How the Jian Ghomeshi case sparked a world-wide trend

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How the Jian Ghomeshi case sparked a world-wide trend

Jian Ghomeshi, a former CBC radio broadcaster, has been accused of sexual harassment, physical abuse and at least one incident of non-consensual sex. When the Ghomeshi scandal first broke out in October in my home country, Canada, however ghastly the allegations were, it seemed as if it was ‘just another rape story’. Not only that, it was also ‘just another defamatory rape story’. London-born Ghomeshi had become a high-end news personality, working since the 2000’s for nation-wide CBC news outlet, and it was, alas, far too easy to fall into the familiar ‘quidam-against-celebrity’ denunciation pattern. The accused predictably blamed the abused of defamation, and of trying to besmirch his reputation. He even went on to file a $55 million lawsuit against CBC for the ‘misuse of personal and confidential information’ following his sacking.

Media coverage was, and perhaps with reason, very reserved on the subject: while it was a personal and sensitive story, it remained one of the (too) many sex scandals to emerge, and therefore it was deemed safer to keep a cold and general angle than to take a side or another of the story and publish outraged texts and headlines. But soon, the balance shifted: some of his past abuses were brought to light, and people — not all of them women — suddenly spoke out. Within a week, he had eleven women and one man accusing him of sexual violence and abuse, most of whom knew him from workplace-related events, meaning they were either from the general public or colleagues. As a result of this, some of his male colleagues publicly spoke out and supported the abused women. It was soon to become a key story in the wake of social movements to come.

One tends to wonder, and rightly so, why there were no earlier reports of rape and abuse against him. Well, imagine being the colleague of a male star. Would you have the guts to come out and accuse that masculine authority figure, and risk losing personal sanity, a hard-earned career within the CBC, probably many friendships, and possibly a very long and costly lawsuit? To say the very least, it’s a tough move to make. Male colleagues of the abused women, in a number of cases, knew about the acts Ghomeshi had committed; some even witnessed his abusive behaviour. Yet, none of them dared say a word, by fear of losing their position. Imagine how the — already distraught — women felt. Moreover, this puts the CBC at fault: Jian Ghomeshi, even though a star, was known, not only within the broadcasting corporation, but outside as well, for his disrespectful behaviour. In 2012, Canadian journalism students were already advised not to attempt an internship alongside Ghomeshi because of his notorious inappropriateness towards young women. Still, it took another two years before the whole story finally came to light, forcing the CBC to dismiss their star, fallen into disgrace just before November.

Now, why is the Jian Ghomeshi case such a big deal? Well, because all of a sudden, social media, throughout its indignation and rage, started a novel discussion that drew sensitivity to the rape culture to new peaks. The very fact that nothing was done for years to fix the Ghomeshi problem underlined the evidence of rape culture, and this was proven to be well established within one of the most public institutions of Canada. It also gave rise to the concern relating non-reported abuses and rapes. How many other incidents could there have been, how many other women could have been silent before abuse, before their own, by distress, by fear, or other general institutional failings? How many women’s concerns would have been discredited, dismissed, discarded, on the account that they simply were powerless in so many other cases?

Sue Montgomery, from the Montréal Gazette, and Antonia Zerbisias, from the Toronto Star, thus started the #BeenRapedNeverReported hashtag and movement, in light of the scandal, and in an attempt to answer the questions that were probably hovering many people’s lips, such as: ‘Why would you not report such a gruesome thing?’.

The movement quickly grew viral, and soon thousands of tweets and personal accounts of abuse were rendered public. It has now become a worldwide trend as we shed some light on the very frightful multiplicity of rape culture and its dire social consequences.

In Montréal, my hometown, sexism and feminism have now become hot topics, especially as it recently was the 25th anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre, the sordid event of a shooting of 14 women, almost all students, by a man who claimed to ‘fight feminism’. Accordingly, in November, the French hashtag #AgressionNonDénoncée was created by the Fédération des femmes du Québec (Women’s Federation of Québec), and has, ever since, been populated by never-ending surges of denunciations and support by both men and women.

Written By Vanessa Massera – President of Brain Dates Committee