Thursday, March 24, 2016


Today a judge found Jian Ghomeshi - former radio host of the once popular CBC show 'Q' - not guilty on one count of choking and four counts of sexual assault.

I, like many others, am saddened by the news. 

This isn't a commentary on the legalities of the case or even my way of saying the judge was wrong. My knowledge of our legal system is unfortunately fairly limited so I can't really properly argue against any of the court proceedings or findings. 

I will, however, comment on what many people are talking about: believing survivors of sexual assault. 

I am very, very fortunate in that I have never experienced sexual assault firsthand. There have been times I have felt unsafe, in situations like simply being a woman walking home alone at night. I was even followed once. I've endured unsolicited cat-calls and come-ons and been called names for shutting them down.

But I am fortunate. 

I've watched a friend have a drink roofied (thankfully she was with a large group and got home safely), and have heartbreakingly had a friend confide that she was sexual assaulted.

But I am fortunate. 

Several years ago, I was sexually harassed by a coworker. 
I wasn't really even able to process it as such until a few days later. 
He was an overweight guy who often asked for my nursing expertise (I was in school at the time and always showing up to work with giant textbooks) with health topics like exercise and nutrition. It wasn't unusual for me to get a text from him asking for some healthy recipes. 
One night, after a few questions about health matters, he asked if I ever masturbated. 
I wasn't sure how to answer but chalked it up to it being another health related question, albeit not a comfortable one. I told him everyone did and it was normal. 
Then he asked how tight I was. 
I was taken aback and didn't know how to respond. 
I laughed it off, thinking it might have been a joke. 
He apologized for offending me and I shut the conversation down.

I told another coworker the next day and his response was to also laugh it off. His response was essentially, "that's hilarious. You're not actually mad are you? He's harmless. Poor guy, he doesn't know how to talk to girls. We should help him".

Here's why I'm fortunate: I told my husband (who was my fiance at the time) and he flipped out. And not in a possessive 'you-can't-speak-to-my-woman' kind of way. He didn't laugh it off, and he didn't downplay how angry, upset, and embarrassed I was. He was angry that someone would disrespect me by asking such a vulgar, inappropriate question. 
Despite my protesting, he actually phoned the guy up and read him the riot act. 

Here's why I'm fortunate: I have parents and a sister who were similarly outraged and encouraged me to speak up. They never for a second laughed it off. 

Here's why I'm fortunate: I had another coworker that I confided in who took a similar stance. He didn't laugh, he didn't sympathize with the guy, he didn't discount my anger and embarrassment. Instead, he let me know that this guy had done similar things to other female coworkers. He encouraged me to report him to our supervisors and told me that he would encourage the other young women to do the same. 

Why did I laugh it off at first? Why wasn't I completely outraged until a day or so later? I didn't tell anyone right away because I was so embarrassed that I opted to just pretend like it never happened. I consider myself a strong feminist, but sadly I even questioned whether I was partially to blame. Had I led him on by not ending the conversation sooner?

When I did tell people, I got mixed reviews. When I told my supervisors at work, they held a formal meeting. I had to repeat the extent of the conversation and felt uncomfortable having to say the question he asked me out loud. I was afraid that they would think I had invited the question by not ending the conversation when he asked about masturbation. They eventually handed down disciplinary action: he was suspended for a short period and then wouldn't be allowed to work any shifts when management was not there. A slap on the wrist, really. 

Here's why I'm fortunate: When I wasn't sure how to react, I had supports that believed me, that didn't dismiss my emotions, that never once let me feel I was in any way to blame. 

While I don't feel right comparing my situation to those of the brave women who spoke out against Jian Ghomeshi, I can understand why they might not have wanted to. 

Maybe their initial reaction to the assault wasn't what we'd expect it to be. Maybe they weren't initially outraged. Maybe they laughed it off, in an effort to pretend it wasn't happening. 

Maybe they didn't tell anyone right away because they were afraid that the people they confided in would laugh it off, or say that poor Jian was harmless, or worst of all, maybe no one would believe them. 

Maybe they were afraid that they would have to relive the event, speak the words out loud again, and have people blame them and shame them for baiting him or leading him on. 

Maybe they were afraid that after all of it, after coming to terms with their own emotions, after confiding in friends who didn't believe them or who sympathized with their assaulter, after having to publicly relive the events and risk being shamed and judged, maybe after all of that they were afraid that he would walk away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.  

The outcome of the trial is not what many of us wanted. But we're talking about it. My Facebook feed today was filled with angry men and women demanding justice for survivors of sexual assault. 

Let's continue to talk about the culture of rape that exists in our society. Let's continue to talk about how often sexual assualts happen and the staggering statistics of how infrequently they are reported. Let's continue to talk about why that is. Let's not dismiss, blame, or shame someone when they have the courage to talk about sexual assault. 

Someday perhaps we will finally unanimously recognize these individuals as brave for coming forward. Someday perhaps we can ensure that offenders of sexual harassment and assaults don't walk away with mere slaps on the wrist. Someday survivors of sexual assault won't need reassurance that we believe them.

But until then,