Ghomeshi escapes justice

The high-profile trial of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi has made it glaringly clear that the capitalist criminal justice system fails survivors of sexual violence. In March, Ghomeshi was found “not guilty” for one charge of choking to overcome resistance and four charges of sexual assault related to three women. Throughout the trial the three women complainants were aggressively cross-examined and scrutinized as if they themselves had committed a crime, instead of their celebrity abuser. They were then subjected to misogynistic abuse by Justice William Horkins who said in his ruling:

“I have a firm understanding that the reasonableness of reactive human behaviour in the dynamics of a relationship can be variable and unpredictable. However, the twists and turns of the complainants’ evidence in this trial, illustrate the need to be vigilant in avoiding the equally dangerous false assumption that sexual assault complainants are always truthful.”

Subsequently another survivor, Kathryn Borel, courageously revealed the truth about Ghomeshi, but at the cost of foregoing a trial. In exchange for an apology, and the signing of a peace bond, Ghomeshi avoided a trial and potential conviction and Borel avoided being re-traumatized by her abuser’s council and having her experience of sexual assault be denied. In her public statement, she said that his apology was an admission of guilt and went on to detail the abuse she went through. It is worth quoting large portions of her statement so we can hear the survivor’s truth firsthand:

    “Every day, over the course of a three-year period, Mr. Ghomeshi made it clear to me that he could do what he wanted to me and my body. He made it clear that he could humiliate me repeatedly and walk away with impunity. There are at least three documented incidents of physical touching. This includes the one charge he just apologized for, when he came up behind me while I was standing near my desk, put his hands on my hips, and rammed his pelvis against my backside over and over, simulating sexual intercourse.

    “Throughout the time that I worked with him, he framed his actions with near daily verbal assaults and emotional manipulations. These inferences felt like threats or declarations like I deserved to have happening to me what was happening to me. It became very difficult for me to trust what I was feeling.

    “Up until recently, I didn’t even internalize that what he was doing to my body was sexual assault. Because when I went to the CBC for help, what I received in return was a directive that yes, he could do this, and yes, it was my job to let him. The relentless message to me, from my celebrity boss and from the national institution we worked for were that his whims were more important than my humanity or my dignity. So I came to accept this. I came to believe it was his right. But when I spoke to the police at the end of 2014, and detailed my experiences with Mr. Ghomeshi, they confirmed to me that what he did to me was, in fact, sexual assault.

    “And that is what Jian Ghomeshi just apologized for, the crime of sexual assault. This is a story of a man who had immense power over me and my livelihood, admitting that he chronically abused his power and violated me in ways that violate the law. Mr. Ghomeshi’s constant workplace abuse of me and my many colleagues and friends has since been corroborated by multiple sources, a CBC fifth estate documentary, and a third party investigation.

    “In a perfect world, people who commit sexual assault would be convicted for their crimes. Jian Ghomeshi is guilty of having done the things that I’ve outlined today. So when it was presented to me that the defence would be offering us an apology, I was prepared to forego the trial. It seemed like the clearest path to the truth. A trial would have maintained his lie, the lie that he was not guilty, and would have further subjected me to the very same pattern of abuse that I am currently trying to stop.

    “Jian Ghomeshi has apologized, but only to me. There are 20 other women who have come forward to the media and made serious allegations about his violent behavior. Women who have come forward to say he punched, and choked, and smothered and silenced them.

    “There is no way I would have come forward if it weren’t for their courage. And yet Mr. Ghomeshi hasn’t met any of their allegations head on, as he vowed to do in his Facebook post of 2014. He hasn’t taken the stand on any charge. All he’s said about his other accusers is that they’re all lying and that he’s not guilty. And remember: that’s what he said about me.”

The above makes it perfectly clear that Ghomeshi was an abuser. It also makes it clear that her powerful boss was shielded by her employer. And the fact that Borel was forced to forego a trial in order to get to this truth makes it clear how there is absolutely no justice in the capitalist criminal justice system.

This is another case of a misogynist offender getting off for violent and coercive behaviour towards women. It echoes the impunity of police who conduct violent acts against black and racialized people. It is a clear example of how the rich and powerful can carry out abuses for years without any accountability. In the rare event they are brought to court, the rich can literally buy their way out of criminal sanctions while their victims are publicly berated and shamed.

No faith in the justice system or the bosses!

Borel’s lack of faith in the justice system is unfortunately well-placed. It has systematically failed to defend the safety and needs of women who experience sexual violence. Because of this, at least 91% of sexual assaults are never reported to authorities according to Statistics Canada.

A 2012 study by Holly Johnson titled “Limits of a Criminal Justice Response: Trends in Police and Court Processing of Sexual Assault”, found that of the approximately 460,000 sexual assaults that occur every year in Canada, only 3.3 percent are reported to authorities, 1.2 percent lead to criminal charges, and 0.3 percent lead to a conviction. Research by Elaine Craig from Dalhousie University has highlighted that the process of cross-examination can be traumatizing for survivors and often rely on “rape myths” and negative stereotypes that place the blame on victims of sexual violence.

In addition to highlighting the limits of the court system in achieving justice for survivors of sexual violence, Ms. Borel also delivered a strong indictment of CBC management and their failure to act on her complaints about Ghomeshi. Tragically, this experience reflects that of thousands of women across the country. A 2014 poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that 43% of women surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace (compared to 12% of men). The same poll found that a staggering 80% did not report sexual harassment to management, but of the 20% that did, approximately 1 in 3 stated management did not take any concrete action and 1 in 4 stated that their employer was “unresponsive and dismissive”. Since reporting is so low, there is not a lot of information available about how sexual violence in the workplace is treated by employers. However, there is no reason to doubt that a similar prevalence of sexist attitudes exists in the workplace than in other large institutions such as the court system. Additionally, women who experience harassment and violence in the workplace can be in a vulnerable position because their livelihoods rest on their employment, which is in the hands of their employer; power that the bosses will wield to maintain their own interests.

CBC management chose to ignore and trivialize the sexual assault that Kathryn Borel was experiencing to protect their own interests and profits. In a 2014 piece for the Guardian titled “Jian Ghomeshi harassed me on the job. Why did our radio station look the other way?”, Borel explains how CBC management protected Ghomeshi because he was invaluable to the brand of the show “Q”. Even more shocking is that a representative from her union, the Canadian Media Guild, was dismissive when Borel reported the ongoing assault. Later when the Star published an anonymous account of her experience, the union tried to claim that they had never been made aware of the situation! This is outrageously shameful conduct for a union, meant to protect the rights and safety of workers but instead trying to protect the privileged position of a bureaucrat who failed to do his job! When the legal system, workplace management and bosses, and sometimes even our own union representatives fail to protect women from sexual violence, what is the way forward?

How do we get justice?

Much discussion has centred around inconsistencies in the stories of the original three complainants. The judge pointed to this in his verdict, deeming the testimonials of the three women to be inconsistent, unreliable and deceptive. However, this misses the point. Survivors of abuse often act in a manner that does not correspond to stereotype. They often blame themselves and seek to repair an abusive relationship, rather than cleanly walking away and reporting the assault. This is exacerbated by capitalist society which disbelieves and blames the victim, not to mention the potential financial repercussions (employment, housing, etc.) for leaving the relationship. Representatives of sexual assault centres have highlighted that the verdict in this case was influenced by rape mythology, such as the notion that women who experience sexual assault shouldn’t or wouldn’t maintain contact with their abuser, or that women accuse men of sexual assault to exact revenge. These myths perpetuate harmful stereotypes about women, shame the survivors of sexual assault instead of holding the abusers accountable, and discourage women from reporting sexual violence.

The treatment of the women who have come forward and the outcome of the Ghomeshi trial has sparked outrage across the country. Abuse survivors must have justice. One of the main demands that has been put forward by women’s groups and advocates is for a specialized sexual assault court. While this demand is understandable, it must be highlighted that the legal system itself is inherently rigged to benefit the most powerful in society while maintaining the ideal conditions for the accumulation of private wealth. As we have previously explained, the ruling class relies on sexism and other forms of oppression and discrimination to divide the working class, drive down wages and prevent a united struggle against their system of exploitation. Capitalism specifically relies on the oppression of women for free labour in the domestic realm and cheaper and more flexible labour in workplace. This is reflected in dominant cultural views about women being inferior and subservient to men, which on top of economic inequality leaves them vulnerable to various forms of violence. These stereotypical views are reflected in the major social institutions such as the legal system and work to perpetuate these forms of oppression and inequality.

Judges in Canada are non-elected officials and therefore, even in a specialized court, are unaccountable to the vast majority of workers and youth. Additionally, a 2015 report called “Still Unbalanced: Intimate Partner Violence and the Scales of Justice” found that even within the specialized Domestic Violence Courts in Toronto, negative stereotypes about women and victim-blaming were still prevalent among judges and defense lawyers. While we support any changes that would alleviate the re-traumatizing nature of the court system on survivors, we cannot have any illusions that sexual violence towards women can be genuinely addressed through this system, made by and for the perpetuation of capitalism. Similarly, under capitalism our bosses and workplace management are not elected or accountable to the workers. Their primary concern is profits, which they acquire by exploiting their employees. The behaviour of CBC management clearly demonstrates that the bosses will go so far as to deny the experience of survivors of sexual violence and even slander their characters in order to protect their prestige and profits.

We have no choice but to fight violence against women through collective action from below. Mass mobilizations, walk-outs and sit-ins must be organized until justice is served and the abusers are held accountable. Additionally, we demand that all judges that support rape culture, as seen in the Ghomeshi case, are fired. A recall campaign has recently been launched against the judge who gave a Stanford University rapist a pitifully light 6-month sentence, due to the upper-class background of the abuser, and sympathized with the plight of the rapist. We say, kick out all sexist, racist, and oppressive jurists!

The organizations of the working class and youth such as the trade and student unions can play an important role in leading these efforts. Pressure from mass mobilizations can force the courts and workplace management to think seriously the next time they consider trivializing the experience of a sexual assault survivor. But ultimately these bodies have interests that are diametrically opposed to the vast majority of workers and youth and actively seek to promote the capitalist system that perpetuates violence against women. Therefore, the movement needs to understand that sexism (or racism and class oppression) cannot be reformed out of the capitalist justice system, with its unelected judges and bias in favour of those who can afford hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

What is also needed is to fight for measures that help women escape conditions that make them vulnerable to gender-based violence, such as guaranteed housing, universal child care, and pay equity. Such reforms can only be won through the mass mobilization of the working class and oppressed; the ruling class never hands out reforms that threaten their profits until their system of exploitation is threatened. As Marxists, we highlight that the battle is not over upon winning concessions from the ruling class, because under capitalism all reforms are temporary and can be clawed back in periods of crisis. Austerity, which disproportionately harms women and other marginalized and oppressed layers of the working class, will always be on the table as long as we live within the confines of the capitalist system. This is why the Marxists link the struggle against gender-based violence to the need to struggle for socialism. We must fight for social ownership and control of the vast wealth that exists in society in order to put it to use benefiting the majority instead of the greed of a small minority. In addition to allowing for material equality between men and women, the united struggle for the socialist transformation of society would have profound impacts on the consciousness of the majority, lessening the social conditions that promote violence.

Capitalism is based on private wealth accumulation and competition, which requires the oppression of women and distorts and dehumanizes how we relate to ourselves and to each other. Through the struggle to transform society and when we no longer have to compete for scraps under the table of the bankers and bosses, men, women and all people will begin to relate to each other in a qualitatively different way, based on our common interests instead of our differences. Of course this will not occur overnight, but the material and social basis for the sexist and discriminatory attitudes that cause violence against women will have been eradicated. When harm or crime is committed, we need a society that is truly responsive to the needs of the victim, the broader community, and the rehabilitation of the perpetrator. Similarly, the removal of the profit motive, and bottom-up democratic control of our workplaces, would allow for democratic and restorative approaches to addressing sexual violence in the workplace. While it is important to put pressure on the justice system and our workplaces to respond to sexual violence and protect survivors today, we must link this to the need to fight for a society where we can relate to one another on the basis of genuine equality.