What he did to me that night scared me, but I was even more afraid of him not liking me
If you are following the Jian Ghomeshi trial, then recent cross-examination of the women who allege they were assaulted by the former CBC radio host has probably left you angry, astonished or confused: Or, a combination of all three.
Especially since Ghomeshi’s lawyer Marie Heinen produced emails and a handwritten letter from the alleged victim Lucy DeCoutere, which were pleasant and romantic in nature. These missives were supposedly written after the incident took place, and draw our collective attention to how a complainant interacts with her attacker, after the fact.
We still don’t know whether Ghomeshi–who has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking–is innocent or guilty of these crimes. However, just because a victim chooses to pursue contact with someone after an alleged incident took place doesn’t mean we should dismiss their claims.
As Nicole Pietsch, coordinator of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, wrote in the Globe and Mail, for the victim “dismissive reactions of the event, and a desire to maintain contact and continue a relationship – are common.”
I know this because I was sexually assaulted. I was 16 years old and was meeting a guy off the Internet who was about 10 years older than me. We had talked over the phone for months before I mustered up the courage to accept his invitation to hang out at his place. I thought I loved him. I was too naïve to know better. When I got to his place, he tried to make me feel at ease by handing me a glass of amaretto. It was my first taste of alcohol. Then he undid my pants and went down on me without asking. I was too shocked and scared to say anything, so I just let it happen. This is not consent. He also took my hand and forced me to masturbate him. Again, I was too scared to say anything. Did I stop contact with him afterwards? Nope. Instead, I continued my relationship with him, which mostly involved talking on the phone and sending emails declaring my love for him because I wanted him to love me back.
Even though what he did to me that night scared me, I was even more afraid of him not liking me. This says a lot about victims of sexual assault: Not only are women brought up to desire men’s approval, but it makes us act against our very own intuitions.
So when Henein pressed DeCoutere about why she continued to send friendly emails and a “love letter,” to Ghomeshi which included the words, “I love your hands,” I knew there would be a backlash.
In response to Henein’s questions surrounding her actions, DeCoutere—who accused Ghomeshi of choking and slapping her without her consent–she said: “Yeah people do that. It’s a weird thing. But it’s real.”
In my case, that act of abuse towards me when I was a teenager certainly confused me. It took me years to realize that I was assaulted and it wasn’t my fault, but I spent a lot of time thinking that I had lead him on and that maybe if I acted like I was ok with it afterwards, I would get some kind of gratification from him.
In Pietsch’s piece for the Globe she wrote of how she’s learned that some survivors will maintain contact for reasons that, “can include being uncertain about whether the violent incident was in fact violence, wishing to improve the relationship, feeling responsible for improving the relationship, or seeking clarification or explanation for the behaviour.”
Just because I continued to have a relationship with my attacker doesn’t mean that what he did to me was okay or consensual. It was assault. And my behaviour afterwards doesn’t negate that fact. And Lucy’s behaviour after her troubling experience, love letter and all, doesn’t mean she wasn’t assaulted.
I worry the judge won’t understand this. Henein has been effective (depending on who you talk to) at undermining the victims’ credibility. Even if Ghomeshi is declared innocent, we will learn a lot from this trial: Sexual assault isn’t as cut and dry as we think and there are complex reasons why victims are friendly with their abusers. Despite Henein’s brutal cross-examinations (“That’s you reaching out to the man you say sexually assaulted you,” she said to DeCoutere), it’s important to speak out. I’m not afraid or ashamed to talk about what happened to me, and that gives me hope.