he is being accused of. Flawed as it may be, we have no other choice but to let the criminal justice system handle these allegations as they come. Especially now that Ghomeshi's career has been shattered.
We at VICE Canada had to confront the problem of handling anonymous sources who had allegations about Ghomeshi head-on in September. Back then, we were approached by Jesse Brown, the freelance reporter now widely known for exposing the allegations about Ghomeshi along with the Toronto Star. During our meeting, Brown brought VICE Canada a set of graphic and disturbing accounts that he was looking to publish in the form of interview transcripts and audio recordings. He had approached us because (at that time) his story was put on ice by the Star and he was looking for a new media partner.
The allegations that Brown initially gathered, which have now been published by the Toronto Star, detail a history of allegedly abusive and violent behavior at the hands of Ghomeshi against numerous women.
At the time, while these allegations were believable and credible despite coming from anonymous sources, they were not substantial enough to responsibly publish a story. As Michael Cooke, the editor of the Toronto Star, wrote in his explanation of why they published their first story about Ghomeshi:
The reason The Star did not publish a story at that time was because there was no proof the women's allegations of non-consensual abusive sex were true or false. They were so explosive that to print them would have been irresponsible, and would have fallen far short of the Star's standards of accuracy and fairness.
We felt the same way as the Toronto Star, as any other approach would be irresponsible and reckless. VICE was also in the unfortunate position of not having full access to Brown's sources (as the Star did).
That all changed when Ghomeshi presented graphic, personal sex tapes to his bosses at the CBC, which, in his mind, proved that his violent behavior was consensual. He did so because he mistakenly believed that Jesse Brown was about to publish a story about Ghomeshi's allegedly violent behavior after Brown mentioned a forthcoming "monster" story on his podcast. (Brown maintains he was alluding to a story about CBC withholding information about CSEC, our nation's cybersurveillance agency, and not the Ghomeshi story.)
Regardless, Ghomeshi's graphic sex tapes unsurprisingly led the CBC to fire him. He also showed them lewd text messages " on a CBC-owned phone," which pretty much forced his bosses' hands. All of that sparked Ghomeshi's ill-advised revelatory Facebook post. Ghomeshi's poor decisions with his bosses and on his own Facebook page gave the Star the supporting information they needed to publish the allegations Brown and Kevin Donovan had gathered, which they were previously unable to do without major legal liability along with risking their story being discredited.
The accounts of the two women who went public with their names and stories, Lucy DeCouture and Reva Seth, are arguably the most believable. But their on-the-record testimonials have also exposed the problem of trusting anonymous sources, who may have stunning information to share but are rightfully concerned about their own personal well-being. This conflict prevents many people who hold secret and/or explosive information from revealing their identities to the public.
Seth confronted this problem directly in an op-ed in the Huffington Post, where she wanted her actions to serve as a lesson to her young sons that would make "them understand when they are older that a woman shouldn't be made to feel ashamed of something a man does to her without her consent."
Hopefully the bravery of Seth, DeCouture, and all of the other women who came forward will encourage others in the future to do the same. If we can remove or at least dent the climate of fear that develops when a woman wants to reveal that a powerful man has abused her, then perhaps in the future allegations can come out much faster.
And yet, despite the bravery of DeCouture, Seth, and the many others who spoke out anonymously, the apparent hubris of Ghomeshi is extraordinary. Though rumors were swirling more or less openly in the media world, a Twitter account dating back to April accused Ghomeshi of assaulting Carleton University students, and the country's most-circulated newspaper was actively working on an exposé about his allegedly abusive behavior, it was Ghomeshi himself who was the ultimate architect of his demise.
Ghomeshi's agency in his own downfall exposes the disheartening reality about the nature of sexual abuse allegations: They are very, very hard to prove. If all of the women who have come forward are to be believed, Ghomeshi was able to get away with his misconduct for a very long time. Why the CBC was not able to act sooner is a gravely serious question that will hopefully be answered by the ongoing investigation into the matter. But more importantly, it speaks to the amount of insulation an abusive but powerful man can receive once he's become the golden boy of an institution.
The unraveling of Ghomeshi is a mess that would not have been realized were it not for Ghomeshi's presumably repulsive home videos and text messages that he voluntarily showed to his bosses. Rumors abound as to whether he's even in Canada anymore, but a newly opened police investigation may lead to charges. If he is in the United States, an extradition could be the next major story.
But what's important is not the drama surrounding Ghomeshi himself. It's the systemic reality surrounding the women who brought forward their stories about Ghomeshi, which has kept these allegations shrouded in darkness for too long.
The fear of being harassed by Ghomeshi and his fans, felt by the women who obviously did not want to come forward before, is a real problem. When your adversary is the star voice of Canada's public broadcaster who has the power of a massive audience to sway public opinion (Ghomeshi's original heartstring-tugging Facebook post received more than 110,000 likes), bringing forward damaging allegations can be a self-destructive prospect. The legal fees alone can be ruinous.
But if the Ghomeshi situation is as bad as it looks, he has been able to leverage his reputation to meet women, and then to keep them quiet. The lack of power held by the women in all of these alleged situations needs to be addressed, though they are certainly subverting that power dynamic now. Hopefully as the police investigation unfolds, these women can gain some closure.
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